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Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

Fastidious, Pt.3

Here’s an awesome quote from John Owen that has helped me break through on a key issue in my investigation of the Biblical practice of fasting. If you’ve read previous posts of this subject, you know that I have struggled to separate what the Bible describes as good, and what the Bible condemns, namely the practice of abstention denounced in Colossians.

Referring to 1 Cor 9:27 (“No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”), Owen says this:

“The bringing of the very body into subjection is an ordinance of God, tending to the mortification of sin. This gives check to the natural root of distemper, and withers it by taking away the fatness of soil…(criticizes the Catholic practice of penance as it relates to fasting)…The bringing of the body into subjection in the case insisted on, by cutting short the natural appetite by means of fasting, watching and the like, is doubtless acceptable to God, if it be done with the ensuing limitations.”

[i] “That the outward weakening and impairing of the body be not looked upon as a good thing in itself, or that any mortification doth consist therein (which were again to bring us under carnal ordinances); but only as a means for the end proposed, the weakening of any distemper in its natural root and seat. A man may have leanness of body and soul together.”

[ii] “That the means whereby this is done, namely, by fasting and watching, and the like, be not looked on as things that in themselves, and by virtue of their own power, can produce true mortification of any sin; for if they would, sin might be mortified, without any help of the Spirit, in any unregenerate person in the world. they are to be looked on only as ways whereby the Spirit may, and sometimes doth, put forth strength for the accomplishing of His own work, especially in the case mentioned.”

Well said, J-O!

Owen concludes by stating that the Catholics misunderstanding of this makes their version of fasting better suited for horses. The error of the Catholics is in thinking that personal righteousness is gained in the keeping of such practices. Owen insists that the practices of fasting and praying, and the weakening of the body are not the goal. they are only a means to an end. Our righteousness is accomplished by Christ on the cross, and worked out through the Spirit. Fasting merely serves to clear obstacles from our path as we seek to apply the blood of the Savior.

Working through this quote from Owens with my brother-in-law has helped me separate the benefit of fasting from the errorists of Colossians. In Colossians, Paul warns that these men who forbid them “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle (Col 2 :21).” are mistaking the practice of abstaining for actual holiness. They are effectively saying that abstaining from certain foods makes one holy.

So how is Biblical fasting different than the false teaching of Colossians?

  1. Fasting is paired with prayer.
  2. Fasting is not a lifelong practice, but done for finite periods of time. A fast can be indefinite, but it will end at some point.
  3. Fasting appears to be comprehensive, not selective (Read: giving up chocolate for Lent).
  4. Fasting is a tool, not a destination.

I have to say that I’ve really been enjoying this process. It has driven me to study my Bible and think critically. I praise God that He brought this passage of Owens’ book before my eyes at a time when I was battling through this issue. I’d started and stopped before. Providentially, I hit these paragraphs right on time.

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Ever try to get into a Red Lobster on a Friday this time of year? I and my wife made that mistake last winter. We were out on a date, and I think we got there quite early, only to find the joint packed. We had to have some cheesy garlic biscuits, though, so we toughed it out. “Why the wait?” we asked the waitress.

The answer “Lent.”

Hordes of Catholic abstaining from red meat, particularly on Fridays, and fish frys all over the place are hallmarks of this Catholic celebration. On my morning drive, listening to a sports-talk radio program, the hosts had a lively discussion about whether one of the host’s pledge to abstain from sweets for Lent was being violated by eating sugar-free Jello with whipped topping. Apparently the whipped topping was an infraction. Google for Lent and you’ll see endless articles about Uncle Joe giving up Pepsi, or Dad giving up cursing (seriously), or Mom giving up ice cream.

What’s the deal?

I don’t consider myself an expert on Catholicism (though I have done my homework), but basically Lent celebrates the 40 days before Easter, and it is often observed with fasting and abstaining from certain things like red meat or a favorite food. The fasting is tied to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, and to Jesus’ suffering on the cross. It is a popular custom but not mandated by the Catholic church. Lent is also considered a time of self-reflection. Fasting is said to help with this.

Unfortunately, the Catholic observance of Lent represents a false understanding of true spiritual growth, and it is tied to Rome’s false teaching about salvation. the idea that one can grow spiritually by denying the body food or other material things is totally un-Biblical, and the idea that fasting can help us to understand the suffering of Jesus on the cross is dreadfully misguided and insulting to Christ. Here are a few points to help you sift through some of the issues:

  1. “Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.'” (Acts 11:7) Just a slice of the total context is quoted here. Peter is basically being told by God that the ceremonial laws regarding food that were observed by Jews were an object lesson to remind them to be holy in the face of neighboring pagans. Since the gospel was now going to the Gentiles, the food laws were obsolete. Abstaining from certain foods was no longer a way to make a statement to the world about one’s relationship to God. Food is good, so eat it.
  2. “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17) This passage clearly overturns the notion that holiness can be achieved through self-denial. The heresy of Colossians had a strong Jewish element, and was probably related to the continuation of the obsolete food laws. Just as the Jews had missed the point with the food laws, a new heresy was being inflicted on Christians. Food is just food. The real issue with holiness is the heart, not food, and Christ. Preoccupation with the material world leads to ignorance of the eternal.
  3. “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 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.” (Colossians 2:20-23) Even worse, the pursuit of holiness through self-denial rejects the finished work of the cross. Believers have died with Christ in order that they might be free of worldly bondage. Christ’s work frees us from the silly rules and laws that only serve to chain us. If you are born again, you are free to serve! not bound to abstain!

A lot more could be said, but I said enough already. Don’t fall into the Colossian heresy by thinking you can subdue your heart by skipping out in cheeseburgers. An In “N Out Double Double isn’t keeping you from growing, your heart is. Deal with spiritual issues with spiritual means like prayer, Scripture reading, fellowship, and submitting yourself to sound preaching.

And enjoy that Ben & Jerry’s to the glory of God!

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