Autophagy is our body’s garbage-removal process. It’s the cleaning out of old cells and the production of new ones. According to Healthline, it’s recycling and cleaning at the same time. It’s our body’s way of regenerating, so we can stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
Logically, then, the better your body is at autophagy, the healthier you’ll be and the longer your lifespan. We can promote autophagy mainly through exercise and fasting. While we can’t extend the process indefinitely, we can do our part to make it stay as effective as possible for as long as possible.
The spiritual equivalent of autophagy is the progress we make toward perfection, which we only fully achieve in Heaven. Instead of eventually failing like our physical autophagy, though, our spiritual renewal does result in immortality.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)
In several places, Paul writes lists that basically advocate for spiritual autophagy, for getting rid of old, sinful habits and replacing them with new ones that shape us toward holiness. One of those places is Colossians 3:1-17.
After giving ample reason – namely, because of what Christ did and our resulting commitment to him – Paul describes what needs to be taken off and put on to live devoted to Christ and not be led astray by the thinking (i.e., trickery) of men.
Verses 5-9 of Colossian 3 tell us what to take off if we are to live with minds set “on things above, not on earthly things” (verse 3). Ranging from sexual immorality, impurity, and lust to anger, rage, malice, and lying, the habits that flourish in minds set on earthly things are many. Without determination to purposefully take off these things, they become prolific.
Unfortunately, getting rid of the garbage isn’t enough. We also need to produce new to replace the old. In this case, we need new habits that focus our minds on Christ; otherwise, we’ll return to our old focus in a far worse manner than before we took off the old habits (Matthew 12:43-45).
So, we need to replace old habits with new ones if we are to make progress toward perfection. In Colossians 3, Paul instructs Christians to clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. He tells them to forgive each other and be bound by love in perfect unity. An ideal state, yes, but one we are to continually reach and progress toward.
Not only are we to put these new habits on, but we must also let the peace of Christ direct us and be filled with gratitude. Only then, Paul implies, will “the message of Christ dwell among you richly” (verse 16).
As we grow through these new habits and leave no room for the old ones to return, as we allow spiritual autophagy to take place, we find a new focus that is “being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (verse 10). Increasingly, then, we also find that our motives are stationed on God’s purposes rather than our own. Or, as Paul puts it, we find that:
“Whatever [we] do, whether in word or deed, [we] do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (verse 17).