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Summary: This is a Bible Study on some of the different ways the Church can withdraw from a missional focus and develop into a closed group of believers.

THE TEMPTATION TO ASCETICISM

MATTHEW 17:1-9

LET’S BEGIN BY A DEFINITION OF WHAT ASCETICISM IS.

NOUN

1. THE MANNER OF LIFE, PRACTICES, OR PRINCIPLES OF AN ASCETIC.

2. THE DOCTRINE THAT A PERSON CAN ATTAIN A HIGH SPIRITUAL AND MORAL STATE BY PRACTICING SELF-DENIAL, SELF-MORTIFICATION, AND THE LIKE.

3. RIGOROUS SELF-DENIAL; EXTREME ABSTINENCE; AUSTERITY.

SOME PEOPLE VIEW SELF-MUTILATION AS A FORM OF ASCETICISM, USING PAIN TO DENY THEM PLEASURE.

ASCETICISM IS NOT A RETREAT FOR A SHORT TIME. IT IS A PRO-LONGED WITHDRAWAL FROM PEOPLE.

A TIME OF RETREAT CAN BE VERY PROFITABLE TO A CHURCH. IT CAN ALLOW IT’S MEMBERS A TIME OF CONCENTRATED TEACHING, AND CAN LEAD TO A DEEP ENCOUNTER WITH EACH OTHER AND WITH GOD.

JESUS WOULD OFTEN HAVE TIMES OF RETREAT WITH HIS DISCIPLES FOR THIS PURPOSE. THE PASSAGE HERE IN MATTHEW IS ONE SUCH TIME.

ASCETICISM IS A MUCH DIFFERENT KETTLE OF FISH. SELF-MUTILIATION IS RARELY PRACTICED NOW, BUT THE IDEA OF WITHDRAWING FROM THE WORLD, AND BEING IN TOUCH WITH THE WORLD IS WIDESPREAD. THE TRAP OF ASCETICISM IS THAT IT CAN BE SAID THAT WE ARE DOING THIS WITHDRAWAL FOR PROPER CHRISTIAN REASONS.

IS ASCETICISM SINFUL?

YES, BECAUSE IT HAS AS IT’S BASIS AS DOES MOST THINGS A CONCEPT OF PRIDE. THE INDIVIDUAL IS WITHDRAWING TO ESSENTIALLY BENEFIT THEMSELVES.

ASCETICISM MAKES US LIKE A SPONGE. WE WIND UP TAKING IN GREAT AMOUNTS OF INFORMATION AND EXPERIENCES, BUT DO NOT SHARE THEM WITH ANYONE. THEY ARE JUST FOR US. SELIFISHNESS IS THEREFORE A BYPRODUCT OF ASCETICISM.

EVENTUALLY, LIKE THE SPONGE WE WILL BECOME WATERLOGGED. A SPONGE CAN TAKE IN ONLY SO MUCH WATER BEFORE IT NEEDS TO BE WRUNG OUT, WE CAN ONLY TAKE IN ONLY SO MUCH INFORMATION, WITHOUT PROCESSING IT AND SHARING IT.

THE PASSAGE THAT WE ARE STUDYING TODAY IS AN EXAMPLE OF ASCETICISM.

