Subduing the Flesh
1. Paul has been dealing with the subject of asceticism, which the false teachers hoped to introduce into the church at Colossae.
2. He gave a sampling of their teachings in vs. 21.
3. Asceticism involved extremely rigid practices which inflicted pain and suffering on the body.
a. They believed that matter was evil, and thus so was the human body… and its natural appetites.
b. They believed that the spirit was good but the body was evil… and the way to liberate the spirit was to inflict suffering upon the body.
c. They gloried in removing pleasure from their lives.
d. They slept on hard beds; ate the most meager meals; practiced celibacy; fasted; refused ownership of property; lived a monastic lifestyle in cloistered communes; had little to no contact with the rest of the world; whipped their bodies.
4. Last week we noted how this type of thinking/lifestyle is inconsistent with our UNION with Christ… in His death and resurrection.
a. Paul states that since we died with Christ and have been raised up with Him, WHY would you want to subject yourselves to such earthly ordinances?
b. To THINK like an ascetic, or to LIVE like an ascetic is behavior that it inconsistent with our position in Christ: it is living “as though we were still living in the world!” (vs. 20)
5. Today we are going to look at four more reasons Paul gives for NOT submitting to any form of ascetic legalism:
a. They are temporary (perish with the using).
b. They are human in origin (commandments of men).
c. They are superficial (outward show).
d. They are ineffective (can’t get to the root of the problem).
Ascetic Practices are Temporary
A. Perish with the Using
1. Perish: that which is subject to corruption, what is perishable.
2. All of the earthly ordinances to which Paul just referred to PERISH with the using.
3. Think of the strict dietary laws the ascetics lived by.
a. They made a huge deal out of what they ate and what they would not eat.
b. They prided themselves in not eating meat and only eating vegetables.
c. However, Paul states that any ordinance that revolves around food revolves around that which perishes as soon as it is used!
B. Why Emphasize that Which is So Temporal? (vs. 22)
1. Ascetic ordinances are all temporal: they PERISH with the using.
a. Example: food – use it (eat it) and it perishes… it’s gone.
b. Example: money – use it (spend it) and it is gone.
c. Example: clothing – use it (wear it) and it perishes… it wears out… it’s gone.
d. Example: our body – we use it and ultimately it perishes. It’s gone!
e. Example: anything we touch, taste, or handle, is by its very nature, earthly, physical, and therefore temporal, and will eventually perish.
• Perish: that which is subject to corruption, what is perishable;
• All of the earthly ordinances to which Paul just referred PERISH with the using. (using = using up; consuming; wearing out)
2. So why dote over that which is temporal and perishing?
a. There are much more important issues: that which is spiritual and eternal!
b. Things such as love, grace, mercy, holiness, righteousness, purity, longsuffering, kindness, etc…
c. Rom. 14:17-20 – the kingdom isn’t about meat and drink! It is about eternal things…
d. Christianity isn’t about food, clothing, money, and our bodies.
e. Christianity is about Christ in us… and being transformed into His image!
f. So why strain at earthly gnats and IGNORE the indwelling Christ and His character which the Holy Spirit desires to develop in us?
g. Matt. 7:18 – Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him? 19Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?
h. Food cannot defile us… it just passes through us. Foods are temporal… and perish as soon as we eat them.
i. I Cor. 8:8 – But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better?; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
j. Don’t obsess over the physical things. Let’s face it: no matter what we eat… no matter how hard we discipline our bodies… eventually we are going to get sick and die.
k. I Tim. 4:8 – Bodily exercise does profit… and being careful over our diets does profit in this life. But GODLINESS is profitable in this life and in the life to come!
l. Concentrate on more lasting things: Christlike character… holiness… the fruit of the Sprit…
m. The fruit of the Spirit has eternal ramifications; earthly ordinances are temporal…
3. Emphasizing the earthly and temporal things is the ESSENCE of worldliness. (this life only attitude).
a. II Cor. 4:16-18 – how DISCOURAGING to dwell upon that which is temporal and earthly!
