The word of the day is “false.” In our reading of Colossians 2:20-3:3, Paul continues to warn against the false religiosity of teachers who are leading the congregation at Colossae away from the freedom of the Gospel. In today’s passage, we read, “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourself to regulations…” (vs. 20).
“Very Religious” With False Piety
In their ignorance of God, humans have devised all sorts of false piety . Speaking to the philosophers in Athens, Paul noted the variety of altars to the gods on the Areopagus.” To him, these shrines were signs that the Athenians were “very religious” (Acts 17:22). The Apostle noted that God, the Creator had so ordered the human race that human persons “should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).
Even so, human societies had invented countless ways of “groping” for God throughout the ages. But now God has revealed Himself in His Son. And by Christ’s death and resurrection He has freed believers from the human exertions to find and please God.
The “principles of the world” are Paul’s way of describing the rudimentary principles of the cosmic forces of the universe (Strong’s #4747, 234). Regardless of their origin, Paul considers them to be “doctrines of men” (vs. 22).
Rivals to the Gospel
The Orthodox Study Bible categorizes the nature of these rivals to the Gospel (OSB fn. On 2:16-23). The first is false worship (vs. 16 & 17). It is the lethal “man-centered superstitious ritualism.” The second is “false mysticism” that falls into the errors of “deception, pride, schism, and a mind controlled by passions and the body.” The third is “false asceticism.” Like mysticism it is not wrong. But its temptations are “”submitting to created realities, heeding human traditions, and the deception of feeding the flesh when you think that you are denying the flesh when you are feeding it.
All of outwardly look like wisdom. But they are known by their “self-imposed” religiosity, (Strong’s #1479, 76) and “false humility.” “Neglect of the body” or its severe treatment (Strong’s #858, 48) and “indulgence of the flesh, “that is gratification of our lower desires (Strong’s #4140, 204) are also indication of false piety (vs. 23).
The Essence of Counterfeit Religiosity
All counterfeit religiousness has one key characteristics. It promises to free us from our ties to this world. Yet it does not connect us to God through the worship of God in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24). But it binds us to our own worldly imaginations and deceptive desires.
Therefore, Paul prescribes the remedy against such temptations: “Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth” (vs. 3:2). Ritualism, mysticism, and asceticism are spiritual pitfalls if pursued in themselves. They must serve the purpose of drawing us closer to Christ and increasing in us the Love of God and of neighbor.
Human beings have an innate need for God that they drive to satisfy with self-made religions. But St. Porphyrios answers the universal quest for religiosity with the simple words, “What makes a person holy is love, the adoration of Christ” (Porphyrios 2005, 134)
Porphyrios, St. 2005. Wounded by Love: the Life and the Wisdom of Saint Porphrios. Translated by John Raffan. Limni, Evia, Greece: Denise Harvey, Publisher.