Arthur longs to attain a higher spiritual and moral state than others in his church. He gives up coffee and desserts–then any food he enjoys. He starts running–marathon distances, though he hates all physical exercise. He sheds pounds until he’s practically skin and bones. He sleeps on the hard floor, without a blanket in winter or air conditioning in summer.
Asceticism is “the doctrine that a person can attain a high spiritual and moral state by practicing self-denial, self-mortification, and the like” (Dictionary.com).
That’s what Arthur is buying into and what the false-philosophers are pushing the Colossians into and what Paul refutes . . .
“Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence. ” (Colossians 2:16-23).
“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth . . . ” (3:1,2).
Instead Paul prescribes pleasure, not privation. Believers are raised with Christ (“You were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead “--2:12). And Christ is “seated at the right hand of God”. So pursue the above-things. Deliberately think about the above-things. Don’t try to kill the flesh and attain a higher plane of spirituality by asceticism. Seek the above-things where Christ is.
What are the above-things?. Paul implies several. The hope heaven gives (1:5,23,27). The inheritance of the saints (2:12). The treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Christ (2:3). In fact, Christ sits at the center of the above-things: Christ as Creator (1:16), as the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (1:15), the One for whom all things were created (1:16), who holds all things together (1:17), and who will have the supremacy in all things (1:18).
Paul contrasts the above-things with “the things that are on earth”. And with this brief phrase catapults us far beyond asceticism-practices. On-earth things are all those things that distract our thinking from the above-things. For our thinking must be shaped by Christ and the things that are above. Our minds must be informed by our eternal destiny.
With Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?
” . . . for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory” (3:3,4).
Believers have died. That is, in spiritual union with Christ, sin no longer rules. The “old” man has been killed. Yet, believers live–a life that is “hidden with Christ in God.”
When I was a kid, I was a Superman fan. Behind the suit and tie and kind of a blundering behavior, lived SUPERMAN! But Paul doesn’t mean believers should hide their Christianity. He means, as with Superman, what believers really are in Christ is hidden by the natural man.
But when Christ appears, believers will be revealed “with him in glory”. All “Clark Kent believers” will appear as “Superman” in the glory of Christ.
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I’ve been tied to this earth almost 75 years. It’s all I’ve ever known. So when Paul exhorts, “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth . . . ” , I cringe. Because it reminds me of what I have to leave behind here. Not my house or truck. My wife, children and grandchildren. It tears my heart.
At the same time, I remember I’ve also wanted something to look forward to–a family vacation, Christmas, etc. Paul gives me something greater to anticipate. And urges me to set my mind on it now.
C.S Lewis wrote, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Deep down, buried under desires to be healed and walk again, are desires nothing in this world can satisfy. I was made for another world.