Fasting As A Form of Worship

The leaders at Southside Bible Fellowship are calling for a church-wide fast from (Monday) March 26th through our Concert of Prayer (4-6pm) on Sunday April 1st.  Directly after our Concert of Prayer we will collectively break our fast with a meal of soup and bread.  Please keep reading to consider your options…

“I humbled my soul with fasting”  (Psalm 35:13b)

In Psalm 35 King David is crying out in agonized intercession to be rescued from his enemies. Part of David’s prayer is that he has bowed-down his soul with fasting.  It is widely accepted that our soul consists of our intellect, will, and emotions.  According to Matthew 6, Isaiah 58, and Psalm 35 the overall objective of fasting is to humble our soul (or to cause our intellect, will, and emotions to bow down) so that the desires and the purposes of God can become more prominent!  When we deny our appetites and soulish longings and turn to the Lord through worship, Christian meditation, supplication, and intercession there is a supernatural grace released upon us to see God’s heart and will.  The idea is to set aside regular times during a fast in order to seek the Lord and cry out for His kingdom to increase and for His will to be done – IN us and THROUGH us.

Matthew 6 describes and instructs us in three primary spiritual disciplines.  The chapter opens by encouraging us not to practice our “acts of righteousness” publicly; and if we do, we shall have no reward from our Father in heaven.  The three spiritual disciplines are giving, prayer (we are to pray secretly, sincerely, and specifically), and fasting.

Isaiah 58 is probably the best and most concise instruction on the spiritual discipline of fasting in the Bible.  Verse six lists the four reasons for fasting:  “To loosen the bonds of wickedness,”  “To undo the bands of the yoke,”  “To let the oppressed go free,” and to “break every yoke.”  Verses 8-14 contain some amazing promises concerning the fruits, or benefits, of fasting.

A simple definition for fasting would be voluntary abstinence of our appetites and our soulish longings for spiritual reasons.  The Bible speaks of it not as an option but as an expected and regularly practiced spiritual discipline.  The following are some of the purposes for fasting; these also convey some of the benefits of fasting:

1.   Fasting will sharpen our focus in prayer.  (After we get beyond the initial discomfort caused by our various addictions such as coffee, sugar, etc.)

2.   Fasting will cause us to be more sensitive to God’s guidance in our lives.

3.   Fasting is a sign of humble repentance and expressing to God our desire to be responsively obedient to His will and direction for our lives – both individually and as a church.

4.   It was common in biblical times to fast when the need for protection and/or deliverance was great.  An excellent example is when Queen Esther called for her people to fast with her when she appealed to the king to spare the Jews (see Esther 4:16).

5.   As David articulated in Psalm 35, fasting can be an expression of simple humility before God.

6.   Fasting, or the servant-leaders calling for a fast, can be the result of God’s people seeing a need and expressing their concern.  When Nehemiah heard about the great distress, reproach, and the broken down walls in Jerusalem the Bible tells us that he sat down and wept and mourned for days, and then fasted and prayed until the Lord revealed His plans (see Nehemiah 1:3-4).

7.   When Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness after His baptism He was strengthened spiritually against the strong temptations of Satan.  In fact, in Luke 4:14 it says that, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit(emphasis added).

8.   Fasting can be simply an act of worship and adoration with no other purpose than to ascribe glory and honor to God.

There are many different ways to fast.  We can fast food and just drink water or juice, we can eat vegetables and/or fruit only (this has been called a “Daniel Fast,” see Daniel 1:8-17), we can choose not to eat any sugar or carbohydrates, we can fast one or two meals a day, we can fast from sun-up to sun-down.  Paul encourages married couples to occasionally fast sexual intercourse, “that you may devote yourselves to prayer…” (1 Corinthians 7:5).  We can fast television or the internet and pray instead!  Before we fast it is important to seek the Lord regarding what would be appropriate.

We are in a season of transition at Southside Bible Fellowship. There are several excellent reasons for us to embark on a corporate fast:  Over the last 2-3 years there has been relational tearing and woundedness. We want to fast and ask God to show us how to specifically engage in the ministry of reconciliation with those who have been hurt. We want to identify and “own” our past dysfunctions as a church — and repent and forsake them. We want to fast and ask God to once again visit us with salvations.  We want to fast for a fresh understanding of what it means to delight in God – as well as what it means for God to delight in us.  In addition, prayerfully consider any supplemental personal and family needs so that you will fast with a strong sense of God’s heart – asking for His “kingdom to come and His will to be done” IN you and THROUGH you.  May the Lord strengthen you and encourage you through a mighty demonstration of His power and might!!