“1 ¶ SIX DAYS LATER JESUS TOOK PETER AND THE TWO BROTHERS, JAMES AND JOHN, AND LED THEM UP A HIGH MOUNTAIN TO BE ALONE. 2 AS THE MEN WATCHED, JESUS’ APPEARANCE WAS TRANSFORMED SO THAT HIS FACE SHONE LIKE THE SUN, AND HIS CLOTHES BECAME AS WHITE AS LIGHT. 3 SUDDENLY, MOSES AND ELIJAH APPEARED AND BEGAN TALKING WITH JESUS. 4 PETER BLURTED OUT, “LORD, IT’S WONDERFUL FOR US TO BE HERE! IF YOU WANT, I’LL MAKE THREE SHELTERS AS MEMORIALS-ONE FOR YOU, ONE FOR MOSES, AND ONE FOR ELIJAH.’’ 5 BUT EVEN AS HE SPOKE, A BRIGHT CLOUD CAME OVER THEM, AND A VOICE FROM THE CLOUD SAID, “THIS IS MY DEARLY LOVED SON, WHO BRINGS ME GREAT JOY. LISTEN TO HIM.’’ 6 THE DISCIPLES WERE TERRIFIED AND FELL FACE DOWN ON THE GROUND. 7 THEN JESUS CAME OVER AND TOUCHED THEM. “GET UP,’’\ HE SAID. “DON’T BE AFRAID.’’\ 8 AND WHEN THEY LOOKED, THEY SAW ONLY JESUS. 9 AS THEY WENT BACK DOWN THE MOUNTAIN, JESUS COMMANDED THEM, “DON’T TELL ANYONE WHAT YOU HAVE SEEN UNTIL THE SON OF MAN HAS BEEN RAISED FROM THE DEAD.’’\”

WHAT CAN WE SAY ABOUT THIS EXPERIENCE?

IT WAS: INTENSE

PERSONAL

MEMORABLE

PRIDEFUL

WHEN A RETREAT IS PROPERLY OBSERVED IT WILL BE: MISSIONAL

BUILD PERSONAL COMMITMENT & TRUTH

LEAD TO EVANGELISM

PAUL SAID:

2 TIMOTHY 1:12: “THAT IS WHY I AM SUFFERING HERE IN PRISON. BUT I AM NOT ASHAMED OF IT, FOR I KNOW THE ONE IN WHOM I TRUST, AND I AM SURE THAT HE IS ABLE TO GUARD WHAT I HAVE ENTRUSTED TO HIM UNTIL THE DAY OF HIS RETURN.”

PAUL’S STATEMENT INDICATES A PROCESS BY WHICH HE DETERMINED FOR HIMSELF THE AUTHENTICITY OF CHRISTIANITY, AND MADE A CONSCIOUS DECISION TO GIVE HIS LIFE TO CHRIST. HE WAS PERSUADED TO BE COMMITTED. IT IS THROUGH THAT SAME TYPE OF PERSUASION THAT WE WILL BUILD THE KINGDOM OF GOD.

POINT ONE: THE TRAP OF ASCETICISM

LIKE MANY OF THE TRAPS OF SATAN, ASCETICISM COMES IN A BEAUTIFULLY WRAPPED PACKAGE. SATAN CAN WRAP THE TRAP OF ASCETICISM IN MANY THINGS, FAMILY, WORK, AND EVEN THE CHURCH.

CONSIDER THIS. ONCE YOU BECOME A CHRISTIAN, SATAN HAS NO MORE DOMINION OVER YOU. YOU ARE NOT HIS ANYMORE. HIS NEXT MOVE IS TO TAKE AWAY ANY VICTORY YOU CAN HAVE IN YOUR LIFE.

1 PETER 5:8 “STAY ALERT! WATCH OUT FOR YOUR GREAT ENEMY, THE DEVIL. HE PROWLS AROUND LIKE A ROARING LION, LOOKING FOR SOMEONE TO DEVOUR.”

HE THEN WANTS TO MINIMIZE YOUR IMPACT ON THOSE WHO DO NOT KNOW THE LORD. HE DOESN’T CARE IF YOU GO TO CHURCH, HE DOESN’T WANT YOU BRINGING ANYONE WITH YOU, WHEN YOU GO TO CHURCH. HE WANTS YOU TO BE SORT OF LIKE A “BUBBLE BOY”, SOMEONE WHO LIVES IN A PROTECTIVE BUBBLE AND DOES NOT HAVE ANY INTERACTION WITH ANYONE OUTSIDE THAT BUBBLE. THAT IS ASCETICISM. IF HE CAN KEEP ALL THE CHRISTIANS IN THE CHURCH, AND NOT BOTHERING THE REST OF THE PEOPLE WHO ARE HIS, THEN HE IS HAPPY AND ACCOMPLISHED HIS GOAL.

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