6 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. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
We are created with a spiritual nature. It is part of who we are. It is unavoidable. That is why G.K. Chesterton said, “When we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.” It is also the root and source of all false religion.
But human complexity means we do not always face discreet, easily identifiable categories of “in” or “out,” but rather a continuum with orthodox Christian faith at one end and passing through Theological mistake, systemic error and even heresy before arriving at absolute heterodoxy.
This is why, even in the Christian community, we must always be attentive to doctrinal issues. Paul is dealing with that in this passage from Colossians. Asceticism, a belief in and enthusiasm for angels, and discussion of spiritual visions are all issues that are popular today, as they were in Paul’s day. And undiscerning believers can be drawn in by a fascination with such things. After all, they are spiritual, are they not?
Indeed, they are spiritual realities, created by God. But Paul says a person inclined to overemphasis of such things is “puffed up without reason by his sensual mind.” They are drawn away by religious experience, to worship the created thing, rather than the Creator.
And the solution, the cure Paul gives is to “Hold fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God (v. 19).” Even the mere description of abiding in Christ sounds healthier, and more appealing.
So the spiritual can be given an undue emphasis that leads the church away from her Head. We can also err in our treatment of the material. We can fear or avoid that which God has called good. But “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” are “human precepts and teachings.” They have the “appearance of wisdom, but are of no value in stopping indulgence of the flesh.” We are right to resist indulging our flesh for it, too, can lead us away from Christ. But the solution is not another human strategy. To “hold fast to the head,” is still our only hope. These other means are “a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ (v. 17).”