Human Precepts and Teachings

‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used) — according to human precepts and teachings?” (Col. 2:22).

- Colossians 2:21-22

Of all the things that could be said about biblical Christianity, one would be hard pressed to accuse it of promoting the idea that the material world is all bad and only the spiritual world is good. God originally made everything very good (Gen. 1:31), and though creation does suffer the effects of the fall, there is nothing inherently good or evil about different foods, sex, and other material things (Mark 7:14–23; 1 Cor. 7).

Historically speaking, many professing Christians have had difficulty accepting this truth, even during the period in which the New Testament was written. Misreading the Old Testament as declaring that certain foods are in themselves eternally unclean, for example, first-century Colossian heretics promoted dietary regulations and other forms of ascetic withdrawal from the world as a means to holiness and freedom from evil spirits (Col. 2:16, 21–22). Such practices were foolish because they denied that in Christ believers have died to the authority and control of Satan and his army, and because submitting to such rules as essential for true freedom just returned power to the Enemy (v. 20; Gal. 5:1). In today’s passage, Paul says that embracing a legalistic lifestyle that takes a little from Judaism, a little from paganism, and a little from Christianity is also foolish because rules about food and drink, when seen in their proper context as part of the regulations of God’s people in infancy (Gal. 3:23–29), deal only with temporary things (Col. 2:20–21). In other words, to invest food laws and similar matters with eternal value for the promotion of true holiness is to treat things temporary as things eternal, and vice versa. Those who do this fail to see that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). Dietary regulations were never meant to be eternal but to show the Israelites that on their own they could not even keep the “easy” laws designed to manifest their separation from the world, thereby driving them to faith in Christ, who breaks the slavery of sin and makes us holy.

What we eat comes and goes, but what is entrusted to Jesus lasts forever. Devotion to Him alone is the only way to eternal life in a new creation wherein both physical and non-physical realities are free from the influence of sin (John 14:6).

Coram Deo

Scripture is actually a repetitive book, and we have seen a glimpse of this in Colossians 2 as Paul reminds us over and over that our obedience to law can do nothing to free us from evil. The Bible needs to be this repetitive because we are thick-headed and prone to try to make ourselves righteous by our own efforts. Jesus alone can make us righteous, and continual turning to Him is the only way to ensure that Satan has no undue influence on us.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 51
Acts 10

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