The Superiority of Christ to Asceticism & Mysticism – Colossians 2:18-19

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

October 17, 2010

The Superiority of
Christ to Asceticism & Mysticism

Colossians 2:18-19

 

Introduction

 

Perhaps after all these years in ministry I should be used to it, but it
still bothers me, and I suppose it should always bother me when those who
profess to be followers of the Lord Jesus Christ for many years still act as if
they were either babes in Christ or not followers of Him at all. There are many
reasons that people remain immature in their walk with the Lord or revert to
immaturity. Among these are ignorance (lack of Biblical
instruction)
, stumbling (enticed into sin),
stubbornness (pride that hinders confession), selfishness
(desiring your own way more than God’s way)
, and erroneous teaching
(led into false beliefs). Jesus gave many warnings
concerning these dangers and Paul’s letters often are correcting those who are
immature because of them. This morning we continue our examination of Colossians
2 and Paul’s warning and correction of them concerning the false teaching that
placed them in danger of having their spiritual maturity stolen.

In Colossians 1, Paul had declared the superiority of Christ in all things
since He is the architect, creator, provider and sustainer of all life; (See:

The Preeminence of Jesus Over Creation
) as well
as the head of the church who brought redemption and the forgiveness of sins to
His followers allowing them to be reconciled with God.(See:

The Preeminence of Jesus Over the Church
) In Colossians 2 Paul
gives general warning to them about those who would seek to lead them astray
with false logic and impressive speech (See:

The Superiority of Walking in Christ
) as well as those that would seek to take
them captive through philosophy that in the end would turn out to be empty
illusions because they were based in the tradition of men instead of God and
remained at only an elementary level. (See:

Avoiding Capture by Philosophy
)
The Lord Jesus Christ is superior to all
philosophical systems since the fullness of the divine essence dwells in Him so
that He is able to bring His followers to completion. No human philosophy can do
that.

The Abrahamic covenant is important, but Jesus is superior to both that and
the Mosaic covenant because he establishes a new covenant that changes the heart
of the individual. Baptism is important as an outward sign of spiritual
cleansing, but Jesus is superior because He baptizes with the fire and the
Spirit resulting in His followers being made alive together with Him. Jesus is
superior to every kind of ritual which tries to address man’s sin problem,
because Jesus’ atonement has brought forgiveness for our every transgression of
God’s commands because He paid the price for all of them on the cross. (See:

The Superiority of Being in Christ
)

Two weeks ago I began our study of Colossians 2:16-23 in which Paul gives
specific warnings about the doctrine and practices of the false teachers that
were a danger to them. (See:

The Superiority of Christ over Legalism
) Follow along as I read through that section to set the
context for this morning’s study.

“Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in
respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day– 17 things which are a
[mere] shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no
one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the
worship of the angels, taking his stand on [visions] he has seen, inflated
without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and 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 which is from God.

20 “If you have 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, 21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 (which all [refer to]
things destined to perish with the using)– in accordance with the commandments
and teachings of men? 23 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.”


Legalism – ReviewColossians 2:16-17

Paul’s warning is specifically against legalism, asceticism, mysticism and
earthly religions. Two weeks ago I concentrated on verses 16 & 17 and the
legalism that easily develop with religious traditions. Legalism is following
the rules of man as the standard of righteousness instead of the commands,
principles and precepts of God’s word. What can begin as healthy self-imposed
restrictions in order to avoid stumbling into sin can easily become requirements
demanded of everyone as the standard of holiness. For those with a Jewish
background there was the additional problem of coming out of the Mosaic covenant
in which there were many external requirements to separate them from all other
peoples. It was not only hard for them to accept for themselves the new freedom
that comes with salvation from sin through faith in Jesus, but they also had a
hard time accepting Gentiles who did not subject themselves to the Mosaic
standards of eating, drinking and observance of days. This caused much conflict
in the early church.

