“Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding to the head, from which the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.”
The characteristics and practices in these verses are all references to religion. We must always remember that Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ. The word “religion” comes from two Latin words, “re,” which means “back” and “ligio,” which means “to bind.” Combined, they mean “to bind back.” This is exactly what religion teaches - that we must bind ourselves back to God. However, the Bible teaches that it is impossible to bind yourself back to God. The exact opposite is actually true - God binds us back to Himself in Christ.
The first system of religion is self-abasement. Some people think that what they “give up for God” impresses Him and therefore they can gain His favor. Self-abasement is not a Christian virtue; it is an attack from religion. It attacks that part of the sin nature which has a trend toward asceticism (self-denial).
There is a second system of religion which is the worship of angels (including Satan). Religion can involve the worship of fallen angels (demons). It is possible for anyone to get caught up in this religious system, even those who are believers. Fallen angels or demons are not given actual names in Scripture, but are very organized and active. They deceive unbelievers and believers alike, they perform miracles, they inflict bodily disease, they war against God and His elect angels and they indwell or possess unbelievers. (Ephesians 6:12; Romans 8:38-39; Revelation 13:14, 16:14, 19:20; I Timothy 4:1; I Corinthians 10:20-21; Luke 8:36, 13:16; Matthew 4:24) Angels are created spirit beings. (Ephesians 3:9-10; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:7,14) Nowhere in the Bible are angels said to be human beings that have died and become angels. Angels are individuals. (Ezekiel 1:5) Angels were created in eternity past. (Job 38:4-7) Angels are not born and they do not die. (Matthew 25:41) Angels are countless in number. (Revelation 5:11; Hebrews 12:22; Luke 2:13) Angels are generally invisible to man (except on certain occasions). (Colossians 1:16; Genesis 6) Angels are not to be worshipped. (Colossians 2:18) Angels render intelligent worship to God. (Psalms 148:2) Angels have limited knowledge. (Matthew 24:36) Angels are now inferior to Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 1:4-14) Angels are superior to man (this included the humanity of Christ while He was on earth). (Luke 4:33-34; Psalms 103:20; Hebrews 2:6-7; Daniel 9:21) Angels observe mankind. (Ephesians 3:10; I Peter 1:12)
The third system of religion has to do with visions and relating what one has seen in a vision by “taking a stand” on what one has seen in a vision. In other words, they stand upon this human experience as truth and often turn it into a religion. For example, someone has a vision or goes into a state of ecstatics and begins to hallucinate and form false doctrines on the basis of that vision. Satan uses religion as an attack on the authority of the Bible. He says that what you dream, what you see in a vision, what you see when you get ecstatic, is more real than what the Bible says. So it is an attack upon the authority of the Word of God and emphasizes feeling and ecstatic experiences over the truth of God’s Word. Many modern religions are based on what some human being saw in a so-called vision or dream.
Inflated in his mind is a reference to the arrogance complex of the soul. And, arrogance comes in many forms: self-justification, self-deception, self-absorption and self-righteousness.
Self-justification is illustrated for us in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. According to Genesis 3:8-13, Adam blames Eve for his failure and Eve blames Satan for hers. Self-justification rejects any personal responsibility for his or her own actions. Self-justification is a dangerous form of arrogance. Just look what it led to in the Garden of Eden! Today we might say, “It’s not my fault, the Devil made me do it.” Or “I’m a victim of my environment,” or “I have a disease” or “it’s my parent’s fault.”
Self-deception is another deadly form of arrogance according to I John 1:8-10. When a person is involved in practicing any pattern of sin over a prolonged period of time, it is easy to deceive yourself into believing that what you are doing is not sin at all. For example, thinking that you are better, holier, more spiritual or closer to God that other believers are forms of self-deception. Self-deception can lead a person into self-absorption.
