Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of the wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down.
We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means.
-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Gabe gave in the day Aunt Danielle took him to Dairy Queen.
Everybody else was having something, and they were making me really, really anxious,
he explained with a shrug.
I wanted ice cream really, really bad. So I just had a banana split.
So ended a seven year old’s self-imposed Lenten fast. He fell midway through week two.
My countdown continues: 42 hours left, give or take. Then Easter feast breaks Lenten fast. Cappuccino Fudge meets Resurrection Morn.
Why bother with Lent? Why give up a good thing? Why wage an optional war?
It’s not hard to find good answers. Read five broad benefits of observing Lent at this Gospel Coalition blog post. Or my two reasons here. You might be surprised.
Why do I fast? In a word, training. In four, Christ-exalting soul strength.
Each time I skip a soft-serve and pass on pie a la mode, my soul gets a wee bit stronger. Train yourself to be godly,
Paul told Timothy.
I from a little thing like ice cream and am strengthened for bigger battles against greed and pride, anger and envy.
Lent is testing ground; a time for spiritual cross-training. It’s a battlefield of sorts. Fasting shows what controls me, what comforts me. It exposes what I really live by: ice cream and coffee, Facebook and fitness? Or every word that comes from the mouth of God?
Christian fasting-giving up a good gift for a time- is not about Stoic pride, or proving my love for God. It is about training in godliness. It’s working my soul in a new way to build spiritual fitness. It’s resisting what would lure my heart away from my all- glorious, all-satisfying God.
Fasting is a cross training to increase the strength of my soul, so, I will not be mastered by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12). That is why I gave up ice cream.
If I can’t deny myself ice cream for six weeks, how can I resist the more habit-forming, tempting tastes of pride and envy, of anger and impatience?
A heaping bowl after dinner and steaming cups in the morning and push notices on my iPad-Each of those would have me for breakfast. When my comfort and joy hinges on the bowl, or the cup or more Facebook likes, I’m done. I’m captive.
All are innocent pleasures. Caffeine and ice cream, Facebook and fitness are gifts from God. And all can move subtly to become an end in themselves. To enslave.
Ice cream has that power?
It does. Or did. And so does coffee in the morning and posting that elusive “40 likes” photo. A sub-seven minute mile can do it, too.
But I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing his suffering, becoming like him in death. Starting with these little denial deaths. Paul said he counted everything rubbish that he could know Christ. Little food fasts make me strong for big soul fights, because in them I know Christ better.
But there’s one more big reason to fast.
How God is glorified and Christ is exalted in a little Lenten fast.
C. S. Lewis hinted at it. Only those who try to resist temptation knows how strong it is, he wrote. And Christ is the only one who never yielded to temptation.
The author of Hebrews’ said it straight out: Jesus was like us in every respect, and because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (2:14-15). He can sympathize with our weakness, because in every respect he has been tempted as we are, yet was without sin.
And here is how Christ is exalted. It’s when we confidently draw near to the throne of grace, to receive mercy-forgiveness when we fall– and find grace-power to keep from falling-to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).
He gives mercy and grace. I call, tempted and weak. Christ answers, sympathetic and strong. I called, you answered, and you came to my rescue. That’s Hillsong’s version.
David’s last line is a tad different. I called, you answered; my strength of soul you increased (Psalm 138:3). And, Call to me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you and you will glorify me (Psalm 50:15).
That exchange- I call, God answers- is soul-strengthening, Christ-exalting cross training.
But what does look like in real life?
For me, it looks like closing the freezer without sneaking a bite from the pint in the back. And refusing to pop open my iPad at 10:30 at night to see if someone liked my post. At Arby’s last week it was Thank you Jesus as the rest of the family shared a Jamocha milkshake.
Cross training looks different, but always sounds similar. We don’t call uncle; we call Jesus. Help me stand, help me resist the itch. Remind me of your good truth.
- It might be countering your itch for human praise with this reminder: Let another praise you and not your own lips.
- Or dueling with envy the minute he starts to whisper, You ought to have a four bedroom, sunny-side house. Nope: Godliness with contentment is great gain.
- Or striking with the sword of the Spirit when despair over a failed friendship falls. Why so downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God. He’s the lifter of your face.
- Or wielding the Word to kill worry when the infection spreads to your kids. Cast your cares upon him, for he cares for you. And, Commit your way to the Lord.
- Or trading gratitude for grumbling, when we feel entitled to better this, or more that. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
That’s how God gets glory when we cross train. The One who was tempted in every way, who is right now interceding for us, His strength is exalted when we work my soul muscles. When those muscles ache, when temptation’s strong don’t cry uncle. Cry Jesus.
Then we really know the truth we talk: no temptation can seize us beyond what we can bear. God truly is faithful to provide a way out so we can stand up under it. That strengthens spiritual muscles.
Yes, we are a Resurrection People; Christ is Risen indeed! My sin is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. We stand forgiven at the cross. But our battles aren’t over yet.
Jesus suffered and died so I won’t have to suffer is NOT its message. It’s He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).
The cross isn’t just past. The word of the cross, Paul wrote, is to us who are being saved the power of God. John Piper contends that the cross of Christ is not merely a past place of substitution. It’s also a present place of daily execution.
It’s not just history. It’s a present way of life for the Christian. It’s Colossians 3:5, Put to death what is earthly in you.
It’s Roman’s 6:11, Consider yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ.
And, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
But fasting and denying are not an end in themselves. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Luke 9:23-24). Lenten fast always leads to Easter feast.
In heaven there will be no self-denial because none of our desires will tend toward sin. We’ll be with the Bridegroom and we won’t fast. Till then we struggle with desires. So we deny ourselves and take up our cross daily.
* * * * *
The ancient hymn, Audi benigne Conditor describes the bonds between our bodies and souls. Anthony Esolen’s translation beautifully expresses how God is glorified when we bring both into subjection. When we cross train in the present power of the cross.
(You might sing it to the tune of the Old 100th, Praise God from Whom all Blessing Flow.)
Our sins are grave indeed, but we,
Are far too frail to bear the blame;
Spare us, and bring the remedy,
Unto the glory of Thy Name.
So while we make our bodies lean,
Prune back our spirit’s pride within,
That hungering hearts made strong and clean,
Shall leave untouched the food of sin.
Grant, O Thou blessed Trinity;
Grant, O unchanging Unity;
That this our fast of forty days,
May work our profit and Thy praise! Amen!
Our profit, his praise. Weak made strong by the power of the cross. Christianity is not a settle-in-and-live-at-peace-with-your-sin-within religion. It’s I consider everything as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.
Easter comes, then goes. But let’s not lose the present power of the cross when we tuck the plastic eggs away Sunday night. Let’s live its message daily. The cross is not just a symbol of the weight of our sin and guilt. It’s the present power of God to fight our sin within.
This side of glory, we live in the shadow of the cross. If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live, (Romans 8:13). All life, not just Lent, is Christ-exalting cross-training.
That’s why I kissed ice cream good-bye. Until Easter.