• Dwelling upon our earthly condition is vain: doting over our health, our body, our finances, our possessions, and all the other things we can touch, taste, or handle.
• They are ALL perishing!
• Our outer man is perishing too… but if we concentrate on Christ and eternal things, our inward man is being RENEWED…
• The older we get, the more the things we touch, taste, and handle will perish. Our money gets spent… our time gets spent… our homes begin to crumble… our bodies grow old and weary… the world is waxing worse and worse!
• So don’t live as if this life was all we had – how depressing!
» This life or this world is NOT all there is.
» Set your affection on things above!
» We look not at the things which are seen… which are temporal… but at the things which are not seen and are eternal!
• I Cor. 7:31 – And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.
» Use earthly things, but don’t abuse them.
» Use them for your health; use them for the creature comforts they afford… enjoy the things God has blessed you with…
» Don’t give them more attention than they deserve.
4. Doting over earthly ordinances is not only inconsistent:
a. It is inconsistent with our UNION with Christ in His death and resurrection.
b. It is also inconsistent with this reality: every one of those earthly ordinances is temporal… they perish with the using.
Ascetic Practices Human in Origin (commandments of men)
1. Ascetic practices are the commandments and doctrines of men.
a. And where did those men get their doctrines?
b. II Cor. 11:13-15 – ministers of Satan… promoting doctrines of demons!
• II Cor. 11:3 – the warning: be careful lest you become beguiled away from the SIMPLICITY that is in Christ.
• There is SIMPLICITY in Christ. Men tend to complicate everything.
• Salvation is SIMPLE: believe and be saved!
• Sanctification is SIMPLE: walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
• Christ is ALL we need. We are complete in Him. So when someone comes along with a new plan for living… a fancy new Christian seminar for only $99.00 per video… if you have Christ and you have His Word you don’t NEED it.
• Some are helpful, but not necessary for life or godliness.
• The early church was perfectly WELL equipped for everything and anything they would ever face right from its birth on Pentecost – because they had Christ and His Word.
viii. They didn’t have: modern psychology; Ritalin or Prozac; modern counseling centers; but they seemed to do just fine!
• Paul’s theme throughout Colossians is that Christ is all we need.
2. Men have been devising religious programs and ways of dealing with the flesh for many centuries.
a. Paul has dealt a death blow to several major categories of man’s additions: traditions; philosophies; legalism; mysticism; and asceticism.
b. And we don’t need to become experts in all of these false religious systems.
c. What we NEED to know is this: that what we have in Christ is all we need for life and godliness.
d. What men have ADDED to the mix often HINDERS our spiritual progress rather than helps.
Ascetic Practices Are Superficial (outward show)
A. A Show of Wisdom
1. Show: logon
a. Defined: a word; a concept; reasoning.
• Sometimes (like here) Paul uses this term in a negative sense.
• It means a mere word—mere talk—as opposed to action and truth…
• I Cor. 4:20 – not merely words, but power! Reality!
• Thus, in a negative sense, it speaks of empty words as opposed to action… mere talk as opposed to reality.
• Paul uses it in this sense of the false teachers… they are all talk… mere words… an outward show but no reality.
b. Wuest: a plausible reason, a show of reason,” hence, a reputation for wisdom.
c. Paul uses the term here of an appearance of wisdom; an outward show; in the sense of a hypocritical show of wisdom…
d. The concept of “show” stands in contrast to reality…
e. Matt. 6:16-18 – the Pharisees loved to put on a SHOW of fasting… a form of asceticism.
f. It addresses the outside of the sepulcher, and does seem to provide the outside with a whitewash… but it is powerless to clean up the corruption of dead man’s bones on the inside!
g. It is a FORM of godliness… but lacks the power.
h. Much of religion consists in external forms… lots of talk, but it is only an outward show with no inward reality…
i. It is an outward appearance that is designed to look like the real thing… but it isn’t.
j. Any religious system that originates with men is a show, plain and simple.
