Summary: 1) Legalism (Colossians 2:16–17), 2) Mysticism (Colossians 2:18–19), and 3) Asceticism (Colossians 2:20–23).
People celebrate occasions for different reasons. Some have particular social conventions, sports milestones, famous people, or plain civic holidays. Noticing all the fireworks trailers around, we know we have reached just such an occasion. Victoria day is a uniquely British celebration, that means virtually nothing except a long weekend for a vast majority of Canadians. Yet there are some, like those of the Monarchist League, who insist that occasions like Victoria Day must be celebrated in Canada.
The Colossians were faced with a barrage of false teachers who insisted on all sorts of particular observances. False teachers were telling them that Jesus Christ was not sufficient, that they needed something more. These people believed they were privy to a higher level of spiritual knowledge and the secrets of spiritual illumination. This higher, hidden truth was beyond Jesus Christ and the Word. These heretics formed an elite, exclusive group that disdained “unenlightened” and “simplistic” Christians. They effectively beguiled some Christians and drew them away from confidence in Christ alone. The “something more” that the false teachers offered was a syncretism of pagan philosophy, Jewish legalism, mysticism, and asceticism. Paul wrote the Colossians to refute that false teaching and to present the absolute sufficiency of Jesus Christ for salvation and sanctification. Because the Colossians had Christ, and He is sufficient, they did not need to be intimidated by the false teachers.
Do you feel pressured to celebrate particular occasions? Do you feel inadequate that you have not spoke in a mystical tongue or seen a heavenly vision? Do you feel that you are just not spiritual because you have not known Christ your whole life or don't come from a religious family? Paul, in Colossians 3 frees us from these unnecessary burdens by showing the wonderful fullness of Grace.
In Colossians 2:8–23, Paul specifically mounts a frontal attack on the Colossian heresy. He has already dealt with philosophy (2:8–10) and presented Christ’s sufficiency (2:11–15). He continues his refutation of the Colossian heresy by dealing with 1) Legalism (Colossians 2:16–17), 2) Mysticism (Colossians 2:18–19), and 3) Asceticism (Colossians 2:20–23).
1) Legalism (Colossians 2:16–17)
Colossians 2:16-17 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (ESV)
Legalism is the religion of human achievement. It argues that spirituality is based on Christ plus human works. It makes conformity to manmade rules the measure of spirituality. Legalism is useless because it cannot restrain the flesh. It is also dangerously deceptive, because inwardly rebellious and disobedient Christians, or even nonChristians, can conform to a set of external performance standards or rituals. Legalism is a rigid, confining, and lifeless way to live. It is easy because all it requires is a list of rules coupled with dutiful compliance. Wisdom or the skillful application of biblical principles to life’s situations is unnecessary. Just comply. Legalism is not only rigid and lifeless, but it also fosters hypocritical pride. The Pharisees (ancient and modern) prove that. (Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians (Vol. 8, p. 308). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)