Spiritual War Bible Studies

Spiritual War Bible Studies => Book of Colossians => Study #9 => Topic started by: Hidden In Him on November 14, 2020, 05:42:56 PM

Title: Colossians 2:20-23, 3:5-7, Part 1
Post by: Hidden In Him on November 14, 2020, 05:42:56 PM
Defeating Spiritual Uncleanness By Mortifying The Flesh, Part 1

     Ever wonder why there is so much sexual sin in the church? It is a problem the modern church in reality doesn't have much answer for, though most of the sin goes on without being exposed. Adultery and fornication are practiced, yet because such sins are not something most are willing to admit to, these things are kept from public scrutiny. But the reality of sexual sin and immorality in the church can be easily enough seen through the things they do admit to, for instance the consumption of pornography.
     According to an article by ConquerSeries.com entitled, 15 Mind-Blowing Statistics About Pornography And The Church:

     Statistics reveal that the increase in the amount and reach of pornography cannot be ignored. And it is not just a problem affecting men. Women, teenagers, and children are also being caught in the web of pornography at alarming rates. Many Christians may assume that the church is immune. They see the smiling faces of the people who attend their church. Certainly such godly folks could not be viewing pornography. But many studies and reports have come out over the last several years that show quite a disturbing picture. Not only has pornography invaded churches, but in many cases, the statistics show that Christians – and even church pastors – engage in viewing porn at almost the same rates as the secular population. The research studies, primarily by the Barna Group and Covenant Eyes, reveal:

- Over 40 million Americans are regular visitors to porn sites. The porn industry’s annual revenue is more than the NFL, NBA, and MLB combined. It is also more than the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC.
- 47% of families in the United States reported that pornography is a problem in their home.
- Eleven is the average age that a child is first exposed to porn, and 94% of children will see porn by the age of 14.
- 70% of Christian youth pastors report that they have had at least one teen come to them for help in dealing with pornography in the past 12 months.
- 68% of church-going men and over 50% of pastors view porn on a regular basis. Of young Christian adults 18-24 years old, 76% actively search for porn.
- 59% of pastors said that married men seek their help for porn use.
- Only 13% of self identified Christian women say they never watch porn – 87% of Christian women have watched porn.
- 57% of pastors say porn addiction is the most damaging issue in their congregation. And 69% say porn has adversely impacted the church.

     The church's current "solutions" to dealing with the problems of sexual sin and sexual immorality are things like "accountability," but these do not address the flesh itself. They are primarily psychological "solutions," which do not account for the physiological side of the problem, and thus are for the most part ineffective with most believers.
     The early church's teachings on how to deal with the lusts of the flesh, however, were different. They advocated the sex drive be brought under through fasting. But as our next passage reveals, the church at Colossi was being presented with a different teaching; one that stressed not how much food one ate, but only what kinds of food. It was a return to strict Judaism, but as Paul would warn them, turning ones focus back to Jewish unclean food laws "did not have any value against gratification of the flesh." They were merely exercises in religious "piety," but did nothing to bring the flesh under control, or submission to the Spirit.
     As this two-part study will attest, the battle Christians face against the drive of the flesh is admittedly severe, and not an easy one to win even when proper teaching is presented. But this issue must be dealt with, or we will have no hope. It is the primary means Satan is using to destroy the Christian witness in our times, and until there is a return to early church teachings on it, we will continue to experience defeat and demoralization. 

Jewish Law Vs. True Discipline Of The Flesh

     After the apostle Peter had his vision of a sheet being lowered from Heaven with all sorts of things Jews were forbidden from eating, and then the Lord commanded him to "Rise up, sacrifice and eat," the early church no longer concerned itself with keeping Jewish unclean food laws. These laws had passed from being any longer relevant for the church of Jesus Christ, aside from not wanting to needlessly and unnecessarily offend the Jews:

     And when Peter went up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision were differentiating with him, saying, "Before uncircumcised men you went in, and you ate with them." But having begun, Peter related the story to them in order, saying, "I was in the city of Joppa praying, and while in a trance I saw in a vision a certain vessel like a great sheet being let down by four corners out of Heaven. And it came to me, upon which after I had looked intently, I was considering. And I saw the four-footed creatures of the earth, and wild beasts and creeping things, and the birds of heaven. And I heard a voice saying unto me, 'Rise up, Peter, sacrifice and eat'." (Acts 11:2-7)

