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Colossians 2:23

ESV 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.
NIV Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
NASB These are matters which do have the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and humility and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
CSB Although these have a reputation for wisdom by promoting self-made religion, false humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence.
NLT These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.
KJV Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

What does Colossians 2:23 mean?

Paul concludes his teaching against false teachers by again noting how deceptive their approach is. As in Colossians 2:8 and in verse 22, what seems true turns out to be false, because it is based on bad assumptions. Following restrictive religious rules makes a person look holy to others. These systems demand high levels of dedication and work. Many world religions include leaders who appear very moral and are quite dedicated. And yet, these are merely human rules based on principles which don't come from Christ Himself.

Paul specifically says these teachings are self-made; they are not actually anything from God. Expectations of the false teachers included ascetic living and harsh treatment of the body. This came through fasting, avoiding certain foods, or other means. This, again, is a major component of Gnosticism, an early heresy plaguing the church. Gnostics relied on mysticism and complex philosophy, as well as insisting that the physical world was entirely evil, so all physical pleasures had to be eliminated.

Paul highlights the futility of these teachings. These attempts at denying the flesh, through human efforts, don't actually stop sinful desires. To some extent, asceticism and self-denial can be just as much a physical addiction as giving in to gluttony or greed! In both cases, a person is acting under the assumption that what they do with their body, in their own power, is what will make them happy.

In contrast, the Bible teaches that believers are given forgiveness of sin only through Christ. Further, even believers continue to struggle with sin (Romans 7:14–20), requiring the power of God's Spirit to overcome temptation.
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