Paul is direct both here and in many places in his other letters that we are
not to subject ourselves to being judged by others on the basis of what we eat,
drink or what days we observe as holy days. Paul summarized the issue well in
Romans 14:17 that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking but
righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
In 1 Timothy 4:1-5 he
explicitly states that doctrine that forbids marriage or advocates abstaining
from foods has its origin in demons. Legalism steals from people the ability to
walk with Christ in holy humility by trading the substance of it for the shadows
of imposed standards.

After that sermon I had quite a few questions posed to me both about legalism
and its equally deadly opposite of licentiousness in which under the guise of
freedom the principles and precepts of God’s word are ignored in the pursuit of
personal desires. It is easy for Christians to be assimilated by society and
forget that God has called us to live by His moral standards and obey His
commandments though that puts us at odds with society. Even the final part of
the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 is to be teaching obedience to
whatsoever He has commanded. In Colossians 3 Paul lists out many of those
particular standards of conduct by which all believers are to live, so those
questions should be answered when we study that chapter.

This morning I want to look specifically at asceticism, mysticism and
religious pride and the dangers they pose to us in being able to reach our prize
of becoming complete – mature – in Christ.

 

The Prize

 

Paul begins by giving the command to “Let no one keep defrauding you of
your prize”
(NASB). The KJV translates this as “Let no man beguile you of
your reward,”
the NKJV as “Let no one cheat you of your reward,” and
the RSV as “Let no one disqualify you.” The Greek word used here (katabrabeuvw
/ katabrabeuô) is hard to precisely define because it is only used here
and hence the variations in translation. Its related words mean “umpire” and
“prize” and so it carries the idea of someone deciding or ruling against you. If
an umpire did that unjustly it would be defrauding or cheating you of the prize
that should have been yours. This is a parallel to Paul’s command in verse 16
not to let others judge you based on their dietary restrictions and ritual
regard for particular days. Here, Paul does not want them to allow others to
rule against them based on ascetic practices, worship of angels or mystical
visions which would then hinder them from walking with Christ in true godliness
and becoming complete or mature in Him (1:28; 2:10).

Now I want to stress here that while you cannot prevent anyone from judging
you by their legalistic standards or ruling against you according to their
ascetic or mystical practices, you can determine your reaction to them. Paul’s
command here is that you are not to allow what others say and do against you to
control or even affect your own walk with Christ. In other words, do not yield
to the disapproval of others by following their standards in order to avoid the
criticism. Your behavior in what you do or do not do is to be determined by
following Jesus and obeying His commands, not those of mere men. Men can
disapprove, criticize and judge, but only the Lord Himself determines who is His
and who receives His reward.


Self-abasement – AsceticismColossians 2:18

The first category Paul mentions in this section are those “delighting in
self-abasement” (NASB). This is another phrase that has a
range of translation. The KJV translates it as “voluntarily humility,” and both
the NKJV and NIV as “delight in [false] humility.” It is the context that makes
it clear that the humility being described here is not the same as the humility
that is praised throughout the rest of the Scriptures. True humility comes from
a correct understanding of both God and your position before Him. The people
described here neither properly understood God or their position before Him as
seen by this phrase being tied directly to the next phrase in which they worship
angels.

While it does take humility to see yourself as unworthy to have direct
contact with God, the worship of anything else as a substitute is still wrong
for it is directly against God’s commandments to worship only Him. Some of these
false teachers held the idea that man being material cannot directly approach
God who is spirit. They taught that to reach God you had to go through a series
of intermediate entities that were lower than God but higher than man. That is
how they viewed angels. It is also why they taught against Jesus being both
fully God and fully man. To their minds’ Jesus had to be either one or the other
or some intermediate being, but He could not be both God and man. In self
professed humility they sought to worship God by worshiping angels as
intermediates and so entered into false worship.

Worship of angels or anything other than God Himself is a heretical idea that
is in direct contradiction to God’s commands to worship Him only
(Exodus 20:3-6 ; Deuteronomy 6:13-14; Matthew 4:10)
. While the action of
worshiping something other than yourself takes a certain form of humility, the
act of disobeying God in order to do what you think is better is pride, not true
humility. To worship something other than God not only shows complete disregard
for His commands, but it also places the person doing so under God’s
condemnation and wrath. It is only the Lord’s great patience and longsuffering
that keeps them from experiencing that wrath fully in the present.

