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6. Unhealthy Living (Colossians 2:16-23)

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Scriptural Insight: Having revealed what believers have in Christ, Paul next pointed out the errors of the false teachers more specifically to help his readers identify and reject their instruction…Sad to say, there are many Christians who actually believe that some person, religious system, or discipline can add something to their spiritual experience. But they already have everything they ever will need in the person and work of Jesus Christ.” (Constables Notes on Colossians, p. 44-45)

Day One Study

Read Colossians 2:1-23.

  1. Now look specifically at verses 16-23. What is Paul’s tone in this passage?
  1. What ideas are repeated here that you have already observed in Colossians 1:1-2:15 (give verses)?
  2. What ideas are repeated within this passage (Colossians 2:16-23, give verses)?
  3. Paul uses the word “therefore” to begin this passage. (So, what is the “therefore” there for?) Summarize in your own words Paul’s main message to the Colossians (and to us) from the beginning of the letter to this point so you can understand his emphasis in vv. 16-23.
  4. List the ways false teaching has begun to infiltrate the church of Colosse.

The temptation of legalism (relying on keeping rules to maintain acceptance before God and/or other Christians) is affecting the Colossians. Paul began to address this in vv. 11-14 when he said circumcision of the heart done by Christ in believers is greater than the old practice of cutting the skin. We died with Christ and are raised to new life with Him. Legalism is a substitute for Christ.

  1. Focusing on vv. 16-17:
  • How is your standing before God NOT to be judged?
  • Why?
  1. Never underestimate the impressiveness (or oppressiveness) of legalism (part of the elementary principles of the world mentioned in v. 8 and 20).
  • Why do you think the Gentiles in the Colossian church would even be tempted by legalism?
  • Read Hebrews 10:1-8 and Romans 8:1-8. Why shouldn’t we revert back to following the religious Law to please God?
  1. Who is the only one qualified to act as your judge on how you live out your spiritual life? Why? Provide verses from Colossians 1 and 2 to explain your answer.
  2. Notice that the “rules” mentioned here were all ethically neutral things. Think of some modern-day examples of legalistic rules that affect Christian churches and their members.

The temptation of mysticism (reliant on visions, angelic sightings, or supernatural experiences to improve your relationship with God) is affecting the Colossians. Paul uses the terms “worship of angels” and “what he has seen” to identify this activity. Mysticism is a substitute for Christ.

  1. Read Colossians 2:18-19 in 3 different translations on your Bible app or online (i.e., and fill out the following chart to see how Paul describes those who seek such visions, angelic sightings, or supernatural experiences and the results in their lives. I’ve filled out the NET for you.


Verse 18

Verse 19


Delights in false humility, goes on at great lengths about what theyve seen, puffed up with empty notions by his fleshly mind

Has not held fast to the head

(Christ, 1:18)



  1. Our God chooses to appear in visions and dreams to those who are in Christ as well as to those who are not yet His. The timing and manner is His choice. Paul is addressing those who seek special visions and supernatural experiences. Why would that happen? What is the true problem? Look back at all of Colossians 1 and 2 to get your answer. Give verses.
  2. Read Galatians 1:6-9, 18 and 2 Corinthians 11:13-15. According to these verses, why is it possible for angelic sightings or supernatural experiences to be from a source other than God?
  3. Paul uses the Greek word translated “false humility (NIV)” twice in this passage (vv. 18 and 23). Read the “Focus on the Meaning” below to see the fruits of false humility.

Focus on the Meaning: False humility is being proud of one’s humbleness and unworthiness to go directly to God and to instead seek a mediator whom you think is easier to approach than God—angels or dead religious heroes. Or, you seek supernatural experiences that validate your emotions, making you feel closer to God. Anyone who does have such a supernatural experience can become puffed up with self-conceit because of a sense of importance and elitism. The Colossians heresy included a form of mysticism (seeking “heavenly” visions or experiences) which temped its followers to look on themselves as a spiritual elite…leaving one at risk of being so unbalanced by the experience that one could no longer distinguish truth from error. People who have mystical experiences tend to attach more importance to what they saw or heard in the course of such an experience than to the sober truth of the Word of God. (F. F. Bruce, “The Colossian Heresy, Part 3 of Colossian Problems,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 141, July-September 1984:200, 202)

  • What are the dangers of seeking visions or supernatural experiences?
  • Who or what is being substituted for Him?

Paul says that seeking mystical experiences will disqualify (deprive) you for the prize (reward). Of what are you being deprived? (Look carefully for your answer within all of Chapter 2.)

