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Written by Tim Black   
Tuesday, 01 May 2007 14:35

Colossians 2:20-23
A Life Freed by Christ”
Sermon
Tim Black


  1. Introduction – our temptation to asceticism

    1. Anorexia. Girl at college who was

      1. skinny as a rail

      2. went jogging a lot

      3. sitting at the dinner table with a plate of food in front of her, closed her eyes and kept them closed for a long time. She wasn’t eating much.

      4. I asked her, “Are you ok?” She said she was under a lot of stress right now, but was ok. The way she said it it was clear she didn’t want to talk about it. After she said that, she closed her eyes again and kept them shut. I didn’t know how best to help her, especially since she didn’t want to talk about what was wrong. Since then I’ve wondered whether she was struggling with anorexia, which is where a person starves them self in order to lose weight.

      5. There are a lot of young women and even some young men who are taken captive today by the practice of anorexia.

    2. Asceticism.

      1. Defined. In the Colossian church people were being taken captive by the practice of asceticism. You can see this in v. 23—the false teachers were “promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body.Asceticism is the practice of denying your body of what is good and pleasing, in order to gain access to spiritual realities which are more important than the body.

      2. Greed is idolatry. As I’ve thought about how this passage relates to us today I’ve struggled because I can’t say I know an out-and-out ascetic. Do you? But think about this: I can’t say I know an out-and-out idolater, either. Someone who really worships idols. But do you remember what Paul says is idolatry in Col. 3:5? Greed! Greed is idolatry! Well, I know someone who has been greedy. It’s me. That means I’ve practiced idolatry. At least some aspect of what idolatry is, I have done.

      3. Anorexia is asceticism. Now tell me, what is the opposite of anorexia? Bulimia. The bulimic eats and eats and eats until they know they’ve eaten too much, then they let it back out the way it came in. What is the opposite of greed? Asceticism. Greed says, “I want, I want, I want!” Asceticism says, “I’m NOT gonna want, I’m NOT gonna want, I’m NOT gonna want!” It closes its eyes and it sits there, saying, “I’m not gonna eat, I’m not gonna eat, I’m not gonna eat.” You see, anorexia contains some aspects of asceticism. Some parts of the asceticism Paul condemns in this passage are still alive and well today. The truth is that from the beginning of time people have tried to solve spiritual problems by turning to physical, bodily solutions. By turning either to asceticism, or to greed and indulgence. By either denying their body, or indulging its every desire.

      4. You see, you have spiritual problems that need to be fixed. Paul lists a good number of them in Colossians 3:

        1. Colossians 3:5 sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness

        2. Colossians 3:8 anger, wrath, malice, slander...obscene talk...[and lying]

        3. Do you have any of these sins in your heart? In your life? Then you need to “put them away,” to “put them to death,” as Paul says. How can you put them to death? How can you get rid of them? The world will tell you to deny your body, or overindulge it. Do you lust? The Western hedonist’s solution is for you to indulge in sexual immorality, and Eastern mysticism’s answer is to become an ascetic monk. But what neither will tell you is to put on Christian contentment and seek a Christian marriage, trusting Christ for the strength to do so. Do you fall into fits of anger, or do you suffer from an addiction? The world’s solution is either to feed your addiction and give the other guy what’s coming to him, or repress your anger and stop cold turkey. You deny yourself or you indulge, but in the end you aren’t stronger than the addiction, and you aren’t stronger than your anger. The only one stronger than these spiritual problems is Jesus Christ. Hold fast to Him.

      5. These twin false solutions of asceticism and overindulgence have a long history which has influenced you. As I tell you about this history, make a note to yourself if you have taken part in any of the following ways of life:

        1. Ancient Greece

          • Hedonists & Epicureans – pleasure is the only good. Epicureans said you should avoid baser pleasures and seek higher ones.

            • The foundation of their philosophy was an explicit rejection of the fear of God and the fear of Hell, and in the place of God they said all that exists are atoms in motion. These atoms are the kinds of things Paul has in mind when he speaks of the “basic principles of the world.”

          • Cynics – pleasure is evil

          • Stoics – develop an indifference to pain and pleasure

        2. NT

          • Essenes

          • Jewish legalism & Pharisees

          • Judaism today is not very ascetic

        3. Ancient church

          • Gnosticism

          • Pagans throughout the world

            • Hinduism – Mahatma Gandhi, and the Sadhus

            • Buddhism – Gautama Buddha

            • Islam – Muhammad, Sufism

            • Native Americans (holy men go on vision quests)

        1. Middle ages

          • Monks/monastic orders

            • Desert fathers – hermits, valued solitude

            • Asceticism became heroic.

              • Simon the Stylite – lived 37 years on top of several pillars

              • St. Francis of Assisi

            • Vow of poverty, chastity, obedience. Scourged themselves.

            • Catholic practice of Lent

        2. Modern era

          • Secular

            • Magicians like Houdini and David Blaine overcome the physical world, and sometimes make us wonder, “Maybe they have spiritual power?”

