If you have read the Bible, you’ve probably come across it. It’s mentioned about 75 times. Maybe you’ve even tried to it. But what is it?
Some testify to the miraculous results of this ancient practice. Others just skip over it, an impossible practice that is for “major league” Christians. And still others may be confused by the whole thing, or practice it for the wrong reason(s).
In Matthew 6:16–18, fasting for the wrong reason is what Jesus is targeting. Still, his words are not just relevant for his first century context; they also teach us important truths about denying ourselves and seeking God’s reward.
The truth is, everyone fasts every week, but I suspect most of us don’t think of it as fasting. Yet, how we deny ourselves and indulge ourselves is one of the most important things about who we are and who we are becoming.
Therefore in this week’s sermon I sought to answer a number of questions related to fasting and how Jesus’s words instruct all of us how to tune our fasting to seek the reward of knowing God. You can listen to this sermon online. Further resources about fasting can be found below, along with a few discussion questions. Continue reading →
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret;
and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
— Matthew 6:16–18 —
This Sunday our church comes to Jesus’s words about fasting in Matthew 16:16–18. In preparation, I have read many commentaries and articles on the subject, but one question lingers: How does the new covenant impact fasting?
I am not sure. While the Bible regularly talks about fasting, most of the occurrences are found in the Old Testament. And while every word of Old Testament is useful for our instruction, I wonder how fasting relates to the covenants? Or to turn it the other way, is there a difference between fasting under the Law and fasting under the Gospel (i.e., the Law fulfilled)? Could that explain the difference in emphasis? That is what I will try to answer below. Continue reading →
If you are not familiar with the Bible’s prescribed disciplines for spiritual growth, or you are and have not read his enlightening book, I cannot commend it enough. In the meantime, if you would like a primer on the disciplines or a refresher for why they are so important, take 30 minutes (or 5 seven-minute segments) to listen to his answers to these five questions. (I’ve included a teaser quotation from each interview). Continue reading →
A few weeks ago, I preached on the fourth beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt 5:6). Jesus words call attention to the fact that those who will be righteous will first hunger and thirst because of their lack of righteousness.
In my sermon, I spoke about three kinds of people:
those who are self-righteous and boast of their good works;
those who are unrighteous and boast in their unrighteousness;
and those who are unrighteous but long to be righteous.
I argued that only the third kind of person will be justified. The self-righteous can be humbled and the unrighteous can be convicted, but only when the Spirit grieves us about the sin in our lives, will we call upon the Lord in faith and in turn be satisfied with God. (The Spirit, of course, does far more than convict us of sin—he also illumines our mind (2 Cor 2:14-16), regenerates our hearts (Titus 3:5), enables belief (Gal 5:22-23), etc.—but in work or redemption, genuine grief for sin is necessary).
With desiring righteousness in mind, I urged our congregation to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Theologically, I know that such hunger and thirst is a gift from God, but I also know that hunger and thirst can and should be cultivated in the hearts of those who have been born again. Therefore, here are six ways that you can grow in your hunger and thirst for righteousness. These six steps towards cultivating righteousness did not make it into the sermon itself; the rest of which you can listen below.
Cultivating Your Appetite for Righteousness
1. Read Scripture. If you don’t hunger for righteousness, read the Word. That’s why it’s there. The Spiritual man lives on God’s word, because the Word of God created that man’s spiritual life. Just the same, hunger for righteousness comes from the Word. If you don’t feel hungry, sit down with the Bible and watch how God renews your appetite.
2. Pray. Ask God for a greater appetite. If you read Paul’s prayers, it will not take long before you realize that he doesn’t pray the way we do. Though he’s in prison and afflicted with physical pain, his prayer requests are always centered on the Word. Likewise, when he prays, he prays that his spiritual children would have spiritual power to perceive the beauty and glory of the gospel of grace. We should pray for this too . . . pray that God gives you stronger affections for his righteousness. God will never reject the saint who prays for this.
3. Spend time around people who will make you hunger for God and his Word.This can be done through good books, through friendships with people who love God, know his word, and speak the truth to you in love. A couple weeks ago, my wife and I took day away to attend the THINK Conference at College Park Baptist Church. John Piper was the speaker, and he spent four hours teaching through the text of Philippians. It was glorious. But what caused hunger & thirst in my soul was not his Bible teaching . . . it was his Scripture memory. He opened his first session quoting the whole book, and it urged me again to keep working on Bible memorization.
4. Meditate on Christ’s return and the satisfaction you will have when he returns. I cannot tell you how many times the thought of Christ’s return has given me strength to say ‘no’ to ungodliness. By meditating on the glories of the new creation, and the beauty of Christ, I have found strength to say no to sin, by means of choosing the greater pleasure of knowing God. There is no greater way to crucify the flesh, than to ponder the satisfaction of knowing God. Meditating on Christ is one of, if not the, greatest tools for fighting sin. Feed yourself on him, and you will have little appetite for unrighteousness.
5. Fast. No, that’s not an imperative to run your life at breakneck speed. Just the opposite, it is the call to pull away from the world and your bodies demand for food. We fast in order to quicken our senses for spiritual need. Just as we eat food when we are hungry, we fast so as to be more aware of the appetites in our life. Fasting cultivates a hunger for God and fasting reveals those created things which are most idolatrous to us. If you are struggling to hunger and thirst for righteousness, God has a specific medicine—fasting! I don’t do this well; I need to do it better.
6. Feast on the Lord’s Supper.Now this is a little bit curious, because when we come to the Lord’s supper most of us are hungry. In our church at least, the Lord’s Supper comes near the lunch hour or just before dinner (when we observe communion at night). In those moments, most people with normal sized appetites are looking for more than a wafer & shot glass of juice. Therefore, it may seem odd to “feast” on the Lord’s Supper. What does that mean?
Simply this: When you come to the table, you are not coming for the wafer and the shot glass. No, if you have eyes of faith, you see through these things to the Lord Jesus who satisfies your soul. He is the Bread of Life; the Living Water. His blood is the wine that quickens our hearts. He is our portion and our prize. Believers don’t come to him because they “have to.” We come to the table because we love him, and we hunger and thirst for him, his kingdom, and his righteousness. For those who know the Lord, the Lord’s Supper is a feast for your faith, even as we await the Wedding Banquet, where Christ will satisfy us in soul and body.
Surely, there are more ways to cultivate a hunger and thirst for righteousness. What would you add?
May God be gracious to us to give us an appetite for righteousness, and may he increase our hunger and thirst for him, that he might satisfy us now and forever.