2. It is an outward show of WISDOM.
a. Their schemes look and sound quite wise… but as Paul explains, in reality, they are quite foolish.
b. No doubt their arguments were carefully crafted by the finest of wordsmiths… and sounded appealing.
c. These teachers came across as pious men who possessed the wisdom of God…
d. Their outward show dazzled their followers… but all was quite superficial.
e. Like a fancy restaurant…
• Sometimes they major in the presentation of the food… the setting of the table… and the ambiance…
• When the food came it looked like a Van Gogh painting… and when the bill came, it cost about the same too.
• I ordered meat and potatoes—and the potatoes were the size of my fingernail.
• And after the meal was over, everything looked so beautiful, but I walked away broke and starving!
f. So too with many false teachers today. People are dazzled by their outward show… sit under their ministries for a while… and walk away broke and starving!
g. It was but an outward show of wisdom… but superficial with no real substance.
B. This SHOW of Wisdom Has Three Manifestations.
1. Will Worship – self invented worship.
a. Calvin: A voluntary service, which men choose for themselves at their own option, without authority from God.
b. It is a worship devised by the will of man; a self imposed religious system of worship.
• I want to worship God this way!
• It doesn’t matter to him what God has said, he worships the way HE wants to worship.
• But not all worship is acceptable to God!
• What folly to attempt to worship God according to our own will and ignore the will of God!
• Cain attempted to worship God his own way and was rejected. So have countless millions since Cain!
c. Inventing our own ordinances and our own form of worship is pleasing to the flesh because they are in accordance with human reasoning and understanding… they line up with a human and earthly way of thinking…
d. Prov. 3:5 – ?Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
• BUT – leaning on our OWN understanding is the opposite of TRUST or faith in God.
• Hence, the error of will worship or man-made forms of worship: it is the opposite of faith.
• They look quite holy on the outside… but it is all earthly, human, and apart from true faith. God rejects it all.
2. Humility – true humility is good.
a. However, Paul is speaking about that which is PHONY in this context.
b. Paul certainly is not disparaging true humility. Rather, he is speaking about humility which is part of this SHOW the false teachers are putting on.
c. It is an outward show of humility—just for looks.
d. Paul is describing a SHOW of religious wisdom that takes the form of a show of “humility.”
e. They do whatever they can to LOOK humble… it is a false humility.
f. They want people to THINK that they are humble. In fact they PRIDE themselves in their appearance of humility!
• Hence, the ascetics would wear rough clothing…
• They took vows of poverty –
• They ate poor man’s meals… so they could BOAST about how humble they were.
g. This spirit of false humility exists today—even among believers… when we equate being POOR with being humble… wearing old, worn out clothes as being humble.
• This is WORLDLY thinking… judging by earthly appearance rather than heavenly reality.
• You simply CANNOT tell if a man is humble by his outward appearance… or by his bank roll… or the size of his house… or his clothing.
• James warns us about judging a person by their outward appearance.
• If we assume that a man who lives in a dilapidated house and who wears shabby clothing and is humble, then we would have to conclude the drunk down the road who is too proud to work for a living is humble, and that King David (a man after God’s own heart) was proud.
• Humility is something God measures well. It is something we do a miserable job measuring. Our yardstick is all bent and twisted and virtually never gives us an accurate reading.
h. Hence, the false teachers took advantage of this fact—and put on a great SHOW of humility… and many fell for it.
• Don’t fall for those who put much effort into LOOKING humble…
• It is usually a sham.
3. Neglecting the Body –
a. Neglecting: a harsh and unsparing treatment of severity.
• This included their strict diets, sleeping on hard beds, whipping themselves, cutting themselves, isolation—communes.
• Read of Roman Catholic Church flagellation.
• Ascetics believe that by causing the body to suffer, we can conquer the sinful nature… or at least keep it in check.
• But harsh treatment of the body will NEVER accomplish that goal. There is no merit in neglecting the body.
