Last time, we stopped in the middle of Colossians chapter 2, verse 19. “[Those promoting a religion of self-abasement and rule keeping] are not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God” (Col 2:19). Proper spiritual maturity, growth in the Christian life, comes from lining up our ways under the headship of Christ. The entire church, the community of believers grows up when we walk according to the gospel of Christ.
Paul contrasts spiritual growth under the headship of Christ with the deceptive approach of a rule keeping system. “If you died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’…in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?” (Col 2:20-22). These rule keeping systems are man-made. And when we follow them, we are reverting back to an empty religion, a philosophy with which the world is very familiar.
“These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col 2:23). These rule keeping systems have an “appearance of wisdom”, but are in fact “self-made religion”. And the eye-popping conclusion to the chapter is, “they are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”
Did you hear that? The very thing that we think will keep the flesh in check – rules, self-loathing, severe treatment – is not only biblically incorrect when we understand who we are in Christ, but is also of no value whatsoever against fleshly indulgence. Nada. Nothing. Useless in combatting the flesh. It is a system that actually thwarts the work of Christ rather than help us to carry it out.
Think through your own experience with me. I don’t believe I am setting up a straw man of rule keeping to attack with Paul’s freedom message of Colossians. The “appearance of wisdom” through the keeping of rules is very much alive and well in the church. And the sad part is that in addition to just being wrong, it does not contribute to the very thing we seek – crucifixion of the flesh.
So if the rule keeping method does not work against fleshly indulgence, should we abandon the goal and just accept fleshly indulgence as the normal Christian life? No. No. No. May it never be. Fleshly indulgence is sin. And there is a victorious approach to crucifying the flesh. Paul explains it in the next chapter of Colossians. We will go there next time.