The more we try, the more we fail. The more rules there are, the more opportunity arises to break them. God's covenant with us is not based on rules and regulations, but on his grace poured out to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus, Paul writes to the church in Colossae, "See to it that no no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2.8). In the original Greek, "the elemental spirits [ or "elementary principles"] of the world" is a military term for a strict, orderly code of conduct. Paul is not discounting the need for rules and regulations in establishing boundaries and parameters, but he is saying that such codes of conduct are, in and of themselves, void of any spiritual power. Human beings are incapable of saving themselves by following rules because human beings are incapable of following rules.
The law served its purpose in revealing to human beings that they are fallen creatures who cannot, by their own effort and strength, live a life that is pleasing to God. The only way the requirements of the law could be fulfilled was for God, the Author of the law, to become man and submit to the law's righteous requirements on man's behalf. The way to reconciliation with God, therefore, is through Christ and Christ alone. To die with him "to the elemental spirits of the world" is to surrender our will to his and to let go of any and every claim to righteousness based on our own effort.
Legalism leads to judgmentalism, and Paul warns the Colossians to discount those who claim to be superior in their faith and, through their overindulgences, have become severed from "the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God" (Colossians 2.19).
All who have died with Christ "to the elemental spirits of the world" are one body and share one faith. Being vitally connected to "the Head," they grow together toward the perfection that God desires for them; to be like Christ in every facet of their lives and to be transformed into his perfect image and likeness. Such growth into Christ requires mutual accountability and nurture. Arrogance and spiritual superiority are obstacles which are to be avoided on the journey to perfect holiness.