Word Nerd Wednesday – Asceticism

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!

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Asceticism

noun

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).

Origin: 1640-50; < Greek askētikós subject to rigorous exercise, hardworking, equivalent to askē- (see askesis ) + -tikos -tic (Merriam-Webster.com)

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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. 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? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?[a].”

Galatians 2:21-3:3

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.”

Colossians 2:22-24

Asceticism then, not only shackles us to our pride, but also fails in its ambition to restrain our sensual indulgences.

Asceticism then, not only shackles us to our pride, but also fails in its ambition to restrain our sensual indulgences. #WORDNerdWednesday Click To Tweet

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)

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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.

Sources:
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

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17 thoughts on “Word Nerd Wednesday – Asceticism

  1. Whenever I teach Paul’s epistles it seems as if sooner or later we end up talking about Gnosticism and dualism because Paul was combating that false teaching back in his day, and sure enough, it hasn’t gone away. Thanks for this great teaching that all of creation is His, so it’s all good when we use it as He intended, and that we don’t get brownie points for needless self-denial.

    1. I agree Michelle! It seems we humans need regular reminders that we cannot do this without Christ, whether it was in the early church or now. Praise God that his blood fully covers us and that he creates things for our enjoyment!

  2. Interesting. 🙂 Welcome, Katie. — There’s a small, compassionate part of me that kind of feels for the jews of Jesus’ time. They were so used to rituals meant to purify (many of which were man-made additions to the law.) I bet it was an interesting transition to now just let grace be enough (which, of course, grace was outside of their control). — Now, I guess the difference was that they — um, had Jesus — standing in the flesh before them. — Anyway, interesting thoughts, Katie, thanks for sharing, and thanks for sharing Katie with us, Liz. 🙂 And, bunches of thanks for being part of #ChasingCommunity! ((xoxo))

  3. Great article. Self discipline is great, but it can go to far when you make it your holiness. I can definitely keep this in mind more! I need to check my heart to make sure that my discipline is not a forced work of piety, but an expression of the freedom and power Christ has given! Bless you, and thank you!

  4. What a fun series! I LOVE word studies! And that verse in Galatians had me reading and re-reading it over again. I love when God’s people shed light on His Word and crowd out dark shadows of untruth. Great post! I am so glad I stopped to spend time with a fellow word-lover this morning!
    Blessings,
    Dawn

  5. I feel so well educated on that new word!! You’d love the Bible I have – It has the Strong’s concordance references throughout it. (Spirit Filled Life Bible) Thanks for sharing this!

  6. This is so fun and informative…. and even better to discover so many who enjoy “word nerd” activity as much as I do…thank you, Liz, for providing such a format and your gracious invitation… my technology finally extended this far Pam

  7. Just wanted to say I’m a Catholic ascetic and thought your article raised a few good points. I would say mostly that acts of penance are determined morally acceptable by one’s will, as well as the practitioner’s maturity. We’re all individuals spiritually, so of course our approach to penance must be different as well. I myself have found it to be beneficial in refocusing my spirituality and, I do believe, has the ability to bring one to greater spiritual understanding when performed responsibly. And if you’re interested in asceticism, I’d encourage anyone to study St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Excercises. Really fascinating and, I feel, profoundly helpful. God bless!

    1. Rocco, thanks for reading and commenting! After I submitted this to Liz, I regretted not talking with any of my Catholic friends to understand their viewpoint a little more, so thanks for sharing. I checked out St. Ignatius’ spiritual exercises, and from what I understand without actually doing the “retreat,” it seems to be a month-long guided practice of meditation to better understand God’s will. If I understand it correctly, that seems appropriate to me. I think it always comes down to a matter of heart. John the Baptist lived what could be considered a very ascetic life and his stance was, “He must become greater, I must become less” (John 3:30). If the song of your heart is to glorify God in your practice of spiritual disciplines such as fasting, meditation and prayer, then I can find no fault. If, however, the ascetic life is built upon pride and the desire to exalt oneself in the presence of God in hopes for his favor, I think the person is sorely misguided and misunderstands the fullness of the sacrifice of Christ.

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