God judged the nation of Israel for their idolatry, yet showed great patience
toward them. He warned them in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27-28 what would
happen if they turned away from Him. He then sent prophets to warn them and
pestilence and oppression by surrounding nations to prod them to repentance
before finally destroying them and deporting the survivors by the Assyrians and
Babylonians. God still generally follows the same patient course with people
today. He sends His people to proclaim the truth to the unbelieving and correct
the errant believers. He allows the natural consequences of sin to prod them to
repentance, and specifically chastens those who belong to Him to discipline them
back into a proper walk with Him (Hebrews 13:4-13). But He
may also withhold His mercy and a person and the judgment of His wrath may come
suddenly (Proverbs 6:14-15), so we should never presume
upon the patience of God.

Any idea in which someone thinks they know better than God results in heresy
and ungodly practices. The greater tragedy is that those same people will argue
that what they are doing is very godly. Those who practice asceticism are no
different. They will argue that they are humble and pious, but in truth they are
proud and self-centered because they value what they think over what God
commands. Let me give you an example.

There are religions in which being single is viewed as a superior spiritual
state to being married and so is required of their spiritual leaders. They often
will cite 1 Corinthians 7 as proof, but such an argument only shows their
failure in interpreting and applying what Paul writes because they ignore of the
rest of the Scriptures. While Paul points out certain advantages that being
single gives in serving the Lord since there would not be responsibilities
toward a spouse and children, Paul is also very clear in the same passage that
those who marry do well and he is only trying to spare them trouble in view of a
current distress (1 Corinthians 7:25-38). To advocate that
being single is a superior spiritual condition would be strange since only two
chapters later Paul states the other apostles had believing wives and he had a
right to have one too (1 Corinthians 9:5-6). Even more to
the point is that in 1 Timothy 4:1-3 Paul explicitly states that those who
forbid marriage are paying attention to the deceitful spirits. In other words,
it is fine if someone desires to stay single in order to serve the Lord without
distraction, but viewing singleness as a superior spiritual state and so
requiring it of spiritual leaders is a doctrine from demons. The appeal of the
ascetic practice of singleness as a more pious state results in pride and
heresy.

Such is the danger of asceticism and I will expand on this topic in greater
detail when we get to verse 22. Here in verse 18 the emphasis is that false
teaching lead to false humility which resulted in the false worship of angels.
We cannot allow the pressure placed upon us by others who feign superior piety
to get us to join in their practices. We must be firm in being truly humble by
submitting ourselves to the Lord God and obeying His commands and the principles
and precepts of His word instead of the religious musings and practices of men.

In the case of the Colossians, they would have been trading in the worship of
God for the worship of demons. Why do I say that? Because we can be sure that
these angels receiving such worship were demons because the righteous angels
always reject such worship whenever men sought to do so. An example of this is
Revelation 22:8 when John fell down at the feet of the angel that had revealed
to him what was to occur in the future. The angel told him, “Do not do that;
I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those
who heed the words of this book; worship God.”

The tragedy is that such practices continue to this very day. There are
several religions which instruct their followers that they cannot go to God
directly, or that even if they could, it is better to go through some
intermediary. That mediator may not be described as an angel, but remember that
worship – which includes religious veneration – of anything other than God is
false worship. For that reason those who pray to Mary or any of the saints have
succumbed to this same lie and end up in false worship for they believe their
way – their religious system – is better than obeying what God has said about
how to approach Him. I praise God that because of the Lord Jesus Christ I can
come with confidence directly before His throne of grace to find help in time of
need (Hebrews 4:16). Jesus Himself taught us to pray addressing our Creator as
“Our Father, which art in Heaven.” Why then would I seek to pray to any other
being?