Self-absorption is total preoccupation with self. The scriptural illustration of this form of arrogance is the Rich Young Ruler of Matthew 19:16-22. This is a story of a man who came to Jesus asking what he could do to inherit eternal life. Jesus illustrated to this man that he was a sinner in need of a Savior. It is the Rich Young Ruler’s self-absorption that caused him to reject Christ. Blinded by his riches and possessions, he was unwilling to recognize his need for a Savior.
Self-righteousness totally ignores God’s righteousness in an attempt to establish one’s own righteousness. Paul recognized it in the nation of Israel in Romans 10:2-3. What we need to realize is that we possess God’s righteousness. Any attempt on our part to establish our own human righteousness as a means of gaining God’s favor is a waste of valuable time. Instead, we could be using that time to build our lives on God’s righteousness already resident in our souls. God is not impressed with our human righteousness before or after salvation. God is only impressed with His own righteousness, which we possess, and this is the only means of blessing from Him. God blesses us based on His integrity, His righteousness and His justice. As we have studied, if you want increased blessing from God, you must increase your capacity to receive blessing from God, by the consistent intake and application of His Word.
The doctrine of Christ as the head of the Church is found in Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23; 2:16; 4:4-5; Colossians 1:18-24. Jesus Christ is the Ruler of the Church. Whether or not He is allowed to function in your life as your ruler depends upon whether you understand and apply the pertinent mystery doctrine. If you understand this doctrine, you have the basis for submitting to the authority of Jesus Christ as the Ruler of the Church. If you are advancing in the spiritual life and living inside God’s power system, then you have accepted the authority of Jesus Christ as the Ruler of the Church. But many Christians have rejected our Lord’s authority as the Ruler of the Church.
Jesus Christ has delegated authority for the communication of doctrine in the local church to the pastor-teacher. If believers have rejected the authority of Jesus Christ over their personal lives, they will obviously reject the authority of any pastor who communicates the Word of God. Without knowing doctrine, we cannot accept the authority of Jesus Christ. In the head and the body analogy, Christ is the head and members of the royal family of God are the parts of the body. This speaks of Christ’s authority. The body emphasizes our differences in personality and spiritual gifts. (Ephesians 1:22-23, 2:16, 4:4-5, 5:23; I Corinthians 12)
“If you have died to the elementary things 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!’ (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) – in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”
The elementary things of the world refers to Satan’s world system. We were born into the devil’s kingdom but we were born again into God’s kingdom. The Kingdom of God is God’s eternal kingdom to which every believer belongs from all dispensations, perhaps even angels. It is God’s spiritual kingdom, which is entered only through salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. (Matthew 6:33; Luke 13:28-29; John 3:3-7; Hebrews 12:22-23) Within that kingdom there is the Kingdom of Heaven or the kingdom of the heavens. The Kingdom of Heaven is only part of the entire Kingdom of God, and refers to the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus Christ on earth. Since the Kingdom of Heaven is a part of the Kingdom of God, they are sometimes used interchangeably.
It is this earthly kingdom that was announced by John the Baptist and offered to Israel by Jesus Christ and rejected by the Jewish nation. Since it was rejected and the Messiah crucified, the Kingdom of Heaven was postponed until after the Tribulation. Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven and the Millennium are the same period of time. This period will be the time when “David’s greater Son,” Jesus Christ, will rule on earth. It is a time when all the covenants to Israel will be fulfilled. It is a time of peace and prosperity. (Matthew 3:1-3; Luke 1:31-33; Zechariah 12:8; II Samuel 7:7-10)
When John announced that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand, it simply meant that the Messianic ruler was on the scene and ready to set up His kingdom on earth. Even the disciples of Jesus thought that the Kingdom of Heaven was going to be set up at that time. (Acts 1:6) In Matthew 13 Jesus teaches the multitudes about the Kingdom of Heaven in parables, so, these parables and their meanings apply only to the Millennium, not to the Church Age. In the end, the nation of Israel rejects Jesus as Messiah and with the assistance of the Romans fulfills prophecy by crucifying the Savior. (Matthew 27)
Satan is a real created being, an angel and a cherub. (Ezekiel 28:14) His original name was Lucifer (Son of the Morning), God’s most beautiful creation. (Ezekiel 28:17) He fell through arrogance, which led to rebellion against God. (Isaiah 14:12-15) He was superior to all of the angels. (Ezekiel 28:14) In Revelation 12:9 he is called “the Dragon”, which is “derchomai” in Greek and means “to see clearly”; an obvious reference to his superior intellect. We can learn a lot about Satan’s personality and character by an examination of his names, titles and the descriptive words used for him in Scripture.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they not only fell spiritually, they also gave up the rulership of this world. The result was that Satan became the new ruler. Satan and his followers (fallen angels) have been attempting to confuse, distract and destroy God and His followers for thousands of years. We must never forget that Satan and his world system are much more powerful than mankind and we therefore must be aware of his cunning devices. We must also remember the tactics Satan uses to get us off track. Satan is not omnipresent, omniscient or omnipotent, but he is a genius and has been observing mankind from the beginning. He uses direct attacks, demon influence and the world system to influence the sin nature to do both human good and evil.
