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.
You don’t drink. You don’t smoke. You don’t hang out with those who do. Don’t…don’t…don’t. “This is a perfect description of legalistic religion, defined more by what we don’t do than by what we do. Christianity is a moral religion; it does have clear moral boundaries. But at its foundation, Christianity is a religion of positive action” (David Guzik). I’m not sure most of agree with this pastor. I think many of us tend to think of Christianity in the negative sense—our distinctiveness from the world around us is based on what we choose NOT to do rather than what we choose TO DO.
Paul was wrapping up his comments regarding all of the things the Colossians were avoiding (don’t handle/taste/touch) in order to achieve a higher spiritual state born out of pride…by reminding them that their efforts at piety regarding these matters would actually have no bearing on their ability to control “the indulgence of the flesh.” Or, as Charles Spurgeon put it, “Talk is easy, but walk is hard.” A Christian that is avoiding obvious sins of the flesh—from an outsider’s perspective—can also be wrapped up in terrible sin battles that nobody else knows about. Their public life has the appearance of spiritual wisdom, but behind closed doors they are weak and falling.
Ring a bell?
Jesus made it clear that “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24)…and truth is whatever God says, regardless of whether it happens in public, in private, or just in the recesses of your mind. The Pharisees were All-Pro Legalists. They had perfected the art of the religious show…yet their hearts were far from God (Is. 29:13; Mt. 15:8). Far too many of us can fall into the exact same camp. We check off the religious boxes with things that are good in and of themselves and we avoid obvious evils…but that is no guarantee that we won’t indulge the flesh in other ways. Paul went so far as to say these things “are of no value” when it comes to controlling our flesh. I think all of us can testify to this fact.
So…what do we do?
A.T. Robertson explains the right motive for what we do writing, “It is love that makes us really free to do right. Love makes the choice easy. Love makes the face of duty beautiful. Love makes it sweet to keep up with Christ. Love makes the service of goodness freedom.” The pseudo-religious world is content if professing Christianity becomes a religion of prohibitions and rites and ceremonies…but…all manner of evil may thrive under these (as we all know). The only real power is the Holy Spirit, who allows us to experience constantly the indwelling of Christ, and to obey the command, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).