For some reason through the years the people of God have gotten the idea that it’s godly to do painful things and give up pleasure. I don’t exactly know why this is, but…it is. So you get the accounts of the saints of old who prayed for hours while kneeling on rocks. Yikes…and this in the days before knee replacements.
It may feel godly to do this sort of thing, but it’s actually a sign of immaturity, and yes, a sign of not understanding the gospel. Now…that said, I’m not talking about fasting. The people of God have sometimes given themselves to fasting from food, or drink, or even sex (1 Corinthians 7:5). But even in the latter category, Paul warned married couples against abstaining for too long, and surely this would be true of other kinds of fasting. Fasting is something that Christians do…for a season, not forever.
Fasting, you see, is different than asceticism, which is what Paul warned the Colossians about…
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations–“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)– according to human precepts and teachings? 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. Colossians 2:20-23 (ESV)
For some reason, we think we can grow in self-control and holiness by not dancing or whipping ourselves or wearing polyester underwear. We think giving up our favorite TV show will make us like Jesus. But it’s not so. Such practices have the appearance of wisdom, but they are just self-made religion, also called idolatry, and very dangerous to your soul.
The solution? Stick with the Bible. Stay close to the Word of God, and let your life live within its contours. Be wary of those who say that giving up this or that is necessary for holiness. Look askance at someone who says that you will be like Jesus by inflicting yourself with pain and always, always turn to Scripture as your guide.
And if God’s book is your guide, then the direction of your life will also be set by the gospel, which reminds us that asceticism is unnecessary because perfect holiness was achieved for us at Calvary. Meditating on the love of God displayed there will melt your ascetic-prone heart, and wonderfully, you will become more and more…like Jesus.
For tomorrow, Wednesday, August 12th: Colossians 3