(Col 2:16-23 ESV) 16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 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 — 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)–according to human precepts and teachings? 23 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.
Paul now transitions from explaining the correct understanding of Christianity to critiquing the false teaching that the Colissians were struggling with. It appears that the Colossians were struggling with a blending of Grecian thought and Jewish thought, together with the notion that God could only be approached through angel — so that Christians had to appease the angels by ascetic living in order to have access to the blessings of God. I’ll not spend much time on angel worship, but will instead focus on the ascetic part of the error, as that is most relevant to today’s church.
“Dualism” is the notion that the world is divided into good and bad — and that the two do not touch. Francis Schaeffer liked to speak of the first story and second story. In his terms, we’d describe Platonic dualism this way –
In other words, the spirit world is entirely separate from the material world. The spiritual world is good, and the material world is evil. There’s a line between the two.
In asceticism, the goal is to “mortify the flesh,” and so rid ourselves of the material side of things –
In antinomianism, the goal is to ignore the spiritual side of things, letting the flesh rule –
Some argue that in the modern world, we’ve moved to an antinomian ethic — “solving” the conflict between spirit and flesh by eliminating the spirit altogether — entirely debasing our culture. And there’s a lot of truth in that observation.
To the empiricist, that is, a Westerner who sees only science and facts, there is no “spirit” in the second story, because there’s no second story. And therefore, the first floor is no longer evil. And it’s no longer good. It just is. And so we lose our values. Go read the crime reports in your paper and see how well that’s working.
The Judaic/Christian worldview honors and celebrates both spirit and matter, but it removes the line –
spirit : matter
In other words, the Creation was made good. Very good. Matter and people were, at their inception, very good. And God walked with man in the Garden. Heaven and earth touched, and God and man were in close relationship.
But sin entered the world, separating God from man and also man from woman — and brother from brother. Our ability to relate to God and to each other was broken — not destroyed, but corrupted. And the Creation itself was corrupted. And God’s been working ever since to fix things.
In Christ, fleshly humans are brought into Christ, and God himself, through the Spirit, enters the human. Our relationship with God becomes like Jesus’ own relationship with God.
(John 17:20-21) “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
This unity Jesus prayed for is not just unity of brother with brother, it’s also unity of church with Christ and God: “May they also be in us … just as you are in me and I am in you” (rearranged but true to the thought).
In other words, the Story of the Bible is the unification of flesh with Spirit. Or, more precisely, it’s fixing what was broken. It’s God working through Christ and the Spirit to set things right — and his church working by the Spirit in support of God’s own work.
(Col 3:9-10 ESV) 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
God is in the process of re-creating us in his own image, fixing what was broken and restoring the unity of matter and spirt, Creator and Creation. The result will be that we will be in the “image” of God — returned to our innocence and to right relationship with God. No longer will we be separated from God by the Fall, but rather we’ll be “very good” in the eyes of God.
* When we escape Plato’s dualism, we see the Creation as very good, but given by God to our care.
(Gen 2:15) The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
But this is not dominion without a purpose. Rather, we are given the job of both taking care of Creation and also to “work” Creation, that is, to make Creation productive. In short, the Creation was made to be used but to be used responsibly. When we see Creation as temporary and even evil, we have no reason to care what happens to it. But the Biblical principle is quite different.
We don’t worship Creation. Nor do we see Creation in its pristine state as necessarily perfect. We are told to subdue and to work it. But also to tend to it — to care for it. There’s a balance called for.
When sin entered the world, it affected not only man’s relationship with God and other men, it affected the Creation.
(Rom 8:19-21) The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
You see, at the end of time, even the Creation will be redeemed.
(Rev 21:1-5) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
(“New” here in the Greek means renewed, not replaced.) Heaven descends to earth, rejoining spirit and flesh, heaven and earth, God and man. Man receives spiritual bodies, that is, bodies from the Spirit. The line is completely erased.
There are, of course, well-known divisions found in scripture: flesh and spirit; world and church; damned and saved. You see, the point isn’t that everything is already spiritual and perfect. It’s not. Rather, the point is that God is working — partly through us and partly by other means — to erase the line. And he won’t be entirely successful. Many will be damned. But the goal is that all be saved, that the Creation be redeemed, and that we be returned to the Garden.
Therefore, when we hide in our churches away from the “world,” we frustrate God’s eternal purposes. Trying to darken the line is to work against the eternal purposes of God.
Yes, he wants us holy. No, he doesn’t want us hidden away from the world. He wants us in the world helping him fix what’s broken.
When we come across a non-Christian, we don’t see that person as poisonous. Rather, we see a cracked icon — someone made in God’s image, but broken. And we are called to help repair what needs to be fixed. We are to help remove the line that separates him from God.