“If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” Colossians 2:20-21
One of the more fascinating aspects of contemporary Christianity is the renewed interest in some of the more liturgical expressions of faith. This probably will run its course, but if it points people back to their ancient root system it will be a noble journey.
On the other hand, any addition of man-made religion to a faith completed by Jesus on the cross of Calvary is a dangerous precedent. The relationship with Jesus begins with death, not a renewed effort to live a better life, or to deny oneself the comforts of life.
Putting rouge on a corpse is an illusion of life. It makes for a less frightening view of the body, but it doesn’t breathe new life into it. When people walk by a casket, they seldom throw insults at the body of the person reclining in it. It would be poor form. The fact remains that any harsh words would have no impact. Dead people just don’t take offense at being disrespected, nor do they mourn at their own funeral.
Life with Jesus begins with death, but it releases new life. Being born-again is a joyous encounter. Self-denial is a daily walk with Jesus impacted by the power and The Person of The Risen Christ. It is not a mourner’s marathon of physical denial.
Dead people do not become more alive by denying themselves nourishment, their favorite hobby, or watching less TV. The dead are not impacted by the same things as people who are still living under the influence of “the elementary principles of the world.”
Paul warned the members of the early church to avoid being sidetracked from the joyous celebration of repentance by man-made penance. Penance and repentance are not the same thing.
In truth, the believer is dead to an old way of life, and is not “living in the world.” There is no need to submit to man-made religion that orders them, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!”
This is where the confusion of new life in Christ and death to self collide. Believers are born-again people trapped in physical bodies that remain on earth until Jesus returns or death frees them to go home. They hunger, thirst, and experience every other feeling, and emotion with the same intensity that any unredeemed person does. This delay clouds their perspective on death and denial.
Self-denial is not the denial of oneself certain things, but the denial of one’s self. It is possible to be empty of food, and filled with pride. It is possible to penniless and prideful. It is possible to take one’s last breath, and express pride with one’s last gasp.
Taking food out of a dead man’s mouth, or stealing property from his hand will not make him a better man or make him more alive. It is pointless. Dead men do not respond to disrespect or denial.
Paul’s reminder to the early Christians is a timely one for the contemporary church. Humiliating the flesh by denying it certain privileges may be a form of penance, but it does not indicate the state of repentance.
Repentance is the death to self. It is a turn around that leads to new life in Christ. Penance is a removal of non-essential things that inconveniences the flesh without dying to self.
Paul would add, “I die daily.” 1 Corinthians 15:31 His life was no one-time encounter with his pride. He would spend the rest of his life nailing it to the cross.
Death to self or self-denial is not the denying of oneself certain things, but the crucifying of selfish pride every day. This is not a sad forced march to the cross. This is a race to repentance, knowing that it is at the cross where new life is received. What Jesus nails to the cross dies, and He breathes new life into those who have had all their debts canceled.
“When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which were hostile to us, and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14
Dying to self is a daily celebration of living debt free. It begins with death, but ends in revival. Prayer is how the revived continue to breathe the fresh air of forgiveness. Praying keeps nailing pride to the cross, and breathing new life into a spirit of repentance.
Note to self: It won’t hurt you to deny yourself a few things, but don’t confuse penance with repentance. Never deny what Jesus did for you on the cross. Laying off the chocolate chip cookies at Lent may make you a thinner man, but what Jesus did at The Cross put to death your sinner man. Take a deep breath, and celebrate, but don’t forget the nails. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!