              • David Blaine

                • Standing for 35 hours on a 22 inch platform on a 90 foot pole

                • Most recently, lived 7 days underwater

                • Lived 44 days in a glass box without food

                • Encased in a block of ice for 61 hours

                • Buried alive for 7 days

            • Inordinate concern about the body

              • Hypochondria

              • Sports teams – practice – drills called the Indian Run, IronMan, etc. Wrestlers lose weight to get into a lower weight class.

              • Bodybuilding (raw eggs, 11 egg omelets, protein shakes)

              • Health/fitness magazines (aerobics)

              • Endurance sports, energy drinks, Bakefield dietary supplements

              • Beauty magazines

              • Fad diets – anorexia/bulimia

              • Medical news

              • Home remedies – “feed a cold, starve a fever”

            • Wikipedia’s examples:

              • A “Starving Artist” is someone who minimizes their living expenses in order to spend more time and effort on their art.

              • Eccentric inventors sometimes live similar lives in pursuit of technical rather than artistic goals.

              • Hackers” often consider their programming projects to be more important than personal wealth or comfort (some, including Richard Stallman, have minimized their expenses by living in their offices).

              • Rehab programs for modern day addictions to alcohol, tobacco, drugs, fast food, gambling and sex.

              • Many professional athletes abstain from sex, rich foods, and other pleasures before major competitions in order to mentally prepare themselves for the upcoming contest.

          • Christian

            • Quakers & Amish – simple clothing & lifestyle

            • Arminian circles - Prohibition & Fundamentalism – don’t drink, smoke, dance, watch movies, play card games, watch TV.

            • Reformed

              • Theonomy – OT food laws – pork

              • Scottish Presbyterians – Exclusive Psalm-singing

              • Cloth head coverings

              • Christian liberty – fascination with and pride in drinking beers & wines, smoking pipes & cigars. Southern Presbyterians!

      1. Import. So have any of these ways of life influenced you? If I haven’t made you uncomfortable yet, if I haven’t made you defensive yet about one practice that you do, I haven’t done my job. I’m not trying to tell you that every one of these practices is completely wrong. But what you have to understand is that if you look to one of these practices alone to solve your underlying spiritual problems, you are going to absolutely fail. Rehab won’t fix your addiction. Because your addiction stems from the evil desires of your flesh. And only Christ can put those desires to death. The “basic principles of the world” are not going to save you. In fact, one of the true “basic principles” at work in a man of the world is these lusts of the flesh which he cannot put to death.

  1. Body – A Life Freed by Christ is...

    1. A Life Freed from the Basic Principles of the World 20

      1. If you are still a man of the world—if you’re not yet a Christian—then you need to hear what I’m about to say. But Paul’s message here is directed specially to the Christian. Listen to what he says in Col. 2:20-21:

        1. Colossians 2:20-21 20 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- 21 "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch"?

      2. Paul’s first point in our passage is that a life freed by Christ is a life freed from the basic principles of the world. Do you find that your life is dominated by the desire to eat? Or the compulsion to starve yourself? Or one of these other ascetic or overindulgent practices? Listen to what Paul says. You died to that desire. You died to that compulsion. You died to that practice. You died because Christ died.

      3. What does that mean? Here’s what it means.

        1. In Matthew 4, after Jesus was baptized Satan tempted Him. Satan offered Jesus the chance to have all the food He wanted, all the miraculous power He wanted, all the kingdoms of the world He wanted, all the glory He wanted, and to have these things all to Himself...IF Jesus would do one thing—worship Satan and not serve God all the way to the cross. Jesus defeated these temptations and immediately began proclaiming that the kingdom of God—the reign of God—was at hand.

        2. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 Jesus taught us that if we would follow Him we must “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

        3. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.

        4. Jesus’ greatest temptation was to not go to the cross for your sins. But Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8) He wasn’t free of that temptation until the very moment He died. But when He died, He defeated every temptation to desert God you will ever face. He defeated every power of this dark world that will tempt you to sin. He overpowered the basic principles of the world. And He did it for you.

        5. So when He died, you died to the basic principles of the world. You died to their power over you. They can’t control your life when the One who conquered them lives in you. “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.”

      4. If your life is now built on this solid foundation of Christ and His victorious death on the cross, why would you let your practice slip out of accord with that foundation?

        1. Colossians 2:20-21 20 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-

        2. Who would you rather follow? On whom would you rather depend? Christ, or the basic principles of the world? Christ has already broken the world’s power over you. Trust in Him when you face a temptation, and He will deliver you from the evil one.

    2. A Life Freed from Human Regulations 21-22

      1. Trust in Christ, and not in human regulations. Paul tells you in vv. 21-22 that a life freed by Christ is a life freed from human regulations. Here is how he describes these regulations:

        1. Colossians 2:21-22 21 "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)- according to human precepts and teachings?

      2. Description. The regulations he quotes and repeats here probably are a mixture of Jewish legalism and pagan Greek religion.

