Asceticism? No Way!
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
John 17:15a (Holman) “I am not praying that You take them out of the world, . . .”
Due to the difficulty of living a Godly life in an immoral world, believers often wish they could escape their environment. But Jesus prayed we would not be taken out of the world. Why would He desire hardship for His followers?
One, living in the world helps us appreciate God’s grace more. We daily see the devastation sin causes in people’s lives. When we learn to view them through spiritual glasses, we regularly see what we might have been were it not for Jesus.
This world is providing us much we will talk about in Heaven. Sailors tell of storms survived; soldiers speak of battles fought. Our troubles here will be the talk of Heaven. We will tell how Jesus gave us overcoming power.
A winner’s crown awaits us, but it would be meaningless without a true gauntlet. Only real struggles can make us appreciate real conquests. Thus, God does not remove from temptations their attractiveness, nor does He disarm Satan of his fiery darts. God doesn’t even quench all the flammable material in our heart.
Our struggles here will make Heaven more pleasing to us. Security is most appreciated by people long exposed to insecurity. No Heaven could be better than a Heaven preceded by troubles. Earth’s toil will make Heaven’s rest sweeter.
Two, we are left on Earth because Jesus is already with us here. We don’t have to die or go into seclusion to be with the Lord. Christ came into our world. Therefore we don’t have to go out of the world to meet Him.
Some imagine if they could shut themselves off from sinners and live in isolation they could be more devoted to God and serve Him better. But living alone is not the best way to follow Jesus.
Evil is rooted in us. It proceeds from our heart. Even when in solitude, we still retain our heart, and therefore, evil is with us. The ultimate issue is not to get believers out of the world, but to get the world out of believers.
A man once decided he could live without sin if he lived alone. Secluded in an isolated place, he said, “Now I shall live in peace.” Within minutes he spilled a water pitcher and cursed. Realizing the folly of his plan, he returned to society.
Let’s not try to escape our contact with the world. The Lord is with us now. He will give us the overcoming power we need in the midst of a sinful culture.
Three, Jesus leaves us here because unbelievers need us. If He removed us as soon as we were saved, He would be removing from the world its best blessings. There could be no conversions to Christ if Christians were taken from the world.
Believers are the light of the world, the salt of the earth. We can be light only as we penetrate the night of a dark world, and salt only if we touch what is to be preserved. Our brightening and antiseptic qualities are useless at a distance.
The fulfillment of the Law is to love God, and love our neighbor as ourself. We cannot achieve the second command in isolation. From a distance we cannot bind up the broken hearted, help the feeble, strengthen the weak, or win the lost.
Peter wanted to stay on the Mount of Transfiguration, but work needed to be done in the valley. A dying, dark world needed help. Peter had to descend the mount, live some 36 years more, and travel many weary miles to bless this world.
The world needs believers. It would be disastrous for unbelievers if we were taken away. A nineteenth century lawyer went to the wild west to settle, boasting he would locate where there were no churches, Sunday Schools, or Bibles.
He found a place, but within a year wrote to a former classmate, a minister, begging him to come west, bring Bibles, begin preaching, and start a Sunday School. He explained he had “become convinced a place without Christians and Sabbaths and churches and Bibles was too much like Hell for any living man to stay in.”
If ever tempted to wonder why we are still here, look around. Do you see children or grandchildren away from God? Wake up! We are here for them.
Maybe no other person will pray earnestly and regularly for their salvation. We may be their only hope. Wish not to go on, but to stay here and win others.
Believers need to stay in the world as long as we can in order to win as many as we can. May we rest in peace only when we have won all we are meant to win. Our interaction with unbelievers is a prime reason for our continued existence here.
Four, God leaves us in the world to fight the enemy, to oppose Satan and his evil strategies on his home turf. Our purpose is not ease, but to fight in such a way as to win victories in an ungodly world. In this way, we honor God.
The transgressors we regularly interact with can actually be a blessing in disguise. They help keep us “on our toes” and “on our knees” before God. They should be for us a powerful motivation to stay clean, to be an example for them.
Holiness matters most. Live a holy, clean, impeccable life before the world. This in itself often keeps a constant barrage on a sinner’s resistance against God.
In an evil world, a Godly example is a powerful attraction. It proves a spiritual power source is available that can help people live victoriously here.
Christianity was meant to be not a vehicle whereby people escape from the world, but a strength to enable them to live better in society. Nevertheless, believers often try to escape the world in order to belong to a holy huddle.
Asceticism is a selfish desire for exemption from troubles. It is escapism, shrinking from contact with the world, cowardly running from temptations.
We must never wash our hands of the world. Christ’s relationship with the world should be our pattern. He entered sinful human society, and lived in it. He loved its inhabitants, lived for them, preached to them, and died for them.
Our task is not to seek pillows of ease in a world where Jesus had no place to lay His head. We must interact with the same world Jesus entered and engaged.
Israel unwisely built walls of isolation around itself. The nation thought this would keep them clean. Instead, they stagnated. Our spirituality is kept vital by a burning desire to touch and influence the lost. This unselfish attitude freshens us.
At times we get frustrated with unbelievers and want to quit trying to bless them. We all sometimes want to wear a crown without taking up a cross, to win without running, to conquer without fighting. Jesus upended this wimpy sentimentality by praying, “I am not praying that You take them out of the world.”
Jesus offered us not an easy victory, but a victorious warfare. Jesus did not pray that we would escape; He prayed we might win. Consider every wish to abandon the fight as a disappointment to the Master.
We are not the first to be discouraged in this war. Many before us have struggled. In exasperation Moses requested to die (NB 11:15). Job (3:1-26) and Jeremiah (20:14) became so discouraged that they cursed the day of their births.
David longed for wings like a dove so he could fly away and be at rest (PS 55:6). Jonah (4:3) prayed, “Please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Elijah cried, “I have had enough! Lord, take my life” (I K 19:4).
God has never encouraged attitudes like this. In fact, none of the above had their prayers answered as they desired. Interestingly, Elijah never died at all!
There is no heroism in praying, “I’m tired of life, God, let me out of here!” It reveals impatience with the yoke Jesus has placed on our shoulders.
A saint’s highest desire should not be to rest from labor. This attitude is a thinly veiled disguise for wanting rest without labor. Don’t desire to abandon the world; desire to win it.
Don’t yearn to get out of Earth in order to get into Heaven. Instead, desire to stay here in order to get more of Heaven into Earth.
In a rough, sinful world we must live out our Christianity. Until the God-ordained time and place for our separation from this world happens through death, we must pray, read the Bible, worship together, avoid sin, and win the lost.