Should a CHRISTIAN BELIEVER observe WORLDLY TRADITIONS? “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations-- "Do not touch, do not taste, and do not handle”, which all concern things which perish with the using--according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (Col. 2:20-23)
In the above passage, Apostle Paul clarifies that believers in Christ have died from the “basic principles of the world”. The word “world” here designates humanity as a whole, now fallen into sin and moral disorder, radically opposed to God. The “basic principles of the world” thus refer to traditions, rituals and ordinances propagated by the sinful humanity. Since the Colossian believers were dead along with Christ to the world, signified through their water baptism (Rom. 6:3-4), Paul asks them why they were still subjecting themselves to keeping worldly traditions and regulations since they were walking in the newness of life. Since the gospel has freed them from attempting to gain heaven by self-effort, they should never subject themselves again to such legalistic ordinances!
The New Testament is clear that every Christian believer has died to (or, has become separated from) the rudiments of the world from the time of salvation (see Rom 6:6, 11; 7:4; 2 Cor. 5:15; Gal 6:14). This means that every Christian believer has been released from every kind of ritualistic observance since "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). No human work can be added to the merit of Christ’s death on the Cross that was the only acceptable work in God’s eyes. The legalistic restrictions underline the self-imposed religion and are of no value for salvation that is offered only through the finished work of Christ.
What was really happening among the Colossian believers was that some false teachers were forcing them to live by the world system by placing ascetic requirements on them. However, these laws of human origin do not solve the real problem, namely, the desires of the flesh. Some other false teachers were emphasizing reliance on obedience to laws to win God’s love (legalism), and abstaining from things to earn merit with God through the practice of asceticism. The strict legalism expresses itself in terms of external rules listed in the order of increasing severity “Handle not; neither taste; nor even touch” (William Kelly). These three prohibitions were examples of the heretical teachings which Apostle Paul warned against!
Weymouth translates verses 20–22 as follows: If you have died with Christ and have escaped from the world’s rudimentary notions, why, as though your life still belonged to the world, do you submit to such precepts as “Do not handle this”; “Do not taste that”; “Do not touch that other thing”—referring to things which are all intended to be used up and to perish—in obedience to mere human injunctions and teachings?
These practices of worldly traditions create a seeming appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and severity to the body. Self-imposed religion means that these people adopt a form of worship according to their own ideas of what is right, rather than according to God’s word. False humility is a pretention by these people that they were too humble to approach God directly. Neglect of the body refers to the practice of asceticism, and is the belief that through self-denial humans can achieve a higher state of holiness. However, they are of no value as they do not succeed in checking the indulgence of the flesh!
Let us understand that God accepts worship offered according to His will as revealed in Scripture, and not through any religious exercises done according to worldly traditions (Matt. 15:9). We should be clear that God must be worshiped only in the way He has instituted as revealed in His Word. Thus, a Christian believer should not observe any kind of worldly traditions, if at all possible!