Within the sphere of Christianity, there is no shortage of teachers and books written that intend to guilt people into a more extreme way of living in order to be closer to God.
This is not a new teaching. It has been around in pagan religion since the dawn of recorded history. There is no merit in teaching that if we give up money, possessions, or comfort we will finally be freed to be able to please God.
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. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 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, 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.
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—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 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.
It would help to have a definition of Asceticism before going forward. The word translated "asceticism" in the ESV is from the root concept of humility. But it carries, in this context, the idea of delighting in that humility, i.e. being proud of how humble they are:
"I give up this for Jesus"
"I dress this way for God"
"I gave up all my money for God"
"I got those spoiling possessions away from me, and now I am free to serve God better"
"I don't have ______, therefore I am more pleasing to God"
"I… I… I…"
Paul's dealing with this issue in Colosse is expressing to them directly to not give up the freedom that Christ has given them for the bondage that foolish people keep insisting on. An old struggle, to be sure, and one that I have fought against in my own heart for years. "It looks so right!" We think. "Look what that person has given up for Jesus! I have a hard time even putting mind-engaging Bible study into each day."
Paul's answer to sin is not more rules and more structure, it is in yielding to the Spirit's work of sanctification (a topic for another post) as He grows us up.
During His incarnation, Jesus taught the same thing in the parable of the soils.
And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
Notice the patience with which fruit comes. There is always a temptation to focus on the fruit here, but that final word in Christ's explanation is of utmost importance. If we settle back into believing that we may jump start the work of the Spirit with rules and structure we risk throwing ourselves back into the hopelessness from which we were saved.
But there is such a push in the church for extremism. This idea that if you are not totally "sold out for God" then read this book and by tonight you will be. Nonsense! And I find it interesting that the book that is being handed out is not the Bible.
Mature Christlikeness does not come from emotions, decisions, rules, effort or the reading of books. It comes as a result of a life of growth in patience. It is the difference between a fire and a firework. A tree and a blade of grass. A marathon and a sprint . A tortoise and a hare.
In the end, this is a problem with godly contentment (a post for another day), and not a problem with a need for more rules and asceticism. God will grow us up, yield to Him and His work and watch Him do it. Loving how humble you can be will only get in the way.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 ESV
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.