Christian Love Is Not Asceticism

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Christianity prioritizes the spiritual without sacrificing physical practicality.  It is about faith that expands possibility and potential rather than limit it.

Many religious people teach some form of asceticism.  This an idea that individuals who empty themselves totally of physical desire will find something spiritual and redemptive.

In the early church many did give up their material possessions (Acts 2:45) and were willing to sacrifice their all in faith as Jesus taught:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.  And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27)

Paul builds further on the same theme while encouraging the early church:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (1 Corinthians 4:16-18)

This is acknowledgement of reality.  This world, our life in it, is temporal and will pass away.  But in faith we can see what cannot be known through physical means.  Through the Spirit, through the mysterious backdoor of our consciousness, we are able to see spiritual reality greater than what physical senses can detect.  It is for this reason that we adjust our priorities according to what we know as the greater transcending reality.

But this is not asceticism in the sense of merely our emptying ourselves as an individualistic spiritual pursuit.  No, this is intentional self-sacrificial love that compels us to go beyond our own individual gain and love as God loves.  Our cross is not suffering for the sake of suffering, it is not a Gnostic self-loathing of our physical bodies, but is rather a means to the end and expression of deeper divine love.

Many practice asceticism as a means to judge their neighbors.  Many deny themselves as to prove themselves superior to others and earn their salvation.  However, this is not the way of Jesus.  Jesus did not need to die to save Himself from sin or earn God’s favor.  He did not sacrifice to prove our inferiority and bring judgement or condemnation:

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:17-18)

It is simply reality that we will all eventually die a physical death.  That is true by default and not something inflicted upon us for sake of manipulation.  This is scientific, a result of physical processes, something with causal explanation, and established.  You will not physically die because you reject Jesus, but rather you will eventually physically die (with or without Jesus) and the only way to eternal life is faith in Jesus:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

We are saved because we believe in Jesus and through our belief are empowered to love in a way that transcends individualism and becomes all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) so they too might be saved.  Jesus explains obedience succinctly:

“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

It is that simple.  This is not denial of physical desires for sake of individual spiritual gain or asceticism.  This is denial of self for the collective good, as directed by the Spirit in those who believe, and so the lost can be saved.

It is not sin to enjoy life.  It is in no way wrong to enjoy sexual pleasure (in appropriate context) and relationships based in biology.  Having friends because of our physical proximity and the community we were born into is not inappropriate.  However, when our preference for what is familiar supersedes Christian commitment, when we prioritize temporal pleasure over eternal gain, then we must repent.

Ultimately, what we do or do not possess individually and materially is of little consequence.  It is not sin to have a successful business, big family or nice car.  What ultimately does matter is that these pleasures of physical life do not distract and blind us.  We must find our security in God rather than our possessions or other worldly pleasures.

To be in this world but not of it doesn’t mean a life of misery and complete abstinence from pleasure.  Rather it is to possess the transformation of mind (Romans 12:2) that enables us to love more completely and experience greater joy than the world offers.

If you sell all or leave family behind, do it out of genuine love for your neighbor and not asceticism.  Give freely because you believe in the eternal life Jesus promised and love God.

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6 thoughts on “Christian Love Is Not Asceticism

  1. Lucinda J

    Is fasting a form of ascetism? Is it necessary? Is it good? If one fasts and prays for a specific request or in order to grow closer to God, isn’t that “the denial of physical desires for the sake of individual spiritual gain”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know fasting is for individual spiritual gain. In Acts 13:1-3 they prayed and fasted before sending missionaries. Perhaps this was an expression of their longing for the lost and their solidarity with those sent? Whatever the case, Jesus told the religious of his day to learn the meaning of Hosea 6:6… what do you think he meant by that?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lucinda J

        That reminds me of Isaiah where it says “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?”
        There’s definitely a right and a wrong way of fasting…but it’s not something I do much of either way. And I wonder about that sometimes, if I should do more and how I should go about it and what are the REASONS to fast, anyway. I mean, why should us not eating make a difference to God, and how does it really help me? I just end up feeling hungry and wondering if I’m being silly by doing it and really wanting to eat. So what am I missing? Or is fasting something that is designed solely for times of deep distress and burden? Couldn’t I just as easily set aside a time of prayer without fasting?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It could simply be an expression of solidarity with those suffering or a way of reminding ourselves of the pleasure and blessings (of food) we so easily take for granted. When we break fast we might gain more appreciation for God’s provision in our lives? I’m really not sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lucinda J

      That’s a good thought. Thank you. I do know fasting has value, because Jesus said about that one particular demon, “This kind doesn’t come out but by prayer and fasting.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • I also might add that I believe God has invested spiritual potential in us beyond what many of us (for lack of faith) use. I believe our physical appetites can be a distraction and therefore should be brought under subjugation. It is not to say that it is wrong to have them, but only to prioritize what is greater and help realize our greater potential.

        Liked by 1 person

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