Therefore if you are dead with Christ from the elements of the world, why, as though living in the world, are you subject to ordinances, touch not; taste not; handle not; which all perish with the using; after the commandments and doctrines of men? These things have indeed an appearance of wisdom, in self- imposed religion, and false humility, and neglect of the body: but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. Col 2:20-23
This is the second time in this chapter that Paul mentions the elements of the world. The first:
Beware lest any man cheat you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. Col 2:8
“Rudiments” defined by Webster’s, means, “a basic principle or element,” in other words, elements of the world. What is Paul talking about? We get a major key to understanding the puzzle in Galatians:
But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain. Gal 4:8-11
The elements or rudiments of the world in Colossians, is the same as the weak and beggarly elements in Galatians. The Galatians, and Colossians, were mixing elements of paganism with their faith. In paganism, it is the elements of the world that are worshiped, the sun, moon, stars, trees, waters, and the like. It is the religion in which nature is elevated as creator and god (and its modern descendant is darwinian evolution, although darwinists would deny it).
Revering the elements of the world is a practice from antiquity, whose origin was at the Tower of Babel rebellion against God. It is man’s religion, its traditions are man’s traditions, and its commandments and doctrines are the commandments and doctrines of men.
The particular doctrine of men the Colossians were dealing with, was adding the worship of angels, and asceticism, the philosophy of practicing strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline, to the biblical faith Paul had preached to them.
And this is the crux. It is not the Torah of the Lord that is a philosophy and vain deceit to be wary of. The commandments and doctrines of God are to be embraced and not discarded (Mat 5:17-19, Joh 14:15, Rom 3:31). But the commandments and doctrines of men, the traditions of men, are mere philosophy and vain deceit. They have the appearance of wisdom to the fleshly mind, but are of no value in changing or restraining the old nature, the lusts of the flesh. Only God can create a circumcised heart in a person, from whence true victory over the flesh comes.