Asceticism: No Value!
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
“If with Christ you have died” is a reference to their conversion to Christ. These Christians in Colossae are reminded of their choice to leave sin (die to it) and become followers of Christ. Romans 6 teaches, one dies with Christ in baptism (See also Col. 2:12). So here (Col. 2:20), Paul takes their attention back to that initial act of dying with Christ. The implications of that act needed to be considered as they were tempted and being deceived by false teachers.
In that initial act of obedience, they died with Christ “to the elemental spirits of the world.” In conversion, they separated themselves from the worldly, the earthly ideas and ambitions, the human wisdom now being pushed in their face by false teachers.
The main question of this text is – if you have given up those earthly elemental forms and patterns, why now – as baptized believers – would you go back and let men subject you to human religious regulations?
“If you died with Christ, as, of course, you did,” for you were buried with him (see on verse 12 above) and you were raised with him (verse 12 again; also 3:1), then you have also in that very act made a complete break with all such rudimentary instruction that bases its hope upon anything apart from Christ and fulness of salvation in him. 
The false teachers at work in Colossae had developed (or received from their religious forefathers) a set of rules they were imposing and pushing. Paul is telling the Christians in Colossae, you are complete in Christ! You died to those things.
“Do not handle?” “Do not taste?” “Do not touch?” These human precepts were worldly, perishable and human in origin. They referred to things “that all perish as they are used.” If you have died with Christ in baptism (2:12), you have walked away from such human religious regulations.
“These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
The religious rules and regulations men invented and pushed – might look impressive. But the system was self-made – that is, made by the user rather than the Creator.
Asceticism is a system of thought (man-made) that treats the body severely, assuming this has some deep spiritual benefit. False teachers in Colossae were pushing this, but Paul is clear: “…they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
So, how do we get out of sin and into fellowship with God? How do we develop long-term self-control? Where do we find wisdom for good living and with solid hope as we face death?
In Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” (Col. 2:3).
Don’t be impressed by those people who make a show of their humility, pretending that they are too unworthy to contact God directly and must therefore seek to reach God by the mediation of angels whom they adore and worship. [It is not certain, however, that this was their real reason for worshiping the angels. It is a suggestion that has been offered by many.]
Do not allow those pretenders to disqualify you, as if your manner of worshiping God (or Christ) is not good enough. Remember, instead of being really humble, these impostors are “puffed up by their fleshly mind.” They are “not keeping firm hold on the Head, from whom the entire body, supported and held together by joints and ligaments, grows with a growth (that is) from God.”
And finally, if with Christ you died to the world’s puerile notions, why then do you submit to ordinances, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch.” Such man-made regulations have merely a show of wisdom. If you obey them, thinking that conquest over evil and fulness of salvation lies in that direction, you will be worse off than ever before. Such self-imposed ritual serves only to indulge the flesh. It feeds man’s pride. It will but lead you away from Christ and fulness of salvation in him.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001). Vol. 6: Exposition of Colossians and Philemon. New Testament Commentary (130). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001). Vol. 6: Exposition of Colossians and Philemon. New Testament Commentary (135). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
From Expository Files 23.8; August 2016