• There is no merit in inflicting suffering upon ourselves.
b. Pain and suffering:
• Imagine a believer locked up in solitary confinement and tortured by being whipped and burned with cigarette butts for his faith. There is great reward.
• The reward comes for his faithfulness and dedication to God… his refusal to compromise… from being willing to suffer for righteousness’ sake… not from suffering for suffering’s sake.
• But there is no merit in solitary confinement… or in burning oneself with cigarette butts… there is no spiritual value to being whipped…
• II John 2 – “I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health.”
• Don’t choose to be penniless, sick, and suffering. But if God allows it, then USE it for His glory!
c. Any spiritual benefit that comes through suffering comes from what we DO with suffering… and what we LEARN through suffering… not from the suffering itself.
d. A person can lock himself up in a cave, whip himself all day long, and starve his body (and many have done this!), but there is absolutely NO spiritual value to it whatsoever.
• Your sinful nature will be just as wicked and vile as ever!
• The Buddhist or Roman monk who secludes himself from a sinful world in a cave or monastery discovers that he takes his sinful nature with him!
• Harsh treatment of the body does NOT restrain the sin nature.
• God is not honored when we inflict pain and suffering on His Temple… and on His instruments of righteousness.
e. These ascetic practices have been prominent in paganism for centuries.
• The priests of Baal cutting themselves to get Baal to answer them.
• The Muslims cutting their heads with swords in parades.
• Catholics walking on their knees up stone stairways till they bleed.
• Buddhist monks living in caves.
• For centuries men have subjected themselves to the most austere conditions in hopes of meriting favor before God— and there is no merit in any of it!
• STORY of the monk who took a vow of silence…
f. Suffering and sacrifice are only a MEANS to an end, not the end itself.
g. Asceticism sees suffering as a meritorious end in itself – and therein lies its fatal error.
h. That is an expression of UNBELIEF… (Christ’s sufferings were not enough; I need to add mine too) (Rome’s: sufferings of the saints.)
i. Paul asked a penetrating question to those considering following the ways of these false teachers: WHY would you want to follow such ordinances?
• Why neglect the body?
• The answer is obvious: their ascetic practices stemmed from their false religious views concerning the body. They saw the body and its appetites as EVIL.
j. What does the Bible say about the body?
• Gen. 1:31 – after creating man and woman, God said, “Everything that he had made was VERY GOOD.”
» That included the human bodies of Adam and Eve.
» The fall affected our human nature—we are fallen creatures.
» And the fall affected the health and longevity of the human body.
» But the fall did NOT make the body evil.
» There is nothing evil about our bodies. God made them and they are very good.
• I Cor. 6:19 – The body of a Christian is a Holy Temple of the Holy Spirit! (know ye not that your body is the Temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?)
• Rom. 12:1 – The body of a believer is to be presented to God as a living sacrifice. God does not accept evil sacrifices! He only accepts that which is holy and good.
• Rom. 6:13 – concerning the Spirit filled believer, God says that the members of his bodies are instruments of righteousness!
• Col. 1:27 – Christ dwells in our body!
• How DARE we think of the holy temple of God as evil! How DARE we think of the dwelling place of Christ on earth as evil! How dare we call God’s instruments of righteousness evil?
vii. Doesn’t it make sense to want to take care of the Temple of God? Why would you ever want to inflict damage upon God’s instruments of righteousness?
• Ascetic practices have an outward show of religious wisdom which neglects the body… but that show of wisdom is CONTRARY to the wisdom of God.
Ascetic Practices are Ineffective
1. Paul does not fall for the clever disguise in this show of wisdom.
2. He tells us here that such harsh treatment of the body CANNOT get to the root of the problem.
3. The satisfying of the flesh.
a. The flesh here does NOT refer to the body.
• It is used as it most often is in Paul’s writings: in a moral sense.
• It is used here of fallen human nature that operates within our bodies of flesh.
• The body isn’t evil—but our fallen nature IS evil!
• Rom. 7:18 – in my flesh dwells no good thing!
