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Fasting Day 13: Fasting, Justification, and Sanctification

Fasting, Justification, and Sanctification

 

As I said in a previous post, we do not fast to rid of sin or obtain merit with God. Jesus Christ was the ultimate and perfect sacrifice for sin. John the Baptist acknowledged this when he saw Jesus coming to be baptized and said, “Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

Christ’s death on the cross on behalf of sinners satisfied the demands of the law and the justice of God. Christ died in our place. He took the punishment of our sin and experienced the suffering and death we deserved (see 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24).

There is nothing more that we can add to this saving work. It is complete.

“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

This is why the Bible says that we are saved by grace through faith and not of our own works (see Eph. 2:8-9). We cannot earn our salvation. It is a gift from God that we receive when we put our faith in Jesus Christ and the finished work of the cross. At that moment, we are “justified.”

Justified

“Justified” is a Biblical word that essentially means “made right with God,” or “just as if we’d never sinned.”

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

There is a ‘once-for-all’ quality about justification. When the Holy Spirit awakens our hearts to believe and unites us to Christ, our union with Christ establishes us in God’s sight as righteous—as just. Justification is the act whereby God counts us to be righteous or sinless in His sight because of our union with Christ.

In Him

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

“In him” speaks of our union with Christ. As a believer, I have the righteousness of God because of my union with His son, who has all of God’s righteousness.

Justification is the imputation and accounting of me as having a righteousness which is alien to me. It is Christ’s righteousness counted as mine.

When I am ‘justified,’ I am viewed in Christ as perfectly accepted. I cannot be more accepted or righteous than I am because I am the righteousness of Jesus.

“Sanctification gets underway on the basis of my acceptance through justification. If I thought that my sanctification was an earning of my acceptance with God, I couldn’t get anywhere. I would constantly be performing legalistic works of the law which justifies no one. Justification is by faith alone through grace alone on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone to the glory of God alone. And now begins lifelong process of becoming in actual practice and attitude what God has made me in Christ.” ~ John Piper

Fasting can accomplish nothing with regard to justification.

“For we have all become like one who is unclean…and all our righteousness (our best deeds of rightness and justice) is like filthy rags or a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6, AMP).

If we were looking to fasting to cleanse of sin, it would be as worthless as a filthy rag. It is a work of man that can never satisfy the demands of a holy God.

Fasting and Sanctification

To be sanctified means to be made holy. “For it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:16).

“But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life” (Romans 6:22).

Sanctification is different from justification in that it is progressive. We do not instantly become sanctified upon conversion.

23May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1 Thess. 5:23-24).

In this verse, the apostle Paul is praying that God would sanctify you through and through—wholly. Paul says, “God is faithful. He will do it,” meaning it isn’t done yet. So we pray toward it and we engage in God’s grace that we may make progress in it.

Be What You Really Are

“6Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 7Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8, emphasis added).

Christ is our Passover lamb. We are a new lump of dough in him. So we should become what we really are. We should become In practice and attitude what God has made us in Christ

Fasting helps us become sensitive and aware of the ways we are not becoming what we really are—the ways we are not living holy and righteous.

12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:12-13).

We are saved by grace, yes, but with this salvation comes a duty to live holy and sanctified. This is the “working out” of our salvation. We are to engage our mind and will in acts of obedience.

Fasting helps reveal the measure of mastery that things have over us. John Piper calls fasting the Hungry Handmaid of Faith. When we disconnect from the world through fasting and connect to God through prayer, hidden sins begin to be exposed. We see how little we’ve hungered for God and His holiness.

As a Disciple

In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says,

More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside of us with food and other things. (Emphasis added.) [iii]

It was in a sermon to His disciples about the kingdom of God that Jesus said, “When you fast…” (see Mt. 6:16). Jesus expected His disciples (even us modern-day disciples) to fast. Fasting isn’t a law or a requirement, it is an opportunity to engage in a discipline that, when combined with prayer, helps us become what we are!

By God’s Grace

Recognizing sin in our life and not being mastered by it (living holy) could not take place apart from God’s grace. It is God who “is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what he wants” (Phil. 2:13, TLB). If we have any will to make war on our sin, that’s a gift of God. If we have any will to pursue God in worship, prayer, fasting, etc., God has given us that will. This is a gift of God.

It is our duty and responsibility to choose obedience moment by moment, but we should never forget that it is God who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Set Apart

God works through fasting to deepen His work of sanctification in us. To be sanctified or holy means to be set apart. Without fasting, I begin to feel much like a citizen of this world rather than a citizen of Heaven. But when I fast, I am reminded of how set apart I’m called to be. My priorities, my desires, my goals and my actions begin to align themselves with my citizenship in Heaven!

Fasting is Not Meritorious

Fasting itself is not a means of sanctification – for sanctification is achieved by the Spirit.

We, as God’s elect, “have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood” (1 Peter 1:2).