Visions – Mysticism Colossians 2:18

The next danger Paul mentions is the person who is “taking his stand on
visions he has seen.”
When we remember that Paul was writing to a church
that was a mixture of Jews and Gentiles, it is easier to understand the danger
since it was common practice to attribute a higher level of spirituality within
paganism to those who enter into an ecstatic state which could include receiving
visions from the gods. It would be easy to for them to still view people who
claimed to have had such visions as spiritually superior and therefore people to
be followed. Because it was the Apostolic age and the apostles did still receive
visions from God (Acts 9:10; 10:3; 16:9), it would be easy for false teachers to
claim the same thing happened to them to gain prestige. And remember, demons are
active and can often mimic what God does, so those claiming the vision may
actually have had a vision, though its source was demonic.

Mysticism has always posed a danger to the people of God because those
practicing it claim it is from God and they strive to mimic what God actually
does do. The Corinthians were certainly plagued by similar problems though the
more common manifestation there was speaking in tongues. In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul
even points out that though they thought themselves to be spiritual, they were
actually still babes in Christ that could not even handle solid food. In 1
Corinthians 12:1-3 Paul points out that some of those thinking themselves to be
spiritual because they could mimic the gift of tongues, were actually
blaspheming. This is the common dynamic of the mystic and one in which the early
Gentile churches were vulnerable because they had been trained by their previous
paganism to revere the person who has some mystical ability.

The danger of mysticism continues to the present time. While it may be more
prevalent in certain Christian sects that promote mystical rituals and practices
and within Charismatic circles due to their emphasis on experience over
Scripture, the danger is also present in conservative and fundamental churches.
Let me expand briefly on each of these.

Many denominations promote rituals which are designed to promote a mystical
mood and then follow mystical practices of prayer and worship. There is a reason
for the pomp and ceremony, for the candles and musical chants. The emergent
church is going back to the practices developed in the second through seventh
centuries which laid the foundation of Roman Catholic liturgy and mystical
practices. This includes things such as lectio divina, the Divine Office in
which particular prayers are recited, use of the rosary, prayer ropes, Stations
of the Cross, icons, crucifixes, incense, Benedictine chants and more. Practices
that play upon the emotions to give a mystical feeling of closeness to God usurp
His word as the means to know Him.

In Charismatic circles it is common to find people claiming to have some
particular spiritual gift – usually the word of knowledge or word of wisdom – by
which they have determined not only God’s will for themselves, but often for
others too. Some of their leaders actively claim to receive direct revelations
from God. Such claims are quite intimidating to the average person in the pew
who do not know how to evaluate them much less refute them. This is the specific
problem Paul states was occurring in Colossae. A person would claim to have had
a vision from God and then take his stand on it as the source of authority for
himself and for telling others what to do or not do.

Fundamental churches can also have this problem, though it will certainly be
phrased differently. While you will not hear such things as “the Lord gave me a
vision” or “a word of knowledge” or a “word of wisdom,” you will hear things
such as “the Lord spoke to my heart.” You will also find stands on mystical
claims such as “we prayed about it and the vote was unanimous” as if praying
about something and having unity automatically means it is what God wants. I
recall facing that here the first time flaws in the constitution were pointed
out and corrections suggested. The mere suggestion was treated by a few as rank
heresy from the devil. That there were not Scriptures to support what was
written and there were plenty of verses to support the suggested changes was
irrelevant since they had prayed about it and it was approved unanimously. That
is mysticism. There is a huge difference between what God approves and what He
sovereignly allows.

We stand on the word of God alone as the revelation of God for our lives. We
saw in our study of 2 Peter 1 last year that God has already given us all we
need to live godly lives because He has given us His precious and magnificent
promises in His word. Others can stand on their visions and they will fall with
them too – we are to stand on the solid rock of God’s revelation of Himself and
His will in His written word, the Bible.


