Following Jesus does not mean adhering to a long list of rules and regulations (legalism) designed to control our behavior so we are right with God. Jesus makes us right with God; we don’t have to work for righteousness.
Reading: Colossians 2:18, 23
The second thing Paul said to get rid of in our quest to follow Jesus is ASCETICISM. Asceticism is the belief that a person can attain a higher spiritual and moral state by practicing self-denial (I don’t bathe), self-mortification (pinching myself until I bruise) and other things of `rigorous self-denial. The goal is developing a higher level of spirituality; denying oneself to develop a greater awareness of the spiritual and be separate from the pull of our bodily desires.
Martin Luther lived in the first half of the 16th century and was a ordained a priest in 1507. He struggled deeply with “feeling” he was not spiritual enough so he engaged in ascetic practices including wearing clothing made from animal skin with the hairy, scratchy side toward his body. On the nights he allowed himself to sleep, he used a rock for a pillow and refused blankets to keep himself warm. He would go without food for long periods of time hoping to mortify his physical body so his spiritual developed. All of this, and more, was an effort to attain a higher level of spirituality than he experienced at the time. It was in studying Romans that he discovered his faith needed to be in Christ alone and not in any acts of self-denial or self-mortification. He learned it was futile to deny himself the basic comforts of life; that did not bring him peace. But faith in Jesus alone did.
Paul could have saved Luther a great deal of pain. In verse 23 (sure, go back and read it again!), he said these acts of rigorous self-denial do NOTHING to control the desires in our bodies. So if you are trying to control lust by hitting your thumb with a hammer, it isn’t going to work.
I doubt you are choosing to sleep on a rock at night or wear clothes that scratch your body. But is there something that dances around the periphery? Something that says, “If I deny myself (you fill in the blank), then I would experience a higher level of spirituality.” Is there any type of self-denial that you think you should perform to make up for something you said or did? Go back and read the scripture again. I think there is a word of freedom for you in the passage today!