When the word “asceticism” is mentioned, what comes to your mind? If you live in Asia or ever visited, you may have images of Buddhist monks or even Hindu sadhu’s living a sort of frugal lifestyle. The east unlike the west probably has a better understanding of this concept, because in many ways it has been accepted as an alternate lifestyle.
V. Jayaram says the following about asceticism. “Traditionally, asceticism has been the recognised and widely approved means in Hinduism to achieve freedom (liberation). Even today it is the most effective and prescribed path for those who want to escape from the cycle of births and deaths. Ascetic traditions played an important role in the development of Hinduism and its spiritual knowledge. It is the heart and soul of Hinduism.” (www.hinduwebsite.com)
Asceticism means, according to Websters Online Dictionary: – practicing strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline.
Jesus was an ascetic. While Jesus was on this earth, he challenged his followers to deny themselves and not to store treasures for themselves here on this earth. Jesus said in Luke 9:58 “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Unlike Hinduism, Jesus does not advocate asceticism as a path to salvation as a way to find peace and salvation. But Jesus does promote asceticism as a way to protect our hearts from being captured by the love of this world (materialism). In Luke 9 (mentioned above) Christ is calling his disciples to treasure Him more than any other thing, person or relationship that this material world has to offer.
Anything we want, desire more than God, anything we rely on more that God, anything we look to for greater fulfillment than God, is in essence an idol. Christ is not in the businesses of sharing His glory. He will not tolerate hypocritical worship, and that is why He challenges his followers to make sure they count the costs, before they give themselves to Him. He wants disciples whose hearts are not divided. “Before you say you’re going to follow Me, make sure you know what that involves!”
So why then is this concept of Asceticism such a foreign, maybe even a shocking thought to so many professing believers? Did Jesus not clearly say that, “If any man come after Me, let him deny himself?”
Based on my experience, I think what it comes down to, is the question, what’s in it for me? Sadly many considering Christianity, often think what they can get out of this religion, especially in India where the reputation of rice Christian abounds. And that is why the prosperity gospel is so dangerous, because it entertains and feeds off this very selfish man centered attitude. The “prosperity gospel” teaches the very opposite that Jesus