     What the early church did teach, however, was "bringing the body under submission" through fasting. Thus, when heretics now threatened to turn the church at Colossi back to concentrating on keeping Jewish unclean food laws, Paul was quick to point out proper teaching on the matter, and that the church no longer concerned itself with such things. These were now little more than the "teachings of men," men who had not yet received revelation from Christ on the matter:

     If you died with Christ from the principles of the world, why as though living in the world do you subject yourself to decrees? Touch not, taste not, neither handle such things as are all coming to corruption with the using, in accordance with the injunctions and teachings of men; [teachings] which indeed have an appearance of wisdom in advocating voluntary subservience, self-abasement and neglect of the body, [yet] do not have any value against gratification of the flesh. If therefore you were raised with Christ... Mortify your members upon the earth: Sexual immorality, uncleanness, physical passion, evil lust, and [sexual] covetousness, which is idolatry, on account of which things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, among whom you also walked when you were once living among these. (Colossians 2:20-23, 3:5-7)

     As stated throughout this set of studies, the evidence is overwhelming that the heretics trying to influence the Colossians here were the Essenes. They were completely obsessed with ritual purity. As one article states regarding their mikvahs or ritual baths:

     Based on the findings at Qumran, we know that personal purity was also as high a priority. The number of mikvot found at Qumran makes this clear to us. There were 13 stepped pools found at the site. This is the site with the highest density of ritual baths. The largest mikvah at Qumran (locus 71) can contain around 300 cubic meters of water. What is also unique about these baths at Qumran is the dividing line(s) they have on the stairs leading into the pool. The current understanding is that this line separated the people entering the pool. It kept the unclean people entering the pool from the clean people leaving the pool. In some case there were two lines with a space between to make sure that the people do not touch one another by accident. (Who Were The Essenes? Set Apart People.com)


     The strictness of their teachings and way of life can also be confirmed by studying their own writings. As suggested by the passage in Colossians, their need to not touch or "handle" anything unclean appears to have been among the highest priorities in their codes of conduct.
     Speaking of their "Yahad" or holy community, one of their documents stated as follows:

     None of the perverse men is to enter purifying waters used by the Men of Holiness, and so contact their purity... None belonging to the Yahad is to discuss with such men matters of the Law or legal judgment, nor to eat or drink what is theirs, nor yet to take anything from them... If [a potential candidate] does proceed in joining the society of the Yahad, he must not touch the pure food of the general membership before they have examined him as to his spiritual fitness and works, and not before a full year has passed. Furthermore, he must not admix his property with that of the general membership. When he has passed a full year in the Yahad... he shall be initiated further into the secret teachings of the Yahad... [but] the initiate is not to touch the drink of the general membership prior to passing a second year among the men of the Yahad. (DSS, Charter Of A Jewish Sectarian Association)

     But these ordinances of "taste not, touch not, handle not" did not apply to Christians. Rather, the emphasis for Christians was on not coming into contact with spiritual uncleanness, which is what the unclean foods represented. The command for Christians was to "keep themselves undefiled," by making sure their bodies remained habitations for the Holy Spirit alone.

Unclean Foods: A Prophetic Warning Against Evil Spirits

     Why did God institute unclean food laws for the Jews? The answer lies in understanding what it represented spiritually. Jesus referred to demons as being "unclean spirits," and this is what the food laws were given to prophetically represent; not allowing oneself to come into contact with unclean spirits, or worse yet, "eat" them by allowing them entrance into one's body. As Paul stated, they were "cleanse themselves of all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
     In his vision of being taken into Second Heaven, Harold Pittman talked about witnessing demonic spirits in action, and how demons of sexual immorality in particular appeared to be especially unclean and disgusting, not only in appearance but also smell:

     Finally, my escorting angels brought me to a group of these odd-looking beings... This group of demons had the most despicable shapes and forms of any in all of Second Heaven. In many cases, the forms of some of them were so repulsive that just to look upon them produced nausea.... I was astounded to learn that these were the creatures who held all the expertise in the area of "perversion." This group of untouchable, despicable, odd-looking spirit beings had been given the important assignment of destroying the morals of modern man. (Pittman, Demons: An Eyewitness Account, P.53)
     As he testified a little later in the Chapter:

