Presuppositions and Asceticism (Colossians 2:16-17)
Paul here summarizes the point he has been making in the previous verses. You might notice the train of thought which Paul, ever the logician, uses. He is wrestling with God on their behalf, that their hearts might be comforted with strength by a full assurance and full knowledge of the mystery of God in Christ. And he says this (v. 4) lest any man should beguile them with enticing words. He uses the word therefore in verse 6 — in verse 5 he points out their order and steadfast faith in Christ. In verse 6, he concludes that since they have received Christ Jesus the Lord (as ye have therefore received Christ Jesus…), so walk ye in him. He expands on his meaning in verse 7. When you received Christ Jesus the Lord, everything was of Christ. In the same way, your Christian life and walk must be rooted and built up in Him. He is the foundation and He is the building. Beware of those who would spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, would carry you away captive from Christ. Christ is the fullness of God, and you are made full in Christ. The body of the sins of your flesh are put off by the circumcision of Christ. You are buried with Him, and you are risen with Him, and you are made alive together with Him. He has removed the contrariness of the law, and has made an open show of the lawyers who so severely prosecute you even now.
You might notice yet another therefore, this time in verse 16 — Because Christ is the foundation and the building, the ultimate starting point and the ultimate ending point, and because Christ has obliterated the “handwriting of ordinances that was against us,” let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days…”
Paul has been making a point in all of this. Christ is the Lord. He has spoken to us in the Word of God, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, and in those Scriptures He has revealed to us what we are to believe concerning God, and what duties God requires of man. This must be our first and ultimate starting point, our most fundamental, rudimentary presupposition.
Paul has been making this point to combat the Colossian error. We don’t invent our own ways of being holy. We don’t make up our own rules, or set boundaries that God doesn’t set. Notice what Paul says in verses 16-17. “Let no man therefore judge you…” The first word of that sentence in the TR is a Greek word of negation. The sentence would literally read “not therefore anyone you judge.” Greek does not depend on word order for meaning in the way that English does, so an unusual word order is used for emphasis. In this case, Paul gives a very emphatic “not.” Let NO man judge you. The “you” is accusative, so it belongs after the verb, and it is emphatic to boot. Paul emphatically does not want any man judging them. Why? Because Christ is the judge. Our holiness is given by Christ, kept by Christ, and judged by Christ. Man does not give our holiness, nor does man determine what holiness is, or chart the course for holiness. Most certainly then, man has no right making up his own rules for holiness or judging your holiness (or lack therefore) by his own standards.
So this thing of standards is a matter of whose standards we use. Men want us to live by man’s standard. God demands that we live by Christ’s standards. We are not judged by man’s standards. Let no man judge you in eating or drinking — whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
Let no man judge you in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days. Paul elaborates on this extensively in I Corinthians 8, and in Romans 14-15. Note what he says in Romans 14:5ff, “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.”
This is Paul’s point — that we must live by faith. Romans 14:22-23 states this directly: “Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Let God be your judge, and be concerned what He thinks of you, not what we think of you. For all of these things, all of the eating and drinking, all of the holydays and new moons and Sabbaths, every one of these things are “a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ.”
Paul is setting up a contrast in verse 17, between shadow and substance, between skia and soma. Shadow requires substance. Air does not cast a shadow, neither do mere ideas or theories. So, the law is not simply a picture, a sketch, or an outline. It is more than an ideal. The law is a shadow, and the shadow is cast by the substance of God’s true holiness. For the body, the substance is Christ’s. The word for Christ here is in the genitive/ablative case. This is an example of the richness of meaning contained in the very words of God. Genitives have a wealth of possibility attached to them. In this case, the context would allow for this to be a genitive of possession, a genitive of relationship, and an ablative of source. The body, the substance of the law, is Christ. It is derived from Christ, and the fullness, the meaning, the righteousness of it can only be realized through union with Christ.
The Gnostics preached asceticism, but that was not the point of the law to begin with. The point of the law was to make a difference between the clean and the unclean. That implies that there was a difference between the clean and the unclean to begin with, contrary to the Gnostic teaching that the material world was evil. Through Christ, the ceremonial prohibitions of the law were ended (Acts 10). But Gnostic error turned the law into an issue of abstinence. God never intended for the law to be ascetic.
And that brings us to the issue here. Our standards must come from God. We do not have liberty to “make things up as we go.” Most certainly, we must strive to live according to God’s law, in obedience to Christ. But we do not make up our own rules, nor are we beholden to the whims of men. Since Christ is the ultimate authority, we take our standards from the Word of God. Presupposing Christ, we live by His law. He has given us every good thing to enjoy, and we enjoy it, receiving it with thanksgiving.