The Judaizers said it could only happen if they got back to the law, watched what they ate and drank, observed the festival days, and started observing the real Sabbath again. The Gnostics said it would take something far more drastic. That it would require severe self-discipline, physically punishing the body if necessary, and avoiding any hint of self-indulgence. What’s more, it would mean connecting with the spirit world through visions and the paranormal in order to worship angels. While both agreed that the flesh needed to be battled, they took very different approaches. And both, says Paul, were useless.
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.
(Colossians 2:23 ESV)
Indulging the flesh. Seeking to satisfy sensual desires. Catering to whatever feels good. Both Jew and Gnostic knew that such a dynamic, if left unchecked, would eventually bring destruction. Not only to the individual, but to the community as well. And certainly it would be an affront to whatever form of the divine they thought existed.
The Gnostics believed that the flesh, along with everything else in the material world, had been created by an imperfect spirit and thus was flawed. Thus, to battle the flesh was to deny the flesh in order to pursue a deeper and deeper knowledge of the divine. The Judaizers, on the other hand, knew that a perfect and holy God had created all things and that He had created them good. Thus, in order to battle the fallen flesh, it required a greater effort of the flesh in obeying the law. That by physically cutting away the flesh it somehow gave power to the flesh to redeem itself through rule and regulation.
And to both Paul says, “No value.” That works are worthless when it comes to turning the tide on sensual desire. That pious acts might put on a good outward show but are useless towards effecting an inward reality. Instead, the way of Christ in dealing with the indulgence of the flesh is to recognize that you have already died to it.
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.
(Colossians 2:20 ESV)
At our conversion, we died to the flesh along with every man-made, “pretentious and infantile” (MSG) religious practice on how to combat the flesh. No if’s about it. Paul states it as fact. By virtue of our union with Christ we have died with Christ (Rom. 6:8).
What’s more if we have died with Him we have been raised in newness of life, as He was, and we live with Him. And in that lies the way and the power of dealing with the indulgence of the flesh.
It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
(Galatians 2:20 ESV)
To look to our own good works for our redemption is to insult His finished work on the cross.
And to battle the flesh by our own fleshly efforts, or through our own wisdom and understanding, is to bind the Spirit within us. Only the Spirit of resurrected life working through us is sufficient to make war with the sensual desires still at work in us (Gal. 5:16-17). Only as, by faith, we count ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” are we able then to present our bodies to God “as instruments for righteousness” (Rom. 6:11-13).
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
(Romans 6:14 ESV)
Not grit but grace. Not religion but regeneration. Now what we can do, but what He has done. Not in our strength, but in His power.
To be trapped again by the “elemental spirits” of self-righteousness is to frustrate grace and concede ground to the flesh.
But we have died with Christ. We are risen together with Him. And through Him we are more than conquerors in dealing with the indulgence of the flesh.
By His grace. For His glory.