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Daily Devotional Colossians 2:16–23

Pastor and author Kent Hughes observes that legalism reduces the message of the gospel. He explains that it “enshrines spirituality as a series of wooden laws” and calls it godliness. “Being in Christ is a relationship,” he explains, “and like all relationships, it deserves disciplined maintenance, but never legalistic reductionism.”

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink.


This kind of false teaching had crept into the Colossian church. Based on Paul’s rebuke in verses 16 and 21, they had begun to observe particular days as sacred and certain foods as religiously clean or unclean. It is unclear whether Paul had in mind legalists who wanted Christians to follow the law of Moses or the kind of rigid rule-following associated with some forms of mystery religions. Perhaps he had both in view.

His statement (v. 17) that dietary rules and the observance of special days are only a shadow of the reality found in Christ sounds much like the argument made in the book of Hebrews. His warning about the false worship of angels (v. 18) may refer to Gnostic ideas about spiritual intermediaries or certain magical practices involving angels.

Legalism does not work! Legalism will not help us control the flesh. Instead, it promotes spiritual pride. A Christian who falls into this way of thinking has forgotten the power of the cross. Christ’s victory over sin is the only thing that can truly keep us from “sensual indulgence” (v. 23). The rituals and observances of the Mosaic law were fulfilled with the coming of Christ. The rules and regulations of this type of religion have no lasting value and are “destined to perish with use” (v. 22). Without the power of the cross, the harshest discipline is merely a show.

>> Sometimes we may be tempted to reduce the message of the gospel to a list of “dos and don’ts.” Be careful not to let someone else’s judgment about such matters control your practice. Instead, rely on the grace of God in Christ to make you righteous.

Pray with Us

We associate firmness with strength, and this makes legalism attractive: rules are more concrete than relationships. In our relationship with You, teach us to rely on You rather than outward forms.

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