One of my favorite parts about this series is getting to introduce you all to so many amazing women of the Word! I met Katie when she led a life-changing Bible study I was in at FT Polk. I knew she was a WORD Nerd even before I knew that was a thing! Please give her a great big My Messy Desk welcome!
1. the manner of life, practices, or principles of an ascetic.
2. the doctrine that a person can attain a high spiritual and moral state by practicing self-denial, self-mortification, and the like.
3. rigorous self-denial; extreme abstinence; austerity (Dictionary.com).
Asceticism, found in many religions, has made its way into pockets of Christianity throughout history. Most commonly, these movements involve celibacy, fasting and the abdication of wealth, but some utilize flagellation and other pain-producing exercises. Some ascetics believe, as the Stoics of Ancient Greece did, that the key to unlocking the mind and spirit is to deny pleasure to the body. Meanwhile, others turn to asceticism with the goal of achieving purity and holiness before a divine being (God, in the Christian’s case) and to bring the attention of the being upon the ascetic (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2002).
The question we need to ask ourselves is whether asceticism agrees with what the Bible teaches. For many of us, asceticism can be very tempting because it enables us to feel partially responsible for our salvation. Asceticism entreats if we do enough, if we suffer enough, if we reject enough pleasure, we can enter into the throne room before the I AM with our list of sacrifices and hear him say, “Well done.” This broken version of the gospel fails to take into account the necessity and grace of the cross. Without either a perfect sacrifice or perfect adherence to the law, none can enter into the throne room of the Holy God. Paul faced this issue again and again in his ministry to the Gentiles and, since he is far more qualified, I think I’ll let him take over from here.
In his letter to the Galatian Church, Paul faced off against a group referred to by scholars as the Judaizers. The term applies to conservative Jewish Christians that sought to require Gentiles to submit to Jewish law and regulations before becoming Christians. His defense against them is this:
“21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”[e] You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?[a].”
Dear friends, if any action or rigorous self-denial can make you holy before the Most Holy God, there would be no reason for Christ to have sacrificed his life for you.
Concerning the ideals of the Stoics that the denial of earthly pleasures leads to a more disciplined mind and Spirit, Paul says this to the Colossians:
22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.
23 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.”
Asceticism then, not only shackles us to our pride, but also fails in its ambition to restrain our sensual indulgences.
Paul goes on in his letter to the Galatians that the only way to overcome the desires of the flesh is to live by the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26). To live your life by the Spirit, you are still called to obedience (2 John 4-6) and you are still called to deny yourself to follow Christ (Mark 8:34). So how does this gel? The answer lies in regularly checking where your heart is. Is your prayer life based on selfish ambition like that of the hypocrite in Matthew 6:5 or the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14? Do you fast to draw attention to your piety? Why are you denying the things of this world: obedience or merit points?
Rather than ascetic ideals, let your denial come out of the overwhelming sense of gratitude for the grace of Christ. Let your service flow out of the wellspring of life that the Father has poured into you through the death of his Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Work that you might bring His Kingdom to this broken world, not as a prideful attempt to earn your way into His Kingdom. Let your motivation be his grace and love for, “that is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10)“
Katie is an Army wife and a stay-at-home mom for two adorable children, meaning her heart and hands are always full. She currently calls Fort Irwin, CA home where she enjoys reading, baking and exploring the outdoors with her littles.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2002, May 31). Asceticism. Retrieved January 20, 2017, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/asceticism
Asceticism. (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2017, from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/asceticism?s=t
(n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2017, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/asceticism?utm_campaign=sd&utm_medium=serp&utm_source=jsonld
The Bible, NIV