Measuring the spirituality of a person can be tricky business since everyone will evaluate people and situations from a particular set of personal values. If I value a specific spiritual discipline or activity, I will tend to measure the “spirituality” of people along those same lines. Simply put, I have a lens through which I see every person and every situation from a self-informed perspective.
How do I find a healthy balance?
When I read the Bible it shapes what spirituality to the Lord REALLY looks like according to what He says. The interactions contained in the Bible between people and the Lord provide for me an example(s) of what living a Godward life should and will look like. In other words, the truth of the Bible is to bend what I would LIKE TO think is living a spiritual life to what REALLY IS living a spiritual life – honoring the Lord from my heart in my actions. Without the stream of truth informing my understanding, I will naturally warp what I think about God as well as what God wants from me. I believe this is exactly why there are some who emphasize Jesus as being all about love at the expense of the truth or holiness. Who doesn’t want to emphasize Jesus as being incredible loving? The problem is that while Jesus certainly is loving, the love Jesus has is never minimized nor displaced by the demand He has for holiness from those who follow Him (see Luke 9:23-27). Without a Biblical understanding of how both love and holiness are to work together in the life of a believer, an individual can make Jesus more like Santa than Savior. When I don’t have the Word of God functioning as this corrective dynamic in my life, I quickly enter into a practical form of idolatry – making God into a Being that I would like to believe vs. what He wants me to believe. When I make God into being what I want Him to be, I then begin to measure those around as being spiritual (or not) according to the “God” that I have fashioned. This is exactly what was occurring in Mark 2:13-22 that we considered in the teaching yesterday.
The adherents of John the Baptist and Pharisees would abstain from eating food (“fasting”) because they believed when they did so they were obeying the Lord. John the Baptist’s disciples saw fasting as an act of repenting for their disregard for the Covenantal standards that they (as a people) had agreed to (see Exodus 24:1-8) and would, therefore, hurry God’s Messiah in coming since they were now taking the Covenantal standards seriously. They believed that the arrival of the Messiah would result in driving the Roman Empire from their land. Therefore, this belief motivated the followers of John the Baptist’s to “fast often and offer prayers… (Luke 5:33).
The Pharisees saw fasting as a discipline that proved their piety toward God, a lifestyle that proved them to be devout, to be holy. Given there were people around them that did not fast to the same level that they did, those people were looked down on as being less serious about obeying God. Over time, this metastasized into viewing people that did not fast like the Pharisees as being sinful. In Luke 18:10-12, Jesus summarizes this view of the Pharisees in a parable:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
Therefore, the Pharisees prescribed a weekly fast to occur on Monday and Thursday from sunup to sundown.
While I am sure there was a level of sincerity in the mindset of some of those who initially ascribed to following either fasting standard, there was an eventual poisonous outcome in both groups – they began to view other people as being spiritual or unspiritual depending on how they measured up according to the standard THEY had created. As a matter of fact, both the disciples of John’s message as well as the Pharisees went so far as to question the spiritual temperature of Jesus due to His followers not keeping the fasting standards created by their respective groups:
And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Mark 2:18
While this might read relatively innocuously, the undertone of the sentiment is: “Your disciples are not acting spiritually.” Make no mistake, they are asking about Jesus’ disciples but they are aiming at the credibility of Jesus own spiritual commitment. In other words, “If Jesus were truly spiritual then He would enforce the standards WE have created within the regular discipline of fasting just like we do.”
Getting Fasting Wrong
In short, they expected Jesus and His followers to get with their program. There was only one MAJOR problem with this understanding… the standard they had created for fasting was not given by the Lord. In the Old Testament, there is only one day that the Lord required as a day of fasting – The Day of Atonement (“Yom Kippur”). While there are examples of people choosing to fast for various personal reasons (Ex. 34, Deut. 9, I Kings 19, etc.) and according to various periods of time (1, 3, 7, 21, 40 days) there is only one time in which the people were commanded to fast.
“And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict – [commonly used for restraining from eating, fasting, emphasis mine] yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. 30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins. 31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. Lev. 16:29-31
Do you see what occurred here? The “spiritual” standard that the followers of John the Baptist and the Pharisees created allowed their view and value of fasting to mushroom into a standard by which to judge EVERYONE else, including Jesus, without having the Biblical basis for that standard. In other words, they created a standard to measure the spiritual loyalty of people apart and then applied it to everyone as if God had established it. The personal value they developed became a view they then enforced AS IF it came from God Himself. The end result was a warping of God’s character and priority (see Isaiah 58 to know the Lord’s perspective on what He intended for fasting to produce) that was then passed on to the people through the modeling of “spiritual” leadership that formed in the people of God a completely false understanding of the heart of God. By the time of Jesus’ ministry, this warped lens of what it means to obey the Lord became a means by which the “spiritual” leadership of Israel would call for the death of Jesus (see Mark 3:6). It is incredible to think that people who considered themselves to be “spiritual” would use their “spirituality” as an assault on Jesus.
Never Made It Out Of The Garden
The followers of John the Baptist and the Pharisees had a lens through which they measured everyone that was intrinsically self-informed and self-oriented. In effect, these people enter into what I call, “the garden effect” – they try to effectively become God by determining what is good and what is evil. Just like Adam and Eve wanted to take the reigns from God by doing what they wanted vs. what God had told them, the adherents of John the Baptist and the Pharisees are playing God by determining what is and is not spiritual. Tragically, we all have this flesh-craving inertia inside of us – to camouflage our desires as really being God’s desires. Again, this is one more reason why being committed to what the Bible teaches is so incredibly vital. The value of expositional teaching (truth flowing from the historical and grammatical context of a particular passage being studied) finds its full effect by shaping the way we see God so that we can then live for God according to His standard of truth and grace. Pray that we continue to mine what God’s Word says in order to have a God-shaped life that will supernaturally spread the fame of God.