• Gal. 5:16-17 – This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
b. This fallen fleshly nature (sin nature) demands to be satisfied!
• There is nothing evil or unnatural or unspiritual about a desire for food, warmth, a roof, clothing, sex, etc. These are normal desires.
• It covets and demands more goods!
• It lusts for evil things.
• It isn’t satisfied with the marriage bed – it lusts for impure sexual relationships—outside the God-given parameters of marriage.
• It isn’t satisfied with a meal… it tends to gorge and be gluttonous.
• It isn’t satisfied with clothing—it lusts after fancier clothes… more clothes…
• It isn’t satisfied with a house—it demands a bigger house…
• The fleshly nature wouldn’t be satisfied if crowned king of the Western Hemisphere. He would enjoy it for a while—and then start eyeing the east!
• It DEMANDS to be satisfied. (Gimme, gimme.)
• It isn’t EVER satisfied with what God grants. It always wants more… more…
• A billionaire was asked how much money would it take to satisfy him and he replied, “Just a little more.”
4. Not In Any Honor to the Satisfying of the Flesh
a. Paul states that all of the ascetic practices are NOT in any honor to the satisfying of the flesh.
b. Honor = honor, price, value (it is used in the sense of VALUE here)
• The term is sometimes translated price: Ananias and Saphira kept back part of the PRICE of the land (the monetary value of the land).
• Used in I Cor. 6:20 – we are bought with a price (which speaks of the price paid for redemption = the value of the blood of Christ.)
c. The point: ascetic practices have NO VALUE whatsoever when it comes to satisfying the demands of the flesh.
d. THIS was the alleged GOAL of asceticism: to subdue the flesh by starving its appetites.
e. Paul states that those practices have NO VALUE in satisfying the unending desires of the flesh. They just DON’T WORK!
f. The flesh and its lusts are insatiable. The ascetics inflict pain and suffering on the body in the hopes that the lusts of the flesh will die out.
g. Denying the body’s natural appetites does not cause those desires to shrivel up and go away.
h. Denying bodily appetites sometimes actually arouses those appetites.
• Dieters around the world could attest to this fact. By not eating, one’s appetite does NOT go away! You’re hungrier than ever!
• Celibacy sure didn’t work for the Roman priesthood. Denying natural bodily appetites will not cause those appetites to shrivel up and go away!
• You can take a vow of poverty—but does not mean you will never covet your neighbor’s goods. In fact, it might even arouse more covetousness!
• Ascetic practices and ordinances can never get to the heart of the issue… they can never restrain the fleshly nature of man.
• They have no VALUE in satisfying the ongoing lusts of the flesh.
5. But the miracle of the new birth and the indwelling Holy Spirit and the resurrection LIFE of Christ do restrain evil desires.
a. They provides us with a NEW nature (II Pet. 1:4)
b. They provide us with NEW and holy desires!
c. O how love I thy Law;
d. My heart panteth for the living God!) As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. ? 2?My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God. (Ps.42:1-2)
e. The fruit of the Spirit is temperance—self control!
f. We don’t need earthly ordinances to restrain fleshly appetites from without… because we have the LIFE of Christ within!
g. We will ALWAYS have to deal with the lusts of the flesh in this life. They are with us till we go to glory. But God wants us to deal with them HIS WAY… not the epicurean way… or the ascetic way… or any other way invented by men.
h. The flesh is restrained the Romans six way. And the John 15 way!
i. God’s method of dealing with our sin nature is the CROSS…
• Not self-discipline; not rigid ascetic practices; not any effort of the flesh.
• What we do in the flesh isn’t going to conquer the flesh. It is only going to FEED the flesh.
• God’s method is FAITH—believe that our old man was crucified—and walk by faith…
• As we do, we are filled with the Holy Spirit… and He enables us to experience the power of the resurrection in our daily lives.
j. Harry Ironside said, “It is as impossible to obtain holiness by ascetic practices as it is to buy salvation through physical suffering.”
k. Salvation in all of its aspects—including sanctification is by GRACE through FAITH… not by the works of the flesh to be good or subdue our sinful nature.
