The Physical and Spirit

Paul is cautioning the Colossians not to stray from the gospel of freedom in Christ and not to listen to those who would submit them to restraints of man-made religious rules. For example, Paul warns against asceticism (see Col 2:21), a renunciation of the material world that denies the body and holds that bodily pleasure is a source of sin.

For Christians today, as in Paul’s day, the issue is complex. How does one live in the world and properly hold against physical pleasures? The culture in the current Western world tends more toward hedonism rather than asceticism. Hedonism is the philosophy that people should deny themselves nothing because the material world is all there is.

The answer for Christians is balance. Neither extreme is acceptable nor Biblical. We can enjoy the good gifts of God, but we are to use them in ways that glorify God and that conform to Jesus’ commands to love others and ourselves. But what does that look like, practically speaking? Determining where to draw the line between the righteous use of God’s good gifts and greedy overindulgence can be difficult and is, ultimately, a matter of conscience. Too much of our perverted use of food, drink, sex, leisure, hobbies or anything can lead us into sin, harm our bodies and obscure our sense of the presence of God. There are good reasons to prayerfully discipline ourselves and limit our consumption of resources.

For our physical and spiritual growth, for the good of God, and for the benefit of others, it’s often advantageous to call enough, enough. Knowing when to do so is an act of freedom in Christ. Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) suggests the following:

“Let this be our principle: that use of God’s gifts is not wrongly directed when it is referred to that end to which the Author himself created and destined them for us, since he created them for our good, not for our ruin. Accordingly, no one will hold to a straighter path than he who diligently looks to this end. Now if we ponder what end God created food, we shall find that he meant no only to provide for necessity but also for delight and good cheer. Thus the purpose of clothing, apart from necessity, was comeliness and decency. In grasses, trees, and fruits, apart from their various uses, there is beauty of appearance and pleasantness of odor (Ge 2:9). For if this were not true, the prophet would not have reckoned them among the benefits of God, ‘wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine’ (Ps 104:15). Scripture would not have reminded us repeatedly in commending his kindness, that he gave all such things to men. And the natural qualities themselves of things demonstrate sufficiently to what end and intent we may enjoy them!What? Did he not so distinguish colors as to make some more lovely than others? What? Did he not endow gold and silver, ivory and marble, with a loveliness that renders them more precious than other metals or stones? Did he not, in short, render many things attractive to us, apart from their necessary use?”

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