What Motivates You?
Read Colossians 2:20-23
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—”Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to the things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 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.
How does self-denial (asceticism) have only an appearance of wisdom but no spiritual value?
What is “asceticism”? Merriam-Webster defines it as “the practice of strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline” and “rigorous abstention from self-indulgence.” It can take many different forms such as adhering to strict dietary laws, extreme fasting, committing to a life of celibacy, living in poverty, neglecting personal hygiene, and even self-harm. But the goal of asceticism is always purported to be a deeper spirituality.
In today’s verses, Paul addressed the false teachers who were promoting asceticism. They were insisting that the believers in Colossae follow their strict regulations regarding what they could touch and what they could eat. But Paul urged the Colossians not to submit to the regulations these false teachers were advocating. Why? Because while they have the appearance of wisdom and they seem super-spiritual, these practices do not promote spiritual growth. These practices do not increase someone’s dependence on Christ. In fact, they actually promote self-reliance instead.
For example, it may seem super-spiritual and humble to sell all of your possessions and spend the rest of your life in poverty. But doing that has no power to save your soul. We know that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, not because of any works or acts of self-denial that we may do (Ephesians 2:8). If we think we need to earn our salvation through acts of self-denial, we are not depending on Christ. We are depending on ourselves and that is useless.
You might be thinking “but didn’t God tell us that if we want to follow Him, we have to deny ourselves?” Yes, in Matthew 16:24, Jesus said, “If any would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” But Jesus was talking about denying ourselves of our own wills and submitting to His will. He was talking about giving up our sins and pursuing holiness. He was talking about making a total commitment to Him and fully surrendering to His Lordship and authority. He was not talking about following a list of man-made religious regulations.
Paul reminded them that they died with Christ to spiritual powers of the world. The endless game of trying to earn their salvation is over. In Christ, we are all free from putting on spiritual performances. We are dead to the world’s religious games and we are alive in Christ! That means, we no longer play by the world’s rules, we play by His.
When we follow Jesus, the motivation changes. With asceticism, the motivation for self-denial is focused on the self. How can I become more spiritual? How can I earn favor with God? But the motivation for followers of Jesus is love. We submit ourselves to His will and His ways because we know He loves us. We obey Him because we love Him. Love for His kingdom and for our brothers and sisters in Christ becomes our motivation for how we live and spend our time and money.
Friends, you are free from the slavery of spiritual games. Stop beating yourself up trying to earn God’s approval. If you are in Christ, you already have it. Instead, commit your life to following Jesus. Submit to His ways instead of adhering to a list of man-made rules. The path to a vibrant and deep spiritual life is only through abiding in Him.
Lord, thank You for the freedom that I have in You. Keep me from falling into useless self-made religious traps. I submit myself fully to You and lay my life down out of love for You and Your people. Your will, not my own, Lord. Amen.