     The angels told me that I was going to be permitted to see a human being actually being possessed by one of these demons… When we crossed through the dimension wall, we came out in a different room in the same hospital where my body was… In that room were two people, a young man and a young woman… The couple had no idea that we were there, and apparently thought they were completely alone.
     Standing between them was the most despicable looking of all creatures, of which they were totally unaware. He looked like an overgrown, stuffed, green frog that was all out of shape [proportionally]. The man and the woman were talking and laughing as though they had just exchanged a joke. The demon, however, was between them and moving slowly toward the man's face. His every movement was calculated, much as a cat's movement is calculated when he is stalking a little bird… When the demon reached the man's face, suddenly, like a puff of smoke, he disappeared into it, appearing to have penetrated the pores of the skin. As I turned away from the two, the angel began to tell me about the sovereign will of man, and how this demon made himself look beautiful and desirable to this individual. The angel stated that this individual, by his own sovereign will, had openly invited this thing to enter. To the man, the demon looked so desirable and beautiful, but I got to see him for what he truly is - ugly, despicable, and nauseating. (Pittman, Demons: An Eyewitness Account, P.53-54)

     This then was the real concern: Not taking within oneself unclean spirits, or allowing oneself to come into contact with them. And this is precisely the same problem the Lord said the Pharisees had. Like the Essenes, they were heavily concerned with outward purity, yet inside they were full of spiritual uncleanness:

     Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, yet within they are full of rapaciousness and voracity. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup and the dish, that the outside of it may also become clean. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you are like tombs that have been whitewashed, which indeed appear beautiful on the outside, but within are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. (Matthew 23:25-27)

     The Pharisees harbored a murderous spirit, which is why Jesus said they were "full of dead men's bones," yet another allusion tospiritual uncleanness, since anything dead was considered to be unclean by the Jews, and never to be touched. But murderous intentions were just one thing the Lord said spiritually defiled a man. The list He provided immediately followed with adultery and sexual immorality: 

     And having called to the crowd, [Jesus] said to them, "Hear and understand. It is not that which enters into the mouth that defiles a man, but that which goes forth out of the mouth; this is what defiles a man… For out of the heart comes forth evil intentions: Murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, defamations. These are the things that defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man." (Matthew 15:10-11, 17-20)

     The question, then, was how to keep unclean spirits from gaining influence over oneself, and for this the church advocated mortifying the flesh. This made the work of unclean spirits that much harder, because the flesh was being brought under submission to the leading of the Spirit instead.

Fasting: The True Means Of Mortifying One's Members

     Thus the command was to avoid all spiritual uncleanness, and to do so necessitated that they "mortify their members upon the earth." So what did this phrase mean exactly? Many take this verse to be speaking figuratively of carnal or fleshly desires, but the Greek word used here was actually μέλος, which was used throughout Classical Greek and the Greek Old Testament of "limbs" or "body parts." Thus the verse was speaking of "putting to death" in a sense the literal members of the physical body.
     Many translations fail to communicate this accurately. For instance, some read, "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you" (RSV). Others say, "You must put to death, then, the earthly desires at work in you" (GNT). Still others say, "Put to death your worldly impulses" (ISV). Even the NASB, while using the literal word "members" in its translation, nevertheless then clouds the meaning by saying, "Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality."
     This verse doesn't say anything about "considering" anything dead. Rather, it speaks of actively putting something to death; of weakening the fleshly members of one's body such that they are literally "put to death" in a sense, and it is clear from the rest of the verse that the members Paul was talking about were sexual in nature. All the words that follow (including "covetousness," which is a word used in the Old Testament of coveting one's neighbor's wife), are used in reference to sexual sin.

     If therefore you were raised with Christ... Mortify your members upon the earth: Sexual immorality, uncleanness, physical passion, evil lust, and [sexual] covetousness, which is idolatry, on account of which things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience. (Colossians 3:5-6)
     So how was mortifying ones's sexual members done? Through fasting, and this appears to be not only something Paul preached but something he lived by as a single man. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he made reference to not simply engaging in "shadow-boxing" when it came to the flesh, but to actually "beating his body into submission" as it were by dealing with it harshly, so that it would be trained to submit to his intentions:

     Do you not know that they which run in a race all run, yet one receives the prize... So I therefore run, not as uncertainly; so I box, not as beating the air. But I pommel my body and bring it under subjection, lest having preached to others, I myself might be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24, 26-27)