Think About It: Although the enemy cannot separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus, once you are saved he delights in deceiving you so you don’t appropriate what is yours. His strategy is to convince you that whatever you need from God you don’t deserve. He wants to convince you that you shouldn’t ask Him for it or expect Him to give it to you. (Kay Arthur, Lord, Is It Warfare?)

  1. Staying Healthy: The temptation to mysticism is as true today as it was at the time Paul wrote to the Colossians. If you or someone you hear about claims to see a vision, to encounter an angel, or to have a supernatural experience:
  • What should be the main message proclaimed in order for it to be a true message from God? Explain your answer.
  • What clues would help you recognize that this person is not satisfied with all that she already has in Christ so that she is seeking a substitute?

Day Two Study

Read Colossians 2:16-23.

The temptation of asceticism (strict self-denial as a means of personal holiness and earning merit with God) is affecting the Colossians. Asceticism is a substitute for Christ.

  1. Let’s focus now on vv. 20-23. What spiritual practice initiated by false teaching does Paul attack next?
  2. Focusing on verse 23:
  • These “do not’s” seem to have the appearance of what? How?
  • What does Paul say these spiritual practices of outward performance or compliance can NEVER accomplish (verse 23)?
  • Why is that? Refer back to Romans 8:1-8.

Focus on the Meaning: If people practice various forms of abstinence and find their spiritual health improved thereby, that is their own responsibility. But if they make their abstinence a matter of boasting, and if they try to impose it on others, they are wrong. (F. F. Bruce, “The Colossian Heresy, Part 3 of Colossian Problems,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 141, July-September 1984:205)

  1. The word “fraud” is defined as the “intentional perversion of truth in order to induce another to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right” ( A fraud presents a substitute. Explain how these false teachings are a “fraud” to the full, complete, and pure gospel message (TRUTH v. ERROR) that was first taught to the Colossians.

Think About It: Four harmful teaching emphases of these false teachers are still with us today. The first is “higher” knowledge (Gnosticism) such as so called scientific, archaeological, or paleontological “facts” that contradict Scripture, so called revelations that claim to be on a par with Scripture, and teaching that directly contradicts biblical revelation. The second is the observance of laws to win God’s love (legalism). Some examples are: salvation by works, teaching that puts Christians under the Mosaic Law, and teaching that says sanctification comes by keeping man-made rules. The third is the belief that beings other than Christ (angels, “saints,” or ancestors) must mediate between people and God (mysticism) or that certain mystical experiences can improve our relationship with God. The fourth is the practice of abstaining from things to earn merit with God (asceticism). Some examples are: fasting to force God’s hand, living in isolation to avoid temptation, and self-mutilation to mortify the flesh. (Constables Notes on Colossians, p. 48-49)

  1. Staying Healthy: Genuine Christians can be deceived by false teaching, even teaching concerning Christ. Have you recognized in your study of Colossians so far that you have a concept about God, Christ, salvation, the church or the Christian life that is not based on Scripture, but on man-made tradition or philosophy? Write it (them) down. Now, give that to Jesus and ask Him to help you accept the truth of God’s Word alone.

Think About It: When we make Jesus Christ and the Christian revelation only part of a total religious system or philosophy, we cease to give Him the preeminence. When we strive for “spiritual perfection” or “spiritual fullness” by means of formulas, disciplines, or rituals, we go backward instead of forward. Christian believers must beware of mixing their Christian faith with such alluring things as yoga, transcendental meditation, Eastern mysticism, and the like. We must also beware of “deeper life” teachers who offer a system for victory and fullness that bypasses devotion to Jesus Christ. In all things, He must have the preeminence! (Constables Notes on Colossians, p. 49)

The treasure we have in Jesus Christ is greater than anything we can substitute for Him.

Day Three Study: TRUTH—the Prescription for Healthy Living

Dwell in Truth You Can Know

  1. Review the Colossians passage we studied in this lesson. List the truths about God and His relationship to us that we can KNOW.

Humbly Accept the “I Don’t Know or Understand”

  1. From the Colossians passage we studied in this lesson, make note of anything that you do not understand at this time.

Discern Teaching through the Complete Revelation of God’s Word

  1. Evaluate something you have read or heard in light of the TRUTH you are learning—books, social media, billboards—things that sound nice and comfy but may actually lead to or be based upon error in biblical thinking. Does anything come to mind that fits with today’s lesson? Discern truth from error using the following process.
  • Step #1: Define the terms and issues involved.
  • Step #2: Ask questions and support your answers with Scripture, looking for truth you can know and what you can’t know.
  • Step #3: Think of a graceful response to someone holding to that type of thinking.

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