Unrighteous Rule-Makers?

By D’Ann Davis, Women’s Ministry Director

“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—‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” – Colossians 2:20-23

In the pursuit of holiness most of us know there are certain areas of struggle to which we are more vulnerable. Often, we wisely set boundaries for ourselves that we might avoid temptation and stand firm in our convictions. Sometimes though, if we are not careful, we can begin to tie our salvation and standing before God to the boundaries we have set for ourselves in a way that becomes self-made religion. We often inadvertently develop a system of rules for ourselves and/or others that are neither biblical nor helpful.

The Colossians were struggling with asceticism, which is the idea that God is happier with us when we avoid pleasure. In many ways it is the opposite side of the prosperity theology coin. Asceticism, like Colossians 2:23 says, has an appearance of wisdom. Jumping from wise boundaries to depriving one’s self of any pleasure at all can seem pious and holy. In truth it is simply another form of works righteousness. It reveals a misunderstanding of the God at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore and in whose presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). God wants us to enjoy Him and the good gifts He gives us. He wants us to rest in the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross and in His resurrection. He does not want us to pursue pleasure-less misery as a means of self-justification. He does want us to be smart and to flee from temptation and avoid sin, but we avoid sin through life in Him, not life apart from anything pleasurable.

Paul describes this to the Colossians as a fruitless pursuit saying, “self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body” are “of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” White-knuckling sin through man-made regulations against pleasure are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. This translates to us being miserable in our man-made religion we are ascribing to God while simultaneously indulging our flesh in the sin we originally sought to avoid. Life in Christ and walking by the power of the Holy Spirit through the grace of God is how we avoid sin, not man-made rules. And we must never forget, avoiding sin and/or pleasure was never the ultimate point in the first place. Christ is the point, and we avoid sin that we might have more of Him. Man-made religion is an inner prison that saps our joy and ultimately our strength. Thanks be to Jesus though that He died for this sin, too, and He is willing to deliver us and able to keep us from falling to it. Let’s repent of our pleasure avoidance and find joy in Him, the One who gives us every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus.

Father thank You that You created pleasure and delight for us to find it in You and Your good gifts. Please forgive us for seeking to find righteousness on our own. Help us to know You as You are and find rest and salvation in You. Thank You for loving us and for being a generous God. Help us to trust in Your finished work on our behalf. In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.