     Early Christian writers understood Paul here to be speaking specifically of fasting. According to Ambrosiaster, "To 'pommel the body' is to fast, and to avoid any kind of luxury. Paul shows that he disciplines his own body so that he will not miss out on the reward which he preaches to others." (Ambrosiaster, Commentary On Paul's Epistles).
     The approach of the Essenes, then, would have fallen under the category of what Paul referred to as merely "shadow boxing." They were denying themselves certain foods, yet doing nothing to actually train the flesh to endure subjection to the Spirit. If one could ate all they desired so long as it was "clean," this would do nothing to bring the sex drive under submission. Some pastors, though maybe meaning well, advocate similar approaches today. They advise pursuing "Daniel fasts" where only vegetables are eaten for an extended time. But unfortunately many end up eating more food during this time than beforehand, which essentially defeats the purpose in much the same way.
     As for Paul, it is clear from his writings that he indeed practiced what he preached when to came to fasting. Twice in his second letter to the Corinthians he made reference to it, and not just occasionally but often. He professed to them openly that he fasted even in the midst of enduring persecutions, afflictions and sufferings:

     In everything, we commend ourselves as God's servants: In great endurance amid afflictions, amid bodily necessities, amid difficulties, amid riots, amid labors, amid watchings, amid fastings... (2 Corinthians 6:4-5)

     I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea, and in danger from false believers, [and all this] amid labor and toil, often amid sleeplessness, amid hunger and thirst, often amid fastings, [and] amid cold and nakedness. (2 Corinthians 11:25-27)

Christian Teaching On Defeating Sexual Immorality

     Claims that overeating inflamed the sexual lusts while fasting greatly reduced them were common among early church writers. John Cassian, Basil of Caesarea, John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, Gregory of Nyssa and Evagrius all made statements advancing this teaching, as did later theologians like Thomas Aquinas who followed in their footsteps, maintaining that “the ardor of lust is dampened by abstinence from food and drink.” Unlike what we hear today, this teaching was blunt and simple but effective: Sexual desires were diminished through fasting. Based on the teachings of Paul, it was understood that a gluttonous life brought the Spirit under subjection to the flesh, while a fasted one instead brought the flesh under subjection to the Spirit.
     Satan has stolen this teaching away from the church, but just a few quotes from centuries past will suffice to prove that it was the teaching of the church up until relatively recent times:

     I would be amazed at the Psychics (i.e. heretics opposed to fasting) if they were enthralled to voluptuousness alone... if they were not likewise bursting with gluttony. Lust without voracity would certainly be considered a monstrous phenomenon, since these two are so united and concrete. (Tertullian, On Fasting, Ante-Nicene Fathers, V.IV, P.102)

     There are three things which most belong to religious actions: Namely prayer, fasting, and almsgiving … By prayer we seek to propitiate God, [and] by fasting we extinguish the lusts of the flesh... God’s image is throughout renewed in us if we are always ready to praise Him, unfailingly intent on our purification, and unceasingly active in cherishing our neighbor. (Saint Leo the Great).

     Listen and hear the word of warning: “Wide and spacious is the road of gluttony. It leads to the catastrophe of fornication, and there are many who travel that way. The gate is narrow, and the way of fasting is hard, that way leading to the life of purity, and there are few to make the journey . . . Fasting ends lust, roots out bad thoughts, frees one from evil dreams.” (St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, P.167).

     Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. (St. Augustine, On Prayer and Fasting, Quoted by St. Thomas Aquinas).

     [E]very wise man will deny his soul, and keep it abased. He will wean it more and more from all those indulgences of the inferior appetites, which naturally tend to chain it down to earth, and to pollute as well as debase it. Here is another perpetual reason for fasting; to remove the food of lust and sensuality, to withdraw the incentives of foolish and hurtful desires, of vile and vain affections. (John Wesley, The Sermons of John Wesley, Sermon 27.4).

     A man who eats too much cannot strive against laziness, while a gluttonous and idle man will never be able to contend with sexual lust. Therefore, according to all moral teachings, the effort towards self-control commences with a struggle against the lust of gluttony—commences with fasting . . .
     And yet, just as the first condition of a good life is self-control, so the first condition of a life of self-control is fasting.
     One may wish to be good, one may dream of goodness, without fasting, but to be good without fasting is as impossible as it is to walk without getting up onto one’s feet.
     Fasting is an indispensable condition of a good life, whereas gluttony is, and always has been, the first sign of the opposite — a bad life. Unfortunately, this vice is in the highest degree characteristic of the life of the majority of the men of our time. (Leo Tolstoy, The First Step, The Works of Leo Tolstoy).

