What is asceticism? It is the process of self-denial for spiritual attainment. In certain doses, that’s a good thing. One should spend time fasting, one should avoid chasing too many of the things of this world in place of the things of God. Asceticism can be overdone, though, and lends itself readily to that problem. Excessive asceticism causes one to ignore God’s good gifts and believe that one is drawing near to God by denying His works.
Further, the bigger problem in the Colossian heresy is that the adopters deemed themselves better than anyone else. Not only did they deny that God provided gifts in life, but then they went on to judge those who embrace what God gave as wicked. This is the problem that asceticism mixed with bad theology brings: there is no embracing God’s blessings and plenty of attacking God’s people who do accept them.
In Focus: More specifically in this chapter, we see two great treasures of the Christian life. Colossians 2:3 points us to the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Jesus. Rather than some esoteric or obscure mystery, all that we need is know Jesus.
The mysteries of God are not hidden. They are made fully known in Jesus. There’s nothing that we do not see. It’s not knowledge hidden and reserved for a select few. Nor is the path to understanding found in denying God’s gifts of life. There is no secret path to God.
All we need is Jesus.
In Practice: The practical question, then, is how we know about Jesus.
First, we look to what He said. We have the Word of God, given us by the Word Incarnate. It does us no good to claim that we cannot know God, because He has given us that Word. Read it, learn it.
Second, we consider what He has not said. Paul highlights some of this for us in Colossians 2:21, where he points out the naysayers who reduced Christianity to “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.” This does not eliminate morality, but puts the focus on our positive movements toward holiness rather than simple avoidance practices.
Third, we keep our focus on our behavior. There is a place for encouraging one another in holiness, but it remains the work of God to convict of sin. Rather than attempting to demand others conform to our standard, we should encourage others to follow the standard of Christ.
In Nerdiness: Take a quick look at Colossians 2:14 where Paul speaks of the certificate of debt that’s been canceled. This is a concept from Roman business and legal systems, and one worth knowing.
For example, one could develop a debt due to family need or criminal behavior. This debt would be recorded on a certificate, and that would be kept. Then, you worked to satisfy your debt. In the meantime, though, it covered you and weighed you down. And given the economics of the time, if it was too bad, you were stuck with it for life. (Differing views exist on whether or not it had to be satisfied by your family in death.) You could almost never escape it.
To have someone cancel your certificate? That was a great grace, and it freed you to live life. Naturally, though, this indebted your honor to the person who canceled your debt. Paul’s point in this?
Your honor debt is to Jesus. Not to any one else. Not to a church leader, a pastor, an Apostle, or someone who claims to point you to the “mystery.”
Just to Jesus. He canceled your debt—He is the one to serve.