Voluntary Prisoners

(Colossians 2:20-23) Paul shows how we are voluntary prisoners to the religion of self. He ends with a call of freedom in Christ.

Woman holding onto metal bars.
Photo by Christopher Windus / Unsplash

If you died with Messiah to the basic principles of the world, why—as though living in the world—do you subject yourselves to their rules? "Don't handle! Don't taste! Don't touch!" These all lead to decay with use, based as they are on man-made commands and teachings. Indeed, these are matters that have an appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and humility and self-denial of the body—yet none are of any value for stopping indulgence of the flesh.

Colossians 2:20-23 (TLV)

Living as Voluntary Prisoners

It seems the Colossians were taking their righteousness in their own hands. Paul keeps having to argue against the religion of self.

He’s also having to warn them not to follow their culture’s leading here on purity. Asceticism, a harsh abstinence from any indulgence, had creeped into their worship.

Aren’t Christians supposed to abstain from things? Well, of course, we are to live free from sin. The Colossians, though, were adding extra “rules” and regulations, extra burdens upon themselves to be pure.

Still, why is Paul not praising their “efforts” in being more religious?

At the Center of it All…

In the end, Pauls says, “Nuh-uh.”

In fact, he argues this “harsh treatment” of the body is no use at all in indulging wrong desires. It’s like trying to starve a hungry dog to make it less…hungry. 🤔

At the center of the issue is the heart.

By beating themselves into purity they had forgotten to place their faith in the One already beaten for their sins.

At the heart of this is the Gospel. The good news to the world which shouts, “Yo! This whole sin, purity, religious thing has been taken care of! So look to Jesus, the Son of God.” (My loose translation)

Dead to be Alive

Paul says the Colossians have “died with Christ”, their sins buried, and His righteousness received. So why remain voluntary prisoners to the world's rules?

Likewise, if you have turned completely to Christ, repented of your sins, and trusted in Jesus for salvation based on His righteousness, then you too are dead to sin.

What does Paul mean we are dead to sin though? Does it mean we don’t have to be careful about our actions?

Please don’t misread this section of Scripture as a license to sin. He is addressing a specific issue, to a specific people, at a certain point in history. So, I’m going to let Paul speak for himself on what “being dead to sin” means:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Romans 6:1-4 (NIV)

Being dead to sin results in a new life led by a new heart washed by the Holy Spirit.

Some call this being “born again.” Some “regeneration” (literally means the same thing 😆). Either way, it’s a whole new life.

The Gospel is all about new life ushered in by Christ.


The world is going to seduce you with counterfeit gospels (like the shady guy with a jacket full of “Rolexes”):

  • Do more, be more.
  • Success is king.
  • Your happiness is the center of all.
  • Self improve until you can’t self improve anymore.

What cultural “rules” or gospels do you find yourself layering on top of the true Gospel?

Are there things you are doing or are not doing to achieve purity, holiness, or peace within your own power?

This is so important to ask yourself, because Paul would say to you, “Hey look: You’ve died with Christ, who put away your sin. He makes you holy. Trust in Him alone. Don’t rely on the world to do what Jesus has already done.”

Jesus calls us out of our voluntary imprisonment and the religion of self to a new life made possible by Him.

"The Gospel is all about new life ushered in by Christ."

Next week, Paul explains how we are risen with Christ, what we need to set our eyes on, and what the climax of history means for us.

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P.S. My amazing wife helped me revise this post and totally came up with title (my original one blew chunks...). Love you, Babes! 😙