6. The resurrection LIFE of Christ is far more powerful and effective than any set of earthly ordinances!
a. Neglecting the body does not improve the flesh.
b. Neglecting the body does not restrain the flesh.
c. In fact, neglecting the body actually FEEDS the fleshly nature… by DOING and then gloating in its own accomplishments! See how holy I am! See how humble I am! See how much I give up for God!
d. Subjecting oneself to rigid ascetic practices feeds human pride… the very heart of the fleshly nature… the pride of life.
e. Neglecting the body does not nourish the spirit.
f. Paul gives us the TRUE method of sanctification in this wonderful book: identification with Christ in His death and resurrection… holding on to Christ the Head… abiding in Him… and allowing HIS LIFE to work in and through us…
g. By abiding in Christ and abiding in His word, we are nourishing the spirit. And by FAITH we mortify the deeds of the flesh. That’s God’s method.
h. And that is far more effective than starving the body! That’s man’s method.
i. God works on the inside of the cup—not the outside. Once the inside is cleaned up—the outside will take care of itself.
j. The religions of the world deal with THIS creation (touch, taste, handle).
k. True Christianity deals with a NEW creation… our feet on the earth but our affections on things above… with a firm grip on Christ—the resurrected Head of the New Creation!
7. A modern, mutated form of asceticism still plagues us.
a. Many believers today, especially those saved from a Roman Catholic Church background have certain assumptions ingrained in them from childhood—that are hard to break—even after being saved.
• The concept of WORKS is ingrained in us all.
• But a strange ascetic form of that works concept seems to survive in believers today… at least in our region… which is so heavily influenced by Romanism.
• It is common for folks to think that the body is evil and so are its desires.
b. Ex: sex is impure. Rome interprets the forbidden fruit in the fall as a sexual act.
c. Countless thousands of women (especially) have been brought up to think that the sexual relationship is impure and defiling… and tainted… and even sinful.
• They think that by abstaining from the physical relationship or marriage that they will be more holy.
• This is a LIE based on the false doctrine of asceticism… something Paul calls the doctrine of demons in I Tim. 4.
• This wrong thinking has harmed and frustrated MANY marriages… even Christians who have somehow held on to this kind of thinking—even after salvation.
• Just because we are saved, that doesn’t mean that all of our old baggage is gone… nor does it mean that all of our old ways of thinking have been instantly corrected.
• The ascetics taught that the sexual relationship is shameful and impure.
• The sexual relationship is honorable and pure within the parameters of marriage. (Heb. 13:4 – marriage is honorable in all and the bed undefiled!)
d. It is common for folks to think that somehow there is still intrinsic MERIT in suffering.
• There is NOT. This is another ascetic lie.
• Suffering all by itself has NO spiritual value whatsoever.
• Suffering is of GREAT value if used for the greater goal of bringing glory to God.
• Fasting: If you give up a meal in order to spend lunchtime praying there is merit in the prayer.
» But there is NO merit in simply fasting for the sake of fasting.
» A fast just for the sake of a fast might help you lose weight, but has NO spiritual value.
» There are no Christian fast days, as was the case under the Law in Israel.
» I Cor. 7:5 – fasting and prayer
» Acts 10:30 – Cornelius, an unsaved man, was fasting and praying to God. Seeking God the only way he knew how… because of Jewish influence.
» Acts 14:23 – prayer and fasting… 13:2-3;
» Acts 27:33 – fasting = not eating—because they were saving their food… that was the purpose of the fast—to save their skin!
» II Cor. 6:5; 11:27 – part of Paul’s sufferings; these were sufferings inflicted upon him… not that which he chose to inflict upon himself.
» Luke 5:33-35 – fasting was appropriate in Christ’s absence… but His presence is a time for feasting on the Bread of life!
» Jer. 14:12 – fasting does not guarantee the prayer will be answered! God sees the heart.