“‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?” (Colossians 2:21-22).
Asceticism is the term we use to describe a lifestyle of self denial, austerity, and abstention from various pleasures or indulgences. This concept has come to be identified with those who forsake various physical or psychological desires in attempting to reach a spiritual ideal or goal. (1)
Ascetics are often defined by the characteristics given to us here in Colossians 2:21-22. For instance, we find the practices of self denial, austerity, and abstention reflected in these references to “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle.” Nevertheless, it’s important to draw a distinction between the passage quoted above and other Scriptural admonitions such as these…
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me'” (Matthew 16:24).
“Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life'” (Mark 10:29-30).
These passages from Matthew and Mark identify the characteristics of those who place Jesus first in every aspect of life. On the other hand, the asceticism of Colossians chapter two finds its origin in the attitude of self-gratification and false humility mentioned earlier in Colossians 2:18. One commentary offers a few additional suggestions we can use to separate genuine Biblical self-denial from it’s counterfeit, man-made equivalent…
“We can guard against man-made religions by asking these questions about any religious group:
(1) Does it stress man-made rules and taboos rather than God’s grace?
(2) Does it foster a critical spirit toward others, or does it exercise discipline discreetly and lovingly?
(3) Does it stress formulas, secret knowledge, or special visions more than the Word of God?
(4) Does it elevate self-righteousness, honoring those who keep the rules, rather than elevating Christ?
(5) Does it neglect Christ’s universal church, claiming to be an elite group?
(6) Does it teach humiliation of the body as a means to spiritual growth rather than focus on the growth of the whole person?
(7) Does it disregard the family rather than hold it in high regard as the Bible does? (2)
(1) See Asceticism, The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, June 20, 2013, https://www.britannica.com/topic/asceticism Accessed August 20, 2019
(2) Life Application Study Bible, Colossians 2:22,23 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. Life Application® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.