        1. Jewish Legalism. Certainly “Do not taste” refers to eating food, and Paul has already warned us not to allow a person to judge us in matters of “food or in drink” in 2:16, which Paul connects with “festivals, new moons, or sabbaths,” all which were part of the ceremonial law of the OT. Also, in the cleanliness laws in Leviticus the clean were to avoid touching that which was unclean. So the regulation “Do not touch” may have had the ceremonial law in view as well.

        2. Pagan Greek Religion. But these regulations most probably were rooted in pagan Greek religion as well. This is most evident in that these regulations are based on “the basic principles of the world.” This term readily brings to mind the basic elements of which the Greeks claimed the world is made, whether that was earth, air, fire, and water, atoms, flux, being, form, matter, or substance. It was on the basis of these elements that some Greeks said pleasure was the greatest virtue, and others that pleasure was the greatest vice. These ascetic regulations “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” were a mixture of OT Judaism and pagan Greek religion.

      3. Critique. Paul tells us that there are two ways in which these regulations are wrong in principle.

        1. Perishable 22a. First, he says they refer “to things that all perish as they are used.” Things that are perishable.

          • What this means is that things like food and drink are destroyed when you use them. Clothes wear out, cars break down. If you base the salvation of your soul on rules having to do with things that break down and wear out, how will your salvation itself not also break down and wear out? If you want lasting freedom from the sins of the flesh, you need something more lasting than rules about what to eat, and what to drink. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17) These blessings which Christ alone can give you are far more lasting. They are far more important. So Paul tells us in 3:2 to “Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on earth.” The things which are on the earth, according to 3:5, are “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness,” but the things above which come from Christ, according to 3:12, are “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” forgiveness, “love,” and “peace.”

        1. Mere human inventions 22b. The second way these regulations are wrong in principle is that they are mere human inventions. They are “according to human precepts and teachings.” The basic danger of following human teachings rather than God’s teachings is that human teachings will excuse your sin, and lead you into sin. This is what the Pharisees did in Mark 7:

          • Mark 7:5-8 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" 6 And he said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, "' This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' 8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men."

        2. In response to the Pharisees Jesus taught us that we don’t need the external physical band-aid that these human regulations offer, but we need His spiritual power over the lusts of the flesh which come out of our hearts.

          • Mark 7:18-23 Whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?" ( Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

    1. A Life Freed from Slavery to the Flesh 23 But Christ has freed you from such human regulations. And not only from these regulations, but also from the evil desires of the flesh which these human regulations will only cause to grow. A life freed by Christ is a life freed from slavery to the flesh. You need to know that these human regulations will in fact enslave you to the lusts of your flesh.

      1. The lie about their reputation & methods The lie about their reputation and their methods is this: they “have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body.” (2:23)

        1. Reputation. Their reputation is that they have an appearance of wisdom.

        2. Methods. They get this reputation from their methods. They promote self-made religion, asceticism, and severity to the body.

          • Self-made religion is any set of religious practices beyond what God has explicitly or implicitly commanded in Scripture. Tea-totalling or monastic rituals may seem more pious, and a dieting or exercise regimen may seem more respectable, than the way other less disciplined people live. You drive yourself hard. But you’re not driving in the direction God has given you in His word. He says, “Set your minds on things above.” Make sure that when you change your ways, you’re doing so because it is the result of the fact that you are putting on “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience;” that you are putting on the fruits of the Spirit, and not a set of religious practices you have made up yourself.

          • You know the reason David Blaine’s ascetic practices, his severity to his body, have given him the reputation of a great magician, is that they make him appear to have an almost spiritual power over the physical world. That’s what wows us.

      1. The truth about their reputation & methods.

        1. Reputation. But the true reputation of ascetic practices is that “they are of no value.” The Greek word for “value” here is the word which also means “honor.” These practices are not honorable. They shouldn’t give you a great reputation. What would give them a great reputation is if they were able to stop you from indulging the lusts of your flesh. And they can’t. David Blaine will tell you his magic is an illusion. If he’s honest, he’ll also tell you that for all his feats of physical self-denial, he has no power over the sins in his own heart. Starving yourself will only increase your desire to overeat. And if you overeat you will still end up dissatisfied and discontent.

        2. Methods. Because such practices “are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

  1. Conclusion

    1. The only one who can stop the indulgence of the flesh is the one who has already conquered the desires of the flesh in His obedience unto death on the cross. “8 See to it that 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. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” (Colossians 2:8-10)

    2. He alone has freed you from the basic principles of the world, from human regulations, and from slavery to the flesh.

    3. Don’t cling to an anorexia or a bulimia, to an asceticism or an overindulgence, when these things are only a shadow, and the substance of what you seek in them is found only in Christ. Cling to Christ. He calls you to no longer close your eyes and starve yourself, but open your eyes, trust in Him as your Savior, see that He has delivered you from the power of darkness and transferred you into the kingdom of His light, so that you can now hold fast to Him as your Head, and receive from Him the nourishment of His strength and thereby grow with a growth that is from God.

    4. Do you desire to grow in godliness? Then seek Jesus Christ, seek His kingdom, seek His righteousness in your heart and your life, and the other less important things that you need, He will give you as well.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 May 2007 14:38
 

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