Devotionals Archive

Daybreak: Colossians 2:16 through 3:4

May 11, 2021

“Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?” (Colossians 2:20-22)

When I was a child, my favorite game was Chinese checkers. I spent many happy hours across the board from my uncle, a patient man who lined up his red marbles opposite my blue ones and played game after game with me. Not only did he let me win often enough to keep me interested, he also taught me his best strategies, so one day, I actually beat him fair and square! 

One thing my uncle didn’t do was add new rules. He taught me how to play the game by the traditional instructions, and that was how we played. Imagine how frustrated I would have been if he had told me on Monday that only green marbles could “jump” another marble, on Wednesday that he was starting out with only four marbles in his corner, and on Friday that he only had to get one marble across the board to be the winner. If he had done so, I am sure I would have given up in despair! 

The Pharisees of Paul’s day were continuously making up new religious rules for the Jewish people to follow. One commentator stated that in contrast to the two commands of Christ (Matthew 22:37-40), the Pharisees had developed a system of 613 laws — 365 negative and 248 positive — manmade rules that did not come from God. 

Paul, in combating the false teachings that had infiltrated the Colossian church, cautioned the believers not to think they could make themselves more spiritual by observing the rules established by the Pharisees. He was not counseling the Colossians to become rebels. Rather, he was reminding them that true righteousness could not be achieved through bodily disciplines. Sinful practices were no longer part of a Christian’s life, but this was a natural result of their new life in Christ, not the cause of it. 

True Christianity centers on Christ’s provision made on Calvary. His teachings do not change; His commandments do not need to be revised. Only by having a relationship with Christ through faith can we live in a manner pleasing to Him. 

Let your study of Paul’s exhortation to the embattled Colossians give you a new appreciation for Christ as the fullness of God and our only source for living a victorious Christian life!


In today’s text, Paul continued his “Beware” message which began at Colossians 2:8. He ends chapter 2 with a negative approach (a warning against legalism) and begins chapter 3 with a positive approach (an exhortation to apply the principles he had taught). Both approaches are necessary. 

The emphasis of this section is the futility of ascetic (severe) rules. The Pharisees attempted to sanctify the soul by disciplining the body, and this was the heresy that Paul attacked. Obedience to rules may produce a sense of self-satisfaction because it is what others see and it can be measured, but observance to rules alone will not bring salvation. Paul admonished the Colossians to focus on the new life in Christ and to put away disputes about meats, drink, holy days, sabbath days, etc. The observation of diets and days could not change the condition of the heart.

A rule-based religion, such as the Pharisees insisted upon, had a number of flaws: 

  • New laws continually needed to be invented for new situations. 
  • Accountability to men replaced accountability to God. 
  • It reduced a person’s personal ability to discern right from wrong.
  • It created a judgmental spirit and a sense of superiority.
  • It confused personal preferences with divine law. 
  • It created a false standard of righteousness. 
  • It was strictly external, rather than dealing with the heart.
  • It was rejected by Christ, who alone is the believers’ righteousness.

Paul warned the Colossians not to let any man beguile them, meaning that they were to guard against being lead astray by deception. The Colossians had found new life in Christ, but the Pharisees, pretending great humility and sanctity, endeavored to turn them aside from the Gospel and to induce them to rely upon the flesh even though they had begun to serve God in the Spirit. These false teachers were proud of their humility, but it brought attention and praise to themselves rather than to God.

Apparently, the Colossians had been taught that God was remote and could only be approached through angels. Mysticism, a belief that man can have an immediate experience with the spiritual world apart from the Word of God or the Holy Spirit, is clearly spoken against in the Word of God. Any encounter with the spirit world brought by the fleshly mind is not of God. 

By contrast, Paul taught them that believers are free from ceremonial laws and ordinances, “Touch not; taste not; handle not; which are all to perish with the using.” Christians are freed by the Blood of Christ, and by imposing these laws, the Pharisees were contesting the authority of Christ. Putting on the yoke of the Old Testament ordinances could not make people more godly or save their souls. 

Paul concluded this portion of text on a positive note, encouraging the Colossians to go forward by seeking things above rather than focusing on the “things of earth” (material possessions, worldly fame, and sinful pleasures). He encouraged them to be dead to these things — unaffected by them. 

Amplified Outline

(Hannah’s Bible Outlines – Used by permission per WORDsearch)
III.   Polemical: the defense of those in Christ
      C.   Exhortation of the believers (2:16 — 3:4)
            1.   Negatively (2:16-23)
                  a.   Avoid legalism (2:16-17)
                  b.   Avoid mysticism (2:18-19)
                  c.   Avoid asceticism (2:20-23)
            2.   Positively (3:1-4)
                  a.   Seek the things above (3:1)
                  b.   Set your mind on things above (3:2-4)
                        (1)   The command (3:2)
                        (2)   The cause (3:3-4)

A Closer Look

  1. In what areas of life were the Colossians being “judged” by the false teachers? 
  2. What does it mean to be “risen with Christ?” 
  3. Give examples of what it means to “set your affections on things above.” How can this be accomplished in one’s life? 


Our salvation does not rest on our own personal discipline, but rather on the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. 

Reference Materials