A Fleshy Mind Religious PrideColossians 2:18

The third danger Paul mentions is from someone who is “inflated without
cause by his fleshly mind.”
Though the person may try hard to be perceived
as someone who is very spiritual, the reality is that they are fleshy and not
spiritual. As mentioned earlier, this was a large problem in Corinth. Paul could
not even speak to them as spiritual men because they remained as spiritual babes
who lived according to the flesh instead of the Spirit as demonstrated by their
poor behavior toward one another (1 Corinthians 3). They
had separated into factions. They were tolerant of immorality in their midst.
They sued one another in the civil courts because they could not work out their
own conflicts. Some were still visiting the temple prostitutes. They did not
understand marriage. Some were legalists while others flaunted their liberty to
the detriment of others. There was confusion about the place and roles of men
and women. Their practice of communion was so bad that the Lord chastened some
with sickness and others He removed. They even questioned the resurrection of
Jesus from the dead. They thought they were spiritual, but they were actually
carnal. Such thinking begins with those who have such an inflated idea of
themselves and then lead others into the same error. That is why Paul is warning
them so strongly.

There will always be those around who feign humility and spiritual piety but
in reality are proud and carnal. The sad thing is that they usually do manage to
get some others to believe their foolish facade and so inflict damage on them
and the rest of the church.

Eventually such people will cause a conflict and rift in the fellowship
within the body just as had occurred in Corinth. Such division is almost never
over actual honest disagreement about a significant doctrine. If it is over a
doctrine, it is over some very minor issue, but more often than not, the issue
is one of power to be able to enforce personal preferences. Paul gave a strong
warning in Romans 16:17 to keep watchful of those who cause dissensions and
hindrances contrary to what He had taught and to turn away from them. We must do
the same. Beware of those who think more highly of themselves than they ought.

How can such people be readily identified and what is the protection against
them. Paul explains in verse 19 that they do not hold fast to the head, which is
Christ.


The Superiority of ChristColossians 2:19

We once again find that understanding the position and superiority of Jesus
Christ to everything else is our protection. The true and the false are
distinguished by whether they hold fast to Him as their head or not. As Paul
points out it is the head “from whom the entire body, being supplied and held
together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.”

This is a simple analogy. The body is controlled and directed by the head. Each
part functions only in relationship to its connection to the head. If that
connection is lost, that part will no longer function. The body moves because
the head directs its connecting parts to move. The body grows, because the head
directs it to grow – and interesting enough, it is the pituitary gland located
in the head that causes the physical growth of the human body. True spiritual
growth can only come from God Himself.

Jesus used a different analogy in John 15, but the point was the same. He is
the vine, and we are the branches. We gain our life from Him and can only bear
fruit if we are connected to Him. We must abide in Him. Anyone that does not
abide in Him is separated and will not be able to accomplish anything for His
kingdom. They will eventually be thrown away and cast into the fire and burned
(John 15).

We will know the true teachers from the false ones by their fruit – or lack
of it. Those who hold fast to the head – they abide in Him – will practice
righteousness for Jesus makes them righteous. Those who do not practice
righteousness are not of God (1 John 3:7-10). Only God
decides what is and is not righteous and He reveals that through His word, not
the experience of those who have a false humility in worshiping something other
than God Himself, nor in those who claim new revelation from God, nor in those
puffed up self-righteous individuals who claim to be spiritual but whose lives
demonstrate they are still fleshy. Jesus Christ is sufficient, so do not allow
anyone to intimidate you by their claims of spirituality based in anything other
than in knowing Him through His word. Keep your eyes on Jesus Christ and follow
Him for He is the source of direction for your life and growth.

 

KIDS CORNER

 

Parents, you are responsible to apply
God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children
draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your
picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – 1) Write down all
the verses mentioned. 2) Count how many times the word “spiritual” is used 3)
Talk with your parents about the nature of true spirituality


THINK ABOUT IT!

