A New Kind of Fasting
Do not love the world. (1 John 2:15)
[taken from Banner of Truth]
It is no coincidence that the men whom God uses powerfully in the work of his kingdom always have one thing in common. This is true with the early church fathers – men like Irenaeus, Origen, and Polycarp. And this one thing in common is also found with men of a more modern era, whether they be Martin Luther, John Calvin, or Phillip Melanchthon of the sixteenth century; John Owen, Thomas Goodwin, or Joseph Alleine of the seventeenth century; Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, or George Whitefield of the eighteenth century, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Daniel Baker, or Charles Spurgeon of the nineteenth century, or A.W. Tozer, Oswald Chambers, or Martyn Lloyd-Jones of the twentieth century. And what is that one common thing? All these men had a holy hatred of worldliness.
Consider the words of Robert Murray M’Cheyne in a sermon on 1 Peter 1:14-19, preached in 1838,
“My dear friends, if you wish to obey the word of God here laid before you, flee from all circumstances, from all places or companies, where you know you may be tempted to sin . . . do you know a company where holy things are slighted, where things are spoken that should not be named, where late, unholy hours are kept, where you have already been tempted to sin? Then, child of God, I charge you not to cross that threshold again, no, not once. I charge you, flee temptation, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear . . . I fear, young persons, a holy provocation, after the holiest exercises, plunging into the unholiest companies, praying in the house of God, or in a class for religious instruction one hour, and entering into ungodly company the very next.” (Quoted in The Life of John Milne of Perth, p. 302.)1
M’Cheyne hated anything that drew his people away from God. So should we!
The Apostle John commands us in his epistle not to love the world or the things of the world. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones so ably puts it2, John is not referring to mountains or rivers, nor is he writing generally of life in the world of family, business, or state. Instead, by world John means living independently of God. It is an outlook, a mindset that ignores God and his Word. John further explains what he means by the world, calling it the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. Simon Kistemaker3 calls the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes sinful desires while the boastful pride of liferefers to sinful behaviour. Lloyd-Jones suggests that the lust of the flesh deals with physical bodies, living for sensual gratification. The lust of the eye refers to living for the ungodly values of outward show. And the boastful pride of life means self-glorification. So by this John is saying that living for the world means living independently from God, and thus taking and owning the temporal and sensual values of the unredeemed world.
Paul commands us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and to make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts (Rom. 13:14). We all battle the debilitating effects of indwelling sin, a strong craving to do the very things we are commanded not to do. As believers we, at the same time, have a regenerate heart that loves God and hates sin, giving us a desire to obey God. So we can say we have within us a pig (indwelling sin) that loves to eat anything, including garbage; and we have a lion (the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Lord Jesus) which lives within us by the Holy Spirit. The lion is a carnivore, as it were, which lives off the meat of the Word of God. So, if we feed the pig with garbage then he gets bigger and the lion gets smaller. On the other hand, if we feed the lion the meat of God’s Word then he gets stronger and the pig gets weaker. Holiness comes through a strengthened lion and a weakened pig. So in order to see progress in holiness we must limit the garbage we take into our eye and ear gates; and we must increase the quality and quantity of the meat of the Word of God.
And herein lies our problem. Even if we are careful not to take into our eye and ear gates ungodly music, DVD’s, or television programming; even if we don’t read books, magazines, or internet sites saturated with an ungodly worldview; the simple truth is that we daily battle the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the boastful pride of life. We are not called to be hermits. We live in the world. However, after a hard and stressful day of work, when you finally make it home at night, you may decide to watch a little television to see your favourite team, or catch a couple of hours of news commentary before going to bed. Now, I am not saying we should never watch television, but I am reminding you that television is an amusement (a means ‘no’ and muse means ‘to think’, that is no thinking), a totally passive exercise. Neil Postman brilliantly put forth this thesis years ago in Amusing Ourselves to Death4. Just watch your children when they watch television. What are they doing? Nothing! When you read to them you see in their eyes their little minds brimming with imagination, and that is a very good thing.
So here’s my proposal – should we not consider a new kind of fasting, a fasting from anything that feeds the pig and starves the lion! Consider this analogy – most of us today must be intentional about physical exercise. We pay money for gym or health club memberships, we join running or cycling clubs, or we find friends with whom we can walk daily or several times per week. Coming up with exercise programmes was unheard of one hundred years ago. That’s because most people engaged in some form of physical labour or they walked to work. Today, of course our work and life styles are very different. We are sedentary and must find ways to maintain or improve our physical health.
Likewise, due to the incessant exposure to worldliness, perhaps we should consider cutting back on our television and movie time? We struggle with progress in holiness because worldly distractions suck the life out of us. We have far too many options. One hundred years ago there was no television so people read at night or they talked with one another. Many of us now sit like zombies in front of the screen for hours. These worldly amusements feed the pig and starve the lion. Why not fast for a month from television and other things that feed the pig within you? Should you not at least consider cutting it way back from present levels, and spend that time in reading, holy contemplation, or edifying conversation? You will feed the lion and growth in holiness will surely result.
- Life in Christ: Walking with God, Studies in 1 John, volume two, pages 84-87.
- New Testament Commentary: Epistles of John, page 271.
- If you have not read Amusing Ourselves to Death, or have not read it in many years, I strongly urge you to do so.