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?
- Fasting is paired with prayer.
- 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.
- Fasting appears to be comprehensive, not selective (Read: giving up chocolate for Lent).
- 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.