Lent begins tomorrow. It is traditionally a time set aside each year where Christians deny themselves something for a period of time as a means to identify with Jesus who fasted for 40 days in the wilderness while being tempted by Satan. Having grown up in the church fasting was something I knew about but, oddly enough, never practiced. That all changed, however, when I realized I was dead.
It occurred to me while I was at Pure Life that the words Paul uses to describe dead people in Ephesians 2 applied to me. Yes, I was a seminary graduate and a pastor and a life-long member of church. But I was dead nonetheless. Here’s what Paul says:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph. 2:1-3).
What are dead people, according to this passage? They are those who follow the course of this world, who are disobedient, who live in the passions of their flesh and they carry out the desires of the body and the mind. Dead people.
(I will resist the urge to post the “I see dead people” clip from the movie, The Sixth Sense).
As this passage sunk into my heart I realized that I was dead. I was a rotting example of those who “have the form of godliness but deny its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). And the simple reason was because I denied myself nothing my heart desired. I lived according to the passions of my flesh, and was a slave to any thought that entered my mind.
Now to be sure, this is not just the plight of addicts. Those of us who justify our behavior by saying things like, “That’s just my personality” or “This is just the way I was created,” are in many ways just as dead as those of us addicted to lust or self-gratification or any other substance or person. Every one of us were born into sin and our natural default is to live in the passions of our flesh. Therefore, we need to recognize that any appeals we make to our natural selves (i.e. This is just who I am) is an appeal to that which ought to be dead. If you are in Christ, you are a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Paul writes,
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).
Living by faith in the Son of God means that I must trust Him when He calls me to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him. I must trust that the life He promises to give me is far greater than the one I would choose on my own left to my desires.
This is where fasting saved my life. While at Pure Life I began a habit of fasting for 24 hours once a week. I would allow myself water and coffee but no solid food. I have to confess the reason I started was not because I was trying to be spiritual or because I knew its benefits. I started simply because someone whom I trusted told me I should do it. So I did. What happened next astonished me.
When my stomach growled and the desires of my flesh screamed “EAT!,” I said, “NO.” For the first time in my life I was telling my body NO! The first 24 hour fast was terribly difficult, but the next week was not quite so bad, and the week after that not as bad as the last. Soon it became easy for me to hang out in the kitchen with everyone else as they were preparing their dinner and though I was starving I was not tempted to eat. Soon after that I began a practice of rising early from bed Saturday morning and making pancakes for all the guys in my dorm – all while on an empty stomach and knowing my next meal would not be till dinner that night.
It dawned on me one morning while flipping pancakes that here I stood in the midst of temptation yet I was not a slave to any of it. Without realizing it at the time I was strengthening my spiritual “muscles.” Since I knew I could say no to food when my stomach growled I became increasingly confident that I could also say no to lust or any other temptation that came my way. The fruit of the Spirit which includes “self-control” began to take root in my life from the discipline of fasting. I began to see how I, too, could identify with Jesus and say, I don’t live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).
In this way fasting saved my life. New life begins when we first have our eyes opened to the fact that we are dead, and slaves to our body and mind. When God brings us to that point, we are able to accept and trust the good news which declares,
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing;it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:4-10).
If you are tired of being dead, try fasting. It may save your life, too.