To this word of the removal of the oppositional decrees and the reminder that Jesus, as Lord, is the ruler of all (a frequent assertion by Paul as he communicates the Gospel message), along with his position of solidarity with Gentiles, Paul adds “Therefore do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days” (2:16). This can be nothing less than a direct reference to the covenant markers that had previously served as boundaries that, in combination with circumcision, served to maintain separation between Jews and Gentiles, and which some continued to insist were a requirement for Gentile participation. Paul clearly and repeatedly strikes at this notion. He has referred to it as a certificate of indebtedness that has been taken away because of the cross.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul references these covenant markers as “those things… once destroyed” (2:18), insisting that the taking up of these works of the law, by a Gentile, as the means by which he or she enters into God’s covenant people, or as the response to entrance upon the covenant, becomes the equivalent of breaking God’s law (2:18). A profound and potentially startling conclusion! Indeed (though we are not attempting to join text to text, but merely referencing others of Paul’s letters as a means to adequately grasp the thinking of the Apostle), he goes on to insist that if covenant inclusion comes from adherence to covenant markers (if righteousness could come through the law – 2:21), “then Christ died for nothing!” (2:21b)
Following from the mention of food, drink, feasts and the like, Paul tells his Colossian hearers that “these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ!” (2:17) While the covenant markers pointed to the kingdom of God, and while they served to delineate those that were participating, or those that were supposed to be participating, or those that were thought to be in a position to participate in that kingdom, it is the confession of Jesus as “the Christ,” or as “the Messiah,” that has enabled the reality of that kingdom and demonstrates its world-encompassing (people, creation, and cosmos) scope.
Moving along to the third chapter, we find Paul taking up a popular theme from the early church and in his own letters (to Corinth as the most prominent example), which was the idea that the church represented a new humanity---the way of being truly human. As Paul has championed the fusion of Jew and Gentile into one people, we must hear the words to come with a state of mind shaped by that thought, as Paul says “Do not lie to one another since you have put off the old man with its practices” (3:9). This is far more than a simple juxtaposition of the “carnal,” “unsaved,” or unregenerate” man, against the “spiritual,” “saved,” or “regenerate” man. The ideal that stands behind this statement is the new creation and the new humanity that is shaped by the activity of the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.
The “old man” is the old way of being human, prior to the example provided by God in Christ, which climaxed with the cross and the Resurrection. That understood, we allow Paul to add to that the insistence that those that confess Jesus as Lord, and who allow their lives and their interaction in, with, and for this world to be shaped by His cross and all that it implies, “have been clothed with the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it” (3:10). The new humanity, most importantly, will finally be able to rightly bear the divine image, to steward His creation (now the creation that is being renewed and will be completely renewed), and to reflect His glory into the world, which had been the purpose of God in His act of creation. In this new humanity of divine image-bearers that have been given the physical and historical example of Jesus to imitate in their quest to bear that image, “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free” (3:11a). Accordingly then, “Christ is all and in all” (3:11b). The Messiah is a Messiah for all peoples, He is the manifestation of God, and He dwells within His people (reverting back to thoughts of the Temple as the place where God dwells and as the place where heaven and earth overlap).
As if Paul has not made himself clear enough to this point, having made this point about the composition of the new humanity that is the church of the Christ, Paul continues to take up and extend language that had been exclusively reserved to national Israel and to those that had Judaized, building on talk of being clothed with the new man and further describing the appearance that should be taken by this new humanity, writing “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you,” remembering the exodus connotation of “forgiveness,” “so you also forgive others” (3:12-13). Paul believes that unity is key for the church, and he does not underestimate the difficulties in melding disparate people groups into one body. Speaking to that, he continues in this stream of thought, writing “And to all these virtues add love, which is the perfect bond. Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful” (3:14-15).