Scientific Substantiation Of Early Christian Teachings

     Today, scientific proof exists that the teaching of early church leaders was actually correct. The fasting regimen of early church theologian John Cassian was put to the test in the 1940s by researchers at the University of Minnesota, led by Aline Rousselle:

     John Cassian, Jerome, Gregory of Nyssa and Basil of Ancyra all understood the benefits of ascestic fasting to include the slowing of the processes that lead to sexual desire. Aline Rousselle has demonstrated that modern research on the effects of food deprivation confirms the ancient theory to some extent... One of the marked and common effects of prolonged food deprivation - in the Minnesota experiment as well as numerous studies of starving populations in war or famine - is a weakening or loss of sexual desire and activity. The researchers at Minnesota found that by the end of the twenty-four weeks of semi-starvation "sexual feeling and expression … were virtually extinguished in all but a few of the subjects." They also report that "masturbation and nocturnal emissions ceased or were greatly reduced in frequency. Sex fantasies and sex dreams were reported to have decreased in number, and when present they were much attenuated." During the rehabilitation period, the sex drive returned only very slowly. The researchers attributed the decrease in sexual desire in starvation or semi-starvation in part to the body's own "adaptive mechanisms protecting the individual organism from nonessential energy expenditure." Experiment results also showed a marked decrease in the production and excretion of male sex hormones (ketosteroids) as well as a reduction in semen volume and changes in its morphology. Although the Minnesota experiment involved only male subjects, the authors note previous studies documenting widespread amenorrhea among women suffering from food deprivation. (Teresa Shaw, The Burden Of The Flesh, P.126)

     The contention of Cassian was that the fasting regimen should be extended for at least six months, however. This is why the fasted life has to become a more permanent lifestyle if one would hope to keep the flesh under submission consistently. The sex drive will gradually start returning over time after one returns to a normal diet. I have done enough fasting myself to attest to this:

     The Minnesota experiment thus documented both physiological and psychological aspects of the decline in sexual interest. This decline occurred at a daily caloric intake level of around 1500-1600. It is therefore a fair assumption that the monks of Gaul or Egypt would have experienced a loss of sexual appetite and a reduction in the frequency of nocturnal emissions and erections if in fact they followed the diet described by John Cassian for any significant length of time. Indeed, Rousselle estimates that the individual items in Cassian's daily fast - bread, brine, and oil - would provide around 930 calories. Even the special meal served by Serenus to his guests, which included a few olives, roasted chickpeas, prunes, and a fig, would provide only around 1,069 calories. In light of the modern research just presented, Cassian's recommended weekly diet can only be described as one of semi-starvation. On Saturdays and Sundays, however, the monks were permitted to relax their fast and add an extra meal on a voluntary basis. Cassian very sensibly notes that extra food was necessary at times due to the extreme weakness of the body after five fasting days.
     In sum, Cassian's practical and clear assertion [through the voice of Chaeremon] that six months of rigorous fasting, vigils, and reliance on God should be enough to bring one close to the goal of chastity - which is known in part by the cessation of sensuous dreams and nocturnal emissions - seems firmly based in his observations of the heroic fasters of the Egyptian desert and confirmed by modern research in semi-starvation. (Teresa Shaw, The Burden Of The Flesh, P.127)

     In conclusion, the early church knew what it would take to achieve real success at bringing the body under, and following the lead of the apostle Paul they advocated it. In Part 2, I will discuss in more detail some of the principles behind how it can be achieved, though this is something I myself am still struggling to master given the lack of good teaching on the subject and the difficulty involved. It is admittedly not an easy lifestyle to adopt, but one that even scientific studies have proven is effective in curbing the sex drive, something the modern church would do well to apply with more diligence, given how sexual and moral failings have hurt the church's reputation in the eyes of the world in recent decades.

https://conquerseries.com/15-mind-blowing-statistics-about-pornography-and-the-church/ (https://conquerseries.com/15-mind-blowing-statistics-about-pornography-and-the-church/)