Within the human race there is a natural tendency toward self-righteousness and legalism. As humans we like to make rules and regulations that we think will give us some type of credibility or gain some favor from God. Even though we might not say it out loud, the way that we live shows it clearly. Sometimes we may even equate someone with being a mature Christian because they completely abstain from stuff like movies, social media, TV, secular music, etc. Abstaining from things might be helpful if it causes you to stumble into sin, but we should never equate abstinence from things as maturity. This is exactly what Paul is telling the Colossians church in this chapter. There are false teachers who are telling them to submit to certain regulations and rules because they teach that it will add to them a righteous standing with God. Paul even says in (v23) “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.” There are two main things to notice here as to why Paul tells the Colossians not to submit themselves to rules and regulations that the false teachers are teaching.
1. Rules and regulations cannot change our heart - Paul here is not saying that we should not put-up guards against things that make us stumble into sin. Paul says in Romans 13:14 “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” We should definitely have walls up that keep us from stumbling into sin, but ultimately in that scenario the main goal should always be to have means by which the Lord can grow us in holiness. What Paul is saying in Colossians 2 is that we should never submit to rules and regulations with the motive of trying to gain a righteous standing before God because there is nothing, we can do to gain that. Legalism is the term theologians have used to describe someone who is doing stuff because they think it will somehow add to their righteousness. Rules and regulations might keep us from doing certain things, but they will never change our heart. They might give off the appearance of holiness, but the heart might still be filled with pride and lust. Jesus himself said in Mark 7:20 “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.” So, what is it that Paul tells them, these things might have an appearance of righteousness, but it cannot change the condition of your heart.
2. The Gospel is of first importance - From (v1-15) Paul is preaching the gospel to them. Paul begins the chapter with the gospel because the gospel is of first importance. He wants them to understand that there is no way that Paul, the Colossians, or us can ever gain a righteous standing before God by our own means. We can try to abstain from everything possible that we think will give us a favor with God but at the end of the day it is not enough to meet the high holy standard of which God requires. That is why it is necessary to be hidden behind the person of Christ, knowing that it is his righteousness that covers my life. And it is because of that righteousness that we can have full access to God and commune with him. The gospel is of first importance!!
Elder Mike Cheng from Northshore Baptist Church recently preached on this chapter. He does a phenomenal job at really explaining the importance of this. I will attach a link in case you want to dig in deeper to this chapter.