Saturday, March 8, 2014

Fasting and Self Control

We live in a world that is defined by "have to" and "can't".

It is a clever word game that we all play in how we think and what we say to explain our behavior.  You hear it all the time...

"I have to do something about this."

"Well, I had to say that.  She was asking for it."

"It's just business.  We have to do this in order to compete."

"I'm a guy.  I have to do this once in a while."

"I can't let them get away with what they've done to me."

"...we have to live together for now.  God will understand."

"I have got to leave her... It's not like I really have a choice at this point."

"I'm sorry, pastor, I just can't seem to get up on time these days."

"I must have that."

"Well, he gave me no choice when he did that to me... so I punched him."

"After a day like that, I need to get drunk tonight."

This is a very effective way of shifting blame for our actions from ourselves over to the circumstances.  It allows us to employ situational ethics where we are mere victims of our situation and are forced to act in only one way.  It is a form of self justification that frees us of the responsibility for our actions.

...but the truth is that these are purposeful choices.  The vast majority of times, we are not forced do the things that we decide to do.  We are not mere victims on our circumstances or pawns of the conditions in which we find ourselves.

It is a very hard thing to accept responsibility for our choices.  It is very easy to talk about "turning the other cheek" right up to the point where someone actually slaps you across the literal face... then... well, I can't be blamed for what happened next.  He slapped. me. in. the face!  What did he think was going to happen.  It is very easy to talk about giving to the poor... right up until someone in need presents you with the opportunity to part with what is yours...

Human exceptionalism, a gift from God, grants us with the power to rise above the stimuli that trigger our sinful instincts and act according to our moral choices.  When we speak in terms of what we "have to do" we not only attempt to justify ourselves but we enslave ourselves to our sin.  We make it the master of our decisions... and that--in itself--is yet another one of our choices.

Fasting is an excellent means to help break this habit of self-justification and excuse making.  Your body tells you "I must eat" this very moment... and you tell it, "No... I do not.  I can wait.  I decide when we eat."  By training the body and the mind to understand its role in making decisions, we better understand our direct role in our actions and inactions.  We make choices... and we use those choices to decide to sin.  Walking around on autopilot will not be an acceptable excuse before the Throne of Judgment.

This understanding of our participation in our sin intensifies our confession.  We are more keenly aware that we are not mere victims of circumstance.  The situation that we are in does not mitigate or remove God's holy law.  We now understand that, just like the impulse to satisfy our hunger, we are not forced to satisfy every impulse that our sinful flesh gives us.  We decide to satisfy it.

But Christ was not a victim of circumstance either.  He decided to come to earth and be born of a virgin.  He decided to live a perfect, sinless life on our behalf.  It was by His perfect, merciful will that He determined to enter Jerusalem into the hands of a hateful humanity.  The Son let Himself be mocked.  He allowed himself to be whipped.  He permitted Himself to stand under the judgment of Pilate.  He willingly picked up His cross... carried it to the hill... and was nailed to it.  He gave up His life as a ransom for all.

Where we choose only evil according to our sinful nature.  He chooses to forgive.  He chooses to save and grant faith to His sheep.  He grabs us against our will and snatches us from the jaws of hell and death.  He makes us new in the waters of holy baptism.  He sends His spirit into us and imparts living faith.

...and empowered by that faith and walking in the newness of life, we can finally choose to live as His chosen people.  By faith, we willingly take up our crosses and follow Him.

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