“These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:23)
Since Paul has written that some things are of no value it should get our attention and an attempt to know what those things are so we can avoid them. He has made a comparison between the Gospel of Christ with regard to our identification with Christ in His death and resurrection and manmade religious regulations (v 21).
There is religion that appears to be wisdom but it is not from God, it is “self-imposed religion.” In other words, it is created in the minds and imaginations of people. It is an attempt to appear pious or spiritual and perhaps even to attempt to gain favour with God without Christ or just giving Him lip service. Our fallen nature is corrupt with pride and works in subtle ways such that we want to be able to say to Jesus, “Look at what I have done for You.” This is nothing short of pride but our deceitful hearts will dress it up to counterfeit humble service if we are not careful.
It is most certainly appropriate to take care of our bodies and even to discipline our bodies as Paul writes that He did. However, it is possible that pride may move us to go beyond what is necessary and also to think that we gain favour with God just for this discipline. The sure evidence that our motive is wrong is that we hold a dim view of those who don’t measure up to our self-imposed standards or practices. Paul continues saying that no matter how much self-discipline we apply to our bodies it will not bring about spirituality. Neither will it keep us from sinning.
All the religious practices that God gave to Israel were only “shadows” (v 17). A shadow has no substance. It is not real. It has no power. The real “substance” is Jesus Christ. Hence Paul had earlier written, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27). This is why Paul goes on to write, “Since you were raised with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on the things of the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).
By all means we should care for our bodies and our world but that can never be a substitute for a personal intimate relationship with the living and risen Jesus Christ. Even the God ordained rituals given to Israel are only a shadow without substance. They are the shadow of Jesus Christ and it is He that we seek and set our minds on.