1 John 5:6-13 (#13)

I.  INTRO – Assurance of Eternal Life

Review:

Where we are as a church – and where we’re headed.  We’ll start at 30,000 feet and then land in our 1 John passage for today.

As a church we are “rebooting” theologically.  What does that mean?

First of all, it does NOT mean we are changing our doctrinal statement.

What it DOES mean is that we intend to be Christ-centered, or gospel-centered, in all our preaching and teaching.[1]  There are two basic reasons for this:

  1. Not only is the gospel of Jesus Christ necessary for our salvation, but the gospel is also essential for our growth (or sanctification) in Christ.[2]
  2. (How does that happen?) A Christ-centered, or gospel-centered approach will focus more on what Christ has done, than on what we should do.

We believe that the Westminster Assembly got it right in 1646 with the Westminster Shorter Confession of Faith when they determined the “chief end of [humankind] is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  Or, as John Piper has said, “to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever.”

Where we’re headed (See the bulletin insert):

3 Summits scheduled 6-weeks apart to reaffirm values, mission, and vision in preparation for calling a permanent pastor.

The first one is Sat, Jan 14th from 9am-1pm.  A working lunch and childcare will be provided.

If you’re 13+, we’d like for you to be there.  Sign-ups start today.

Sign-up sheet – or email Beth in the office.

**The more we accomplish in the next 6-7 months, the higher caliber pastor we will attract to SBF.

Next week in the bulletin we will provide you with a calendar of the significant events for Jan-Jun of 2012.  This will include:

  1. The 3 Summits
  2. At least 3 Concerts of Prayer where we will gather as a congregation – both to learn more about prayer and to pray.  These will also include extended times of worship.
  3. And regular Sunday morning updates to keep everyone informed on what is happening (twice a month).

In Sept we embarked on a study of 1 John.  Today marks our 13th week.

Why study 1st John?  As we have been saying – the gospel of John was written that we might believe while 1 John we written that we might know.

Assurance is the key theme of 1 John.  There are two parts to this assurance:

1.  The first is an objective assurance that Jesus (and Christianity) are true.  Jesus claimed to be God.

  • Jn 14:9 – Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
  • Jn 10:33 – We’re stoning you “for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
  • Mark 14:61b-62   [61b] – “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’  [62] ‘I am,’ said Jesus.”
  •  Luke 22:66-70  [66] – “At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them…[70] They all asked, ‘Are you then the Son of God?’  He replied, ‘You are right in saying I am.’”
  • In 1 John 1:1 he reminds his readers that he was an eye-witness of Jesus – he beheld Him with his eyes and touched Him with his hands and refers to Jesus as “the Word of Life.”
  • Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or He was telling the truth (trillema).  John is asserting in this letter that Jesus and Christianity are true (objective assurance).

2.  The second aspect of assurance John is speaking to is the subjective assurance of our own standing in Christ.

To use John’s language of what it means to be a Christian…

  • To have been born of God
  • To know God
  • To live in God
  • To enjoy an intimate personal communion with Him – which John says, is eternal life.

On Thur we sent out an eNEWS that quoted 19th century British theologian and pastor J.C. Ryle, who said:

Another way to describe assurance is assured hope.

  • A person may have saving faith in Christ, and yet never enjoy an assured hope.
  • To believe and have a glimmering hope of acceptance is one thing, to have delight and joy and peace in our believing — and to abound in hope, is quite another!
  • S/He that has faith does well.  But s/he that has assurance does far better — sees more, feels more, knows more, enjoys more.[3]

Last week (Gene) taught from 1 Jn 4:17-5:5 and made three excellent points:

  1. (vs. 4:17-18) Being perfected in love is a process.
  2. (vs. 4:19-21) People are in your life for a purpose (i.e., conflict can be redemptive).
  3. (vs. 5:1-5) Passion for God’s presence prepares the heart to obey.

Today we will look at the most difficult passage in 1 John – 5:6-13…

II.  BODY

John draws some very clear lines in this passage (as he has throughout the letter): v.12 – “S/He who has the Son has the life; s/he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” John is saying that it is infinitely important for us to know if we have the Son. (We would do well to remember Ryle’s point: A person may have saving faith in Christ, and yet never enjoy assurance.)

