Faithlife Sermons

The subtle lie of Asceticism.



The last time that the Apostle Paul was with the elders from the church at Ephesus, he gave them a grim warning regarding the rise of false teachers in their midst and that these false teachers would lead people astray.
Acts 20:28–31 NKJV
28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
In roughly five short years, the church would indeed find itself infiltrated and inundated by false teachers who were teaching a different doctrine contrary to the Gospel. Some of these false teachers were a part of the pastoral and diaconal leadership of the church , which is why ch.3 dealt with the qualifications of these two offices because it is vitally important that the right kind of men are placed into leadership. Chapter 3 ended in a proclamation regarding the Lord Jesus Christ and served as a reminder to the church at Ephesus just what the message of the Gospel was.
1 Timothy 3:16 NKJV
16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.
Every single church must remain in constant vigilance that we keep the Gospel in its rightful prominence. The church at Ephesus had failed to do this and false teachers had crept in teaching that the Gospel alone wasn't enough to be accepted by God. Slowly but surely people were led away from Christ and to a teaching that put man’s actions at the center instead of the Lord Jesus. Understand though, that these false teachers didn't come in with guns blazing, no, it was subtle as it always in when wrong doctrine leads people away from Christ.
Imagine yourself in a room with walls that are painted bright green. You walk to an adjoining room where the walls are green, but the shade is imperceptibly bluer. You enter a third room, bluer than the second. Again the difference is too small to be noticeable. After passing through fifty rooms, each slightly bluer than the last, someone hands you a sample of the color in the room where you started. You are astonished by how green it is. Suddenly you realize that the room you are now in is not green at all! It is blue.
R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), 97.
This is a perfect example of what had taken place in Ephesus and why Timothy was sent to help set the church on the right course again. The elders had abandoned the Gospel and had begun to teach a false and contrived form of holiness called “Asceticism.”
Asceticism- was a teaching that true godliness is attained through the renunciation of physical pleasures and personal desires. It is an extreme focus on the external. This teaching often is found hand in hand with gnosticism which teaches that the physical body is evil and ultimately the cause of sin.
The apostle Paul summarized this teaching in Colossians 2:21 as:
Colossians 2:21 NKJV
21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,”
Spiritual discipline is a good thing. It is what helps us to live godly lives; there are things that christians should practice restraint in and there are even some “no-no’s” that christians shouldn't practice, but ascetism is entirely different than that. It involves the intentional denial of things that God has declared to be good and says that abstinence from these things is essential to holiness. It ultimately destroys the Gospel by attacking the sufficiency of Christ work and leads people into apostasy.
Apostasy- Defection from the faith. Abandoning and repudiating the clear teaching of scripture. A deliberate renouncing of the faith. Maybe you’ve heard the term “deconversion” or “deconstructing”. It is the complete abandonment of the faith.
As I’ve said many times, false doctrine hurts people!
So, in our remaining time together this morning we’re going to examine this false teaching in Ephesus by diving into its:
Origin. (v.1-2)
Particulars. (v.3)
The Answer to it

I’ve titled my message today “The Subtle lie of asceticism.”

1.) The origin of asceticism. (v.1-2)

The apostle begins his argument against this heretical teaching by telling Timothy that this kind of error wasn’t surprising.
1 Timothy 4:1a (NKJV) “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith...”
“The Spirit expressly says”- is much like us saying “the scriptures say”. If you compare Scripture with scripture you will see this phrase is used often in the book of Revelation when referring to the words of Jesus and in Romans 8 the Holy Spirt is called the “Spirit of Christ.”
The warning about the rise of false teachers and their ability to lead others away from the faith is a warning that appears over and over again in scripture. Jesus often warned about the rise of false prophets in his earthly ministry.
Paul is speaking with divine authority against this false teaching of self righteousness.
This self righteous teaching doesn't come from the Lord. v.1-2 tell us where it comes from:
A.) Demonic origin (v.1b)
1 Timothy 4:1b (NKJV) “ heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons,”
The teaching of asceticism is demonic in its origin and diabolical in its intent.
On its surface, it seems like its not that big of a deal. After all, what’s the big deal about denying yourself some things? Especially when we live in an age of that insists on never denying ourselves of anything.
But, when we introduce a contrived holiness we are acting at the behests of the devil. You cannot properly worship God by denying his gifts. An external, public display draws attention to your self and not to Christ.
Let's look at what Jesus has to say about those who do things to be seen of men:
Matthew 6:1–5 NKJV
1 “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. 5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
B.) Human origin. (v.2)
1 Timothy 4:2 (NKJV) “speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron,”
This kind of living is a blatant form of hypocrisy.
Speaking lies- if the teaching is contrary to scripture, it is a lie.
In hypocrisy- A hypocrite is a person who claims to be one thing but is something else. Those who were teaching this knew they were teaching in direct opposition to the word of God and yet continued teaching these things as if they were God’s word.
How in the world can someone teach something that they know is in opposition to scripture?
Paul tells us that its because their conscience has been hardened to the point of having no remorse.
False teaching always comes from demonic roots but it always comes through human instruments. A false teacher is someone who knows what the scriptures say and deliberately deny its truth. They claim to be sent from God but are actually tools of seducing spirits who teach the doctrine of demons. They have no conscience and no remorse about twisting scripture and leading people away from Christ.
Matthew 23:28 NKJV
28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