Questions to consider in discussing
the sermon with others. How is Jesus superior over creation? Why is He superior
over the church? How is Jesus superior to all philosophical systems? What is
legalism and why is it dangerous? Why were the Jewish Christians of the early
church so susceptible to legalism? How have you seen legalism manifested in
things you have experienced? What is licentiousness and why is it dangerous?
What is the protection against both legalism and licentiousness? What does Paul
command in Colossians 2:18? How can that command be carried out? Why is the
humility described in Colossians 2:18 a false humility? Why were the Colossians
prone to worship angels? Why would that be wrong? What is the eventual result
when someone thinks they know better than God? What are the advantages of
singleness in serving the Lord? Is singleness spiritually superior to marriage?
Why or why not? What is the origin of the doctrine that forbids spiritual
leaders to marry? What religious groups are you aware of that forbid marriage?
Will a righteous angel receive worship? Explain. What was the role of visions in
paganism? How would you know if a person’s claimed vision came from God or the
devil? What was Paul’s evaluation of the spirituality of the Corinthians? (1
Cor. 3). What are some of the mystical practices of Roman Catholicism and the
emergent church movement? What vulnerability to Charismatic groups have to abuse
of spiritual gifts due to mysticism? In what ways are fundamental Christians
vulnerable to falling prey to authority arising out of mysticism? What must be
our final authority for faith and practice? Why? Why would someone “inflated
without cause by his fleshly mind”
be a danger to the church? (There are
many examples in 1 Corinthians). Who is Jesus Christ superior to these things
and our protection against them? How can you distinguish the true teachers from
the false ones? How can you keep from being intimidated by those who profess to
be spiritually superior into practices contrary to godliness?


Sermon Notes – 10/17/2010

The Superiority of Christ to Asceticism & Mysticism –
Colossians 2:18-19

 

Introduction

 

Colossians 1 – The Superiority of Christ over
_____________ and the Church

Colossians 2:1-15 – General warnings and Christ’s
superiority to all worldly & religious _____________

Colossians 2:16-23 – Specific ____________ about the
doctrine & practices of false teachers


Legalism – Review – Colossians 2:16-17

Legalism – man made standards of righteousness – can
develop from _________ precautions & traditions

We are not to judge or be judged by our _______or
observance of days – Romans 14:17; 1 Timothy 4:1-5

Licentiousness – ignoring God’s standards of righteousness
– is just as ______________ as legalism


The Prize Colossians 2:18

katabrabeuvw / katabrabeuô
– carries the idea of an _____________ deciding or ruling against you

Do not let the judgments & criticisms of others turn you
from following _____& obeying His commands


Self-abasement – AsceticismColossians 2:18

The context shows this is a false humility for they do not
understand ______or their position before Him

Humility is required to worship something other than
yourself, but only _______alone is to be worshiped

Disobeying God to do what you think is better is _________
and never true humility

God judged Israel for their idolatry – yet was very
___________ and longsuffering before He did so

God is still patient and longsuffering – but He may also
bring judgment _____________ (Prov. 6:14-15)

Whenever someone thinks they know better than God the
eventual result will be _______and ungodliness

Singleness has advantages to marriage in serving the Lord,
but neither is _______________ superior

Forbidding marriage is the doctrine of ____________ – 1
Timothy 4:1-3

False teaching resulted in _________humility resulting in
________worship of something other than God

It is false worship to _________ to someone / something
other than God – including Mary or the Saints

Because of Jesus, we can go ___________ to God
(Heb. 4:16) & Jesus instructed us to do so
(Matt. 6:9)

Visions – Mysticism Colossians 2:18

Visions were part of pagan practices and they
________________ God’s revelation to the apostles

The Corinthians had similar problems of mystical religious
practices _____________for true spirituality

Some denominations and the emergent church movement
promote ________________ practices

The emphasis of experience over ___________in Charismatic
circles allows for abuse of “spiritual gifts”

Fundamental believers can also resort to _____________
based authority – “I prayed about it.”

We stand on the _________________ alone as the revelation
of God for our lives – 2 Peter 1


A Fleshy Mind Religious PrideColossians 2:18

This was the core problem at Corinth – they thought they
were spiritual, but were actually ___________

There will always be those who feign humility & spiritual
piety but in reality are __________ and carnal.

Such people eventually cause _________in the body over
minor issues – Beware of them – Romans 16:17


The Superiority of ChristColossians 2:19

The body is controlled and directed by the _______________

John 15 – Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. We must
___________ in Him

We know the true teachers from the false ones by their
__________ – of lack of it (1 John 3:7-10)

Jesus Christ is ______________- do not allow anyone to
intimidate you away from following Him alone.


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