Then in v.13 John writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.” (2-fold assurance)

There are two words I’d like to look at more closely today from v.13, asking the questions, 1) What does it mean to believe? And 2) What does it mean to know?

1.  What does it mean to believe?

  • The Greek word is the verb pisteuō (from the same root as the word for faith) and occurs about 250 times in the NT. Matthew uses the word 10 times, Mark 10, Luke 9, John’s Gospel 99 times – and 9 times in 1 John.
  • Now I have both bad news and good news for you…
    • The bad news is that not all belief is saving belief.
    • Look with me at John 2:23-25: Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.
    • There is evidently a belief that does not save us.
    • James 2:19 – …the demons also believe…
    • Paul exhorts the church in Corinth to, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor 13:5).
    • This is the kind of examination that John is referring to in 1 John 5:12-13.

In 1859 a French tightrope walker named Charles Blondin, became the first person to cross 160 feet above Niagara Falls on a tightrope.  He walked several times – back and forth. The large crowd gathered and a buzz of excitement ran along both sides of the riverbank. The crowd “Oooohed!” and “Aaaaahed!” as Blondin carefully walked across one dangerous step after another.  One trip across he was blindfolded and pushing a wheel-barrow. Upon reaching the other side, it’s said that the crowd’s applause was louder than the roar of the falls! Blondin suddenly stopped and addressed his audience: “Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?” The crowd enthusiastically shouted, “Yes, yes, yes. You are the greatest tightrope walker in the world. You can do anything!” “Okay,” said Blondin, “Who will get in the wheelbarrow??”  No-one did!

    • To merely give intellectual assent does NOT save us.
  • So, what’s the good news?  The good news is that there is a belief that does save.
    • To “believe” means the active acceptance of the message about Jesus.
    • This means there is a surrender, or active ongoing submission to Jesus…
    • This is the kind of belief, or faith, that 1 Jn 5:5 is speaking about: “Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (He who gets in the wheelbarrow.)

2.  What does it mean to know? (1 Jn 5:13 John writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.”)

  • The Greek word is echō.  It speaks of a joining – like a marriage.
  • This question takes us back to 1 Jn 5:7-8: “For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”
  • These are the verses that have confounded biblical scholars… Theologians refer to this verse as the “Johannine Comma.” And most commentators agree that it is some form of Trinitarian reference.  Matthew Henry, the 18th century devotional commentator, simply refers to this verse as, “a trinity of heavenly witnesses.”

Let’s consider each one:

  1. The (Holy) Spirit testifies.
  • Turn to Roms 8.  This chapter is about life in the power of the HS.
  • Let’s begin in v.15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
  • Here’s a test/quiz to see if you know…
    • What grip does fear have on your life?
    • When you suffer, do you turn TO God, or AWAY from God?  Do you turn TO God’s people, or turn AWAY from God’s people?
    • Prov 18:1 – “S/He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom.”

2.  What is the “water and the blood”?

  • Some scholars think the water is a reference to the birth of Jesus and the blood is a reference to His death on the cross.
  • Look at John 19:34-35: “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he [John] who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.”
    • Jesus suffered from hypovolemic shock (low blood volume) during his beatings – and when he fell while carrying the cross…
    • This hypovolemic shock causes fluid to gather in the sack around the heart and around the lungs.
  • Others have speculated that the water and blood are references to the sacraments of baptism and communion.

III.  CONCLUSION

  1. What’s the bottom line?  Is your belief a saving belief?  Have you gotten in the wheelbarrow?  This is the objective response that John is looking for.
  2. To use Paul’s language from Romans 8:15-16, is there a “spirit of adoption” resident in your heart?  Has, “the Spirit Himself testified with your spirit that you are a child of God”?  This is the subjective response that John is looking for.

This is how the gospel works for our sanctification…We are well aware of our depravity AND we have a growing witness and testimony of our Heavenly Father’s sovereign call ON our lives and transforming presence IN our lives.


[1] Someone has said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

[2] Justification (declared righteousness) and Sanctification (growing in righteousness), the process of sanctification must flow out of the reality of justification.

[3] Adapted from the essay Faith and Assurance by J. C. Ryle.