2.) The particulars of asceticism. (v.3)

1 Timothy 4:3 (NKJV) “forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”
The ascetics in Ephesus were preaching that in order to be truly holy the people had to deny themselves of two great gifts from God: Marriage and food. In doing so, they were actually denying God’s word.
A.) Marriage
God said:
Genesis 2:18 NKJV
18 And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
Jesus put his stamp of approval on marriage too:
Matthew 19:1–9 NKJV
1 Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there. 3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” 4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” 8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
He was careful to point out that not everyone is supposed to marry ( vs.10-12) but that it is an institution blessed by God.
Paul himself even said that marriage was ok in 1 Corinthians 7 where he said it is better to marry than to burn with passion and that each person should follow God’s will as it relates to marriage.
To forbid marriage is an attack on God and christians should stay away from any teaching that tampers with the God given institution of marriage.
Speak about how an attack on marriage is an attack on Christ and his church; who he calls his bride.
B.) Foods.
Along with marriage, these false teachers were also forbidding the eating of some food. Saying that if you ate certain things, you were not being spiritual.
While fasting is indeed something that christians should practice, the fact remains that in the New Covenant there is no food that is forbidden to believers. The fact remains that under the new covenant there are no foods that are forbidden for christians to eat.
In fact Jesus said all foods were ok to eat.
Mark 7:14–16 NKJV
14 When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: 15 There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”
He reiterated the same thing to the Apostle Peter in Acts 10 and even the Apostle Paul confirmed it was ok to eat anything.
1 Corinthians 10:25–27 NKJV
25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; 26 for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” 27 If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake.
The authority for someone to dictate what you can and cannot eat is about nothing more than power over their converts.
Application: A person may not be able to eat certain foods for health reasons (allergy, etc); but there is no food that needs to be rejected for spiritual reasons. The food we eat is sanctified (set apart, devoted to the Lord) when we pray and give thanks. The Word of God and prayer can even turn eating a meal into something to bring glory to God.
1 Corinthians 10:31 NKJV
31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

3.) The answer to contrived holiness (asceticism) is God’s Word and prayer. (v.4-5)

1 Timothy 4:4–5 (NKJV) 4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; 5 for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.
As believers, we are to celebrate creations goodness in heaven and on this earth.
Stars, flowers, vegetables, animals, oceans and rivers, fish and forests, gender, marriage, sex, family, friends and food are all good things given to us by God to enjoy.
and we are to give thanks to God in prayer for giving us these things for our enjoyment of his wonderful gifts.
G. K. Chesterton:
You say grace before meals.
All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking,
playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.
This is how we should approach life as Gods children. Certainly there are times for self denial and discipline. Yes, there are somethings that christians shouldn't do. But to regard something God created as unclean is sinful. To teach that abstaining from marriage and certain foods is the way to get closer to God is blasphemous.


The christian life isn't meant to be lived out in the negative. It’s not about everything we can’t do. To preach faith in Christ by attaching it to a bunch of do’s and don’ts is bondage and Christ came to set us free from bondage. The christian life is to be lived out in the positive. We’re not in bondage, we are free in Christ. We should give thanks to him daily for all he has given us.
Psalm 103:1–5 NKJV
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: 3 Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, 4 Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, 5 Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Outward and contrived holiness isn't of God, its of the devil. We do not live to impress others, we live out our life in faith and to his glory and we do that by enjoying all he has given us in thanks.
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