The first taboo was do not handle. The Greek word for handle is “thingano” meaning to use violence on someone or handle for the purpose of killing or using violence. Religion says that if you kill or use violence against someone you can’t truly be a Christian. Murder and criminal violence are certainly against the laws and principles of God, but committing such acts does not send a person to Hell. Religion says that a certain amount of human works and abstinence of certain things is necessary in order to prove a person is worthy of a relationship with God. Religion teaches that failure to live up to these human standards disqualifies a person, spiritually.
The second taboo was do not taste. (Romans 14:23; 1 Corinthians 8:8-13) Abstaining from certain foods on certain days of the week is an example of legalism associated with religion. Paul addresses this subject several times in his writings. Apparently it was a major problem for Jews, especially coming out from under the legalistic system of Judaism. The Jewish religious leaders had distorted the food prohibitions of the Law of Moses, which were designed to keep Israel healthy, into a legalistic system of human works. According to a sect of the Gnostics, by abstaining from certain foods a person could demonstrate their “holiness,” “spirituality” and closeness to God.
The third taboo was do not touch. This taboo had to do with having any type of inappropriate sexual relations. Religion has often taught that engaging in certain relations will condemn a person to Hell. Once again, if the relations are inappropriate according to the Word of God, they are wrong. However, they have nothing to do with whether a person goes to Heaven or not. Of course, religion likes to set its own standards not consistent with accurate Bible doctrine.
Religion often has the outward appearance of Godly wisdom. One of Satan’s greatest tactics is to counterfeit the Christian life by means of religion. What results is a pseudo-salvation and pseudo-spirituality. In this verse we have three phrases to examine. The first phrase is self-made religion. Since Christianity is not a religion, this cannot be a reference to the spiritual life. Religion is always man-made. Anyone can start a religion based on a number of false interpretations of Scripture and we see many in the past, as in Paul’s day and many in our day.
The second phrase is self-abasement. This phrase is a reference to pseudo-humility or the “Milton milk toast” syndrome. Walking about with your head hung down or acting “lowly” as if you deserve nothing is not a character trait of a spiritually mature Christian. True humility is based on a personal sense of destiny and a mature relationship with God. As a mature believer, a person understands that all they have or will have is a result of their relationship with Jesus Christ.
The third phrase is severe treatment of the body. Attempting to punish your body or deprive your body is not a part of Christianity. Those who engage in such activities often think that this ridiculous act will somehow draw them closer to God. The reality is that it drives them away from God. This includes the religious act of fasting. Fasting as taught by Jesus and the apostles was voluntary, mainly practiced in time of intense circumstances or need.
All these false practices have no value when it comes to the control of the sin nature and the execution of the Christian Way of Life. The control of the sin nature and the execution of the Christian Way of Life are accomplished only by means of fellowship with God and the filling of the Holy Spirit. Gnosticism, on the other hand, could not provide anything spiritual.