Paul cautioned the Colossians that harsh measures for the body are of limited value and can stir up as much carnal pride as they subdue carnal appetite. He feared that the Colossians had drifted away from deep and simple faith in Christ toward external ritual as a means of sanctification (see Col. 2:20-22).

Paul addressed the “teachings of men,” that tell us “do not taste.”

“These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self made religions and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col. 2:23).

This is a warning against a simple view of fasting – a view that thinks fasting in itself will automatically do a person good. It is not that simple. Severe treatment of the body may only feed a person’s flesh with more self-reliance.

John Piper sums up the point in “A Hunger for God”:

The true mortification of our carnal nature is not a simple matter of denial and discipline. It is an internal, spiritual matter of finding more contentment in Christ than in food.[i]

Paul doesn’t object to Christian fasting, but to its distortions.

Fasting: A Weapon in the Fight of Faith

Paul directed our attention toward fasting and numerous other kinds of self-denial—not as meritorious religious rituals, and not as an end in themselves, but as a weapon in the fight of faith.

Twice, when Paul was listing his trials, he mentioned fasting. “I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often in fastings, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:27; 6:5).

This matches what Paul said about how he handled the appetites of his body, “I buffet my body and make it my slave…” (1 Cor. 9:26). Paul regarded some ascetic discipline as a useful weapon in the fight of faith. Clinging and holding fast to Christ by faith is the key to not being “disqualified.” “[Christ will present you holy and blameless to God] if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast and not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:23).

For Paul, sanctification involved him working hard. He handled his body roughly, subdued it and made it his slave lest he should be disqualified (see 1 Corinthians 9:25-27). When he saw things rising up, he put them to death with Holy Spirit inspired determination.

Fasting is an aid in disciplining our body. Like Paul, we discipline our body and make it our slave rather than let the flesh make our spirit-man its slave.

One weapon in Paul’s fight of faith was the practice of “buffeting the body.” He was not unaware that the desires of the body are deceitful as well as delightful. He said that the “old self” is “being corrupted in accordance with the desires of deceit” (see Eph. 4:22). The nature of this deceit is to lure us subtly into living for the “fleeting pleasures” of body and mind, rather than the spiritual delights of knowing and serving God. These pleasures start as innocent delights in food and reading and resting and playing, but then become ends in themselves and choke off spiritual hunger for God. Paul buffets his body to put himself to the test. Does he hunger for God? Is his faith real? Or is he becoming the slave of comfort and bodily pleasures? You can hear the passion of his heart in 1 Corinthians 6:12, “I will not be mastered by anything!” This is not the pride of Stoic self-exaltation. It is the passionate resolve to resist anything that lures the heart away from an all-controlling satisfaction in God…

Rising early is a kind of fast. Going to prayer meeting when it is hard to get there is another kind of fast. When we make such choices, we make war on the deceitfulness of our desires and declare the preciousness of prayer and the all-surpassing worth of God. [ii]

Fasting should come from confidence in Christ, be sustained by the power of Christ and have as its aim the glory of Christ. Over every Christian fast should be written the words:

“count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8).

In fasting, as well as in other deprivations, every loss is for the sake of “gaining Christ.” But this does not mean that we seek to gain a Christ we do not have. Nor does it mean that our progress depends on ourselves.

Four verses later, Paul makes plain the dynamics of the entire Christian life—including fasting: “I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”

This is the essence of Christian fasting: We ache and yearn—and fast—to know more and more of all that God is for us in Jesus. But only because he has already laid hold of us and is drawing us ever forward and upward into “all the fullness of God.”

Pressing On

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Phil. 3:12).

In this passage, Paul is saying, “I haven’t obtained perfection, but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me His own.” In our conversion, Christ brought us to faith and through our faith, united us with Christ. This is a finished reality. Because it is, we should press on to experience it in its fullness.

Christian fasting is a hunger for all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19), aroused by the aroma of Jesus’ love and by the taste of God’s goodness in the gospel of Christ (1 Peter 2:2-3). [iii]

Fasting, though it is not a requirement, is one way that we press on to experience the reality of our conversion in its fullness.

By engaging in prayer and fasting, we are in essence saying, “God, I want to be sanctified. I want to be holy as you are holy. I want to become in practice and attitude what you have made me! I want the fruit of my life to be the fruit of your Spirit.”

Worship: “You Are Holy”

You Are Holy by Christ for the Nations Music
Led by Gabriel Allred
From the Album: Perfect Love

Bible Reading: Romans 5:1; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Thess. 5:23-24; Phil. 2:12-13; 3:12

Prayer Focus: As you are fasting, are you allowing God to sanctify you through and through? Are you allowing Him to help you become what you really are — what He has made you in Christ?

FROM THE FASTING ARCHIVES:

 


[i] John Piper, A Hunger for God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1997), 33

[ii] Ibid., 47-48

[iii] Ibid., 42

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