You can’t get there from here

Colossians 2:20-23 SCC 4/15/12



            Okay, we have all tried to manage our body by restricting it to rigid diets or restraining urges to indulge. Submitting our bodies to certain regimens does not remove the tendencies of our bodies to be aroused by its desires. We can witness this every time we try to impose dieting or exercising upon our flesh. But here is the contradiction; while imposing rigid rules upon our bodies, this does not nourish our spirit or are inner person. These rules only benefit our outer shell but do not contribute to our spiritual growth.


Subject: The flesh Predicated: cannot be starved into subjection. Subjecting it to ordinances, whether human or divine, cannot improve it.


Verse 20

            1. ‘If’ in the original Greek is a first class condition, which assumes that what follows, is true and therefore could be translated since you have died with Christ. Every believer has been co-crucified with Christ. And so here Paul is repeating truth believers seem to too often forget. They have died implying a rupture from a former association, separation, and departure and literally means to die off and can speak of literal physical death but in this context speaks metaphorically of a believer's death to sin, self, Satan, the law and the world. It is notable that as life was never meant to be merely existence, death which is the antonym of life does not mean non–existence. The important point is that to die does not mean one is annihilated, as some would falsely teach. Everyone who has ever been born will continue to exist, either in the presence of God or to experience conscious existence in separation from God.

            2. What happens when you died? To die means to be separated or to be free of something. What would the Colossians be free of in context of the present discussion? The Law. Believers "are not under law, but under grace." The preposition emphasizes the alienation and separation from human ordinances, which the believer’s co-death with Christ has brought about. Our life is now hidden with Christ in God, and to live under ordinances of human origin is to live as if in the world and not as if in Him.

Paul's point is that the basic lusts of this world which once held sway over us when we were lost and "in Adam" has been stripped of their power to control us as result of Christ's death on the Cross and our crucifixion with Him. Paul did not say we would necessarily feel like we had died to these elementary principles. Feelings don't change what is now true of every saint in Christ. This truths define our position and our goal is work out our position in our everyday practice. We are to accept (believe) these things as true about us and to live accordingly under grace not law.

            3. Living is not merely existing or dwelling, but possessing a life the very essence of which is relationship with Christ, Who came to give life and to give it abundantly. This quality of life has moral associations, which are inseparable from it, such as holiness and righteousness. As death and sin are associated in Scripture and in experience, so are life and holiness. Believers are to be in the world but not "of" the world. We are to be lights in the world. We are not to "internalize" the world's godless, Christ-less philosophies. We are to be like boats in the water. That is our design. But when water (world) gets in the boat that is disaster!

            4. decrees means to put others under obligation by imposition of rules. In the passive sense as used in this passage the idea is to submit to rules and regulations ("dogma"). The saints at Colossae were being told that it was wrong to eat certain foods, etc. They were told that keeping these man-made rules was the key to spirituality. The practices, Paul is alluding to appear to be forms of asceticism and legalism.


Verse 21

            Paul is describing the essence of the practice of asceticism, an over-developed zeal; a dedication that goes far beyond true Christian discipline and seeks to please God by extreme forms of self-denial. Dedication and discipline are a proper part of the Christian life. Christ had freed them from the taboos of asceticism, which can only give a pretense of wisdom, promote a self-made religion, and deal severely with the body. Yet it cannot succeed in combating the desires of the flesh. Paul has already commended the Colossians because they led disciplined, well-ordered lives. But you can make a god of discipline. You can take perverse delight in making yourself do difficult things that win the approval of others, and (you deceptively imagine), of God as well. Promoting man-made regimens:


First, it shows you do not understand your death with Christ.

Secondly, Paul says that whatever benefit these things may gain it is only temporary, it all ends at death.

Thirdly, the apostle declares these things are of no value in restraining the indulgence of the flesh.


Verse 22

            These verses point out the futility of asceticism, which is the attempt to achieve holiness by rigorous self-neglect (v23), self-denial (v21), and even self-infliction. Since asceticism focuses on temporal “things, which perish with the using,” it is powerless to restrain the old flesh nature we all inherited from Adam and it is of no value in bringing us to God. While reasonable care and discipline of one’s body is of temporal value, it has no eternal value, and the extremes of asceticism serve only to gratify the flesh and bloat one's ego. Thus he says, “to perish with the using”. Paul is probably again talking about food/drink and denying yourself with fasting. The commands in the preceding verse are "counterfeit commands".  The "genuine" commands begin in chapter 3 and can now be carried out because we are new creatures in Christ indwelt by the Spirit and thus possessors of new motivation and a new power source.


Verse 23

            1. What Paul is saying then is that these things have a "reputation" for wisdom but lack the reality of true religion. Self-made religion (self-imposed worship) is literally "will worship". The idea is that these individuals practice a set of religious beliefs resulting from their own desire and initiative. This is a religion thought up by oneself. By one's own volition (will) he/she worships what seems best. This is self-made or "do-it-yourself" religion.

            2. Asceticism is the belief that through self-denial or self-torture, man can achieve a higher state of holiness. It is not uncommon in ancient as well as modern religions to find the fallacious principle that mortification of the body results in the purification of the soul. This is found in Hinduism and other mystical religions of the East. Severe treatment while parading under the guise of humility, actually panders to human pride. Every false religious system utterly fails to make men better. While creating the impression that there is something the flesh can do to merit God’s favor, they are unable to restrain the passions and lusts of the flesh. The Christian's secret to the victorious life is living by faith in the truth that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

            3. The only effect is, to satisfy or please the flesh, our corrupt nature. The effect of these religious exercises is merely to gratify pride, self-righteousness, the love of distinction, and the other selfish propensities of our fallen nature. There seems to be a great deal of humility and piety in them but there is really little else than pride, selfishness, and ambition.



First, the spiritual life includes battling our fleshly nature including our appetites. That battle is one that understands that our flesh has been crucified—but still attempts a take over. Fortunately, we do not have to cave in. Our union with Christ now empowers us to counter these appetites and serve our new nature.

Second, while we live in our bodies do not indulge it. We are not animals. We do not act on instinct and according to the rhythm of nature. That is what animals do. Our bodies our not the sum total of our ID.

Third, focus your life daily on the spiritual reality you are identified with. Our earthly and fleshly appetites deceive us into believing this is who we are. We are spiritual beings first and then flesh.