Neglect of the body
Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
E9.1 An historical overview
By neglecting the body and dealing harshly with it was thought that this would deliver the soul from sin. Church history is replete with such instances The idea of neglecting the body to gain spiritual merit led to all sorts of weird and devilish practices.
This practice is a confession that one believes the body to be evil and needing severe punishment to subdue it.
One such practice was monasticism. Initially, individuals went to live in seclusion to escape the world, and seek a higher life. But they found that the world was still in them. Again, it is not the outward that needs changing, but the inward heart of the person themselves. If a person has an unregenerated heart and goes to a monastery, he will still have an unregenerated heart, until that is he repents and receives Christ.
Over time these individuals joined up to become the monasteries we know. One of the first such was Pachomius in the 4th. Century. He practised severe austerity. He was told by an angel (!!!) in a dream that he had made sufficient progress in the monastic life that he was to teach others! He then founded various monasteries
The idea of this was that the more severe the life style the more favour with God they found. In some cases they thought that their suffering added to Christ’s atoning work!
This implied that you had to find different ways of suffering, the more severe the better! Practices such as wearing horsehair shirts, whipping oneself, putting stones in shoes when walking on pilgrimage were common in some quarters. It is even recorded that some never even washed because otherwise they would see their own naked bodies! That is taking neglecting the body to an extreme indeed.
An extreme form of monasticism were the anchorites. These were people who took asceticism to its logical conclusion. They would be sealed in a cell, usually for life and be considered dead to the world. There would be only an access point for food and only 3 windows: one to hear Mass; one for light and one to give ‘wisdom’ to any enquirers.
The idea is that one could be given over to intense prayer and get closer to God. We have seen in previously that we get closer to God by faith in Christ’s finished redeeming work. Nothing of our fleshly efforts will avail in such matters.
E9.2 No value at all
These practices of asceticism, whether it be forbidding certain practices or food, which God has not forbidden, or they be the harsh neglect and punishing of the physical body are mere outward forms. They do nothing for a man’s spirit. They cannot save him, change his heart or change his behaviour. They are worthless as far as God is concerned. They do not profit the person that practises them, nor do they glorify God.
Such practices bolster the pride of the person practising such things. They give a sense of self achievement, they think they have done something towards their own salvation. If these practices do bring salvation then we have to admit that other religious groups that practise such harsh ascetic practices are also earning their salvation! This in turn would invalidated the exclusive claims of Jesus to be the only way, Jn.14:6. Such a conclusion is blasphemous, and therefore the whole premise has to be rejected.
E9.3 Will Worship
The commentators suggest that ‘Will Worship’ means a self-made or adopted form of worship, whether bidden or forbidden. That is: choose your own way of worshipping! The Geneva Bible of 1560 has this interesting note: such men have chosen according to their own fantasy.
One example of this is found in the OT. On the division of the kingdom, after the death of Solomon, Jeroboam set up calves in the Northern kingdom of Israel. I Kgs. 12:25-33; 14:16
The use of images/ icons/ statues in so called Christendom is another example. Whilst claiming that they don’t look at the images and therefore it can not be counted as idolatry. But they either forget or ignore Paul’s warning about idols and their connection to the demonic realm, I Cor.10:19-20.
Sometimes ways of will worship begin by so-called angel visitations or the such like. This could be new cults or just movements within established so called churches. Church history is replete with such examples.
E9.4 Dead with Christ
Earlier in Chapter two of Colossians we saw that when we are born of God we are baptised into His death and resurrection. We have become dead to the world and all its toys. So Paul asks the rhetorical question: if we are dead to the world why do we allow ourselves to be subject to its ways and commands?
Paul argues: If we are indeed ‘dead to the world and all its toys, its fading pomp and idle joys ‘ why do we live as if we are still under the world’s influence? In context this is reference to living the world’s way to please God and obtain merit by asceticism.
The following scriptures show clearly: we are not of this world Jn.17:14-19; we are no longer live to the lusts of men, I Pet.4:1-2. Whether it be commandments, ordinances, neglecting the body or will worship; We are to live according to the will of God.
Christ in us is the hope of glory Col.1:27, not ascetic practices;
In all things Christ is to be preeminent Col.1:18, so where our treasure is there is our heart. Is Christ our treasure, or mysticism in any guise producing worship of our own fantasies?