I appreciate Christian organizations who preach abstinence from many things, such as advising women not to use make up, jewelry, or invest in expensive clothes. I appreciate Christian organizations who adopt fasting as part of their Christian traditions, with fasting a means to denying desires of the body. I appreciate Christian organizations who preach abstinence from exuberance because as Christians we need to be sober and vigilant in our walk with God so we do not fall into traps set by the devil.
It is important that as Christians we realize none of the mortifications outlined can give life to the bodies we seek to mortify. That is, while mortification can enable the putting of the body to death, it does not have any power for life. Consider Jesus’ words in John 6:63 (NKJV),
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
The Apostle Paul adds the following words in Colossians 2: 20 & 23,
Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations — These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
Let me illustrate. Suppose I fast for 100 days so I deaden myself to clamoring of my body for food and liquids. Success in this endeavor enables discipline of my body. Since my body is under discipline only to my will, whatever increase in discipline I have achieved is subject to exercise of my will. If my will to fast for 100 days is not induced by the Holy Spirit, my will does not experience any increase in capacity to choose Jesus Christ in a day of temptation or trial. Development of capacity to deny my body food and liquids for 100 days further does nothing to increase my capacity to reject other fleshly demands such as illicit sex, envy, covetousness, maliciousness etc. because I have yet to train my body to reject these other desires.
When Jesus fasted for 40 days, He was led by the Holy Spirit into the fast (Matthew 4:1). The fast had a purpose outside of mortification of His body. In fact, Jesus had no need of mortification of the body seeing as He was sinless seed of Adam conceived in entirety by the Holy Spirit. This is evident in the fact that it was only after the fast was already completed that Jesus was tempted by the devil. The temptation to eat then had nothing to do with the fast itself. This is so important, I provide here the exact words in Matthew 4:2–3, which state:
After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to Him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
In the texts cited, the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ make clear that
Mortification of the body has value for spirituality and resistance to sin, temptations, or trials only when it is by specific command of the Holy Spirit. Since it is the Holy Spirit who gives life to our bodies, mortification commands from the Holy Spirit bring with them the life of God needed for increase in spiritual strength.
I appreciate Christian women who use jewelry and make up tastefully with moderation. I appreciate Christians who eat with pleasure food created by God to be partaken of with thanksgiving who hardly ever fast. I appreciate Christians who believe in spending on quality such as expensive clothes not so as to appear rich, but because quality saves money in the long run and looks good. I appreciate Christians who exhibit the joy of the Lord Jesus Christ in their bearing and in appropriate measures of exuberance, but who do not attempt to continue to stay in a state of exuberance. Joy we must always have as Christians (Philippians 4:4), exuberance at what God has done for us must be kept to a limited time frame so we are not taken advantage of by the devil. If we keep our eyes on what Jesus has done for us, we lose sight of Jesus the giver of the good gift we celebrate and give room for the devil to take advantage of us.
If we are to make the most of mortifications of the body, let us ensure they are inspired by the Holy Spirit. This is the path to meaningful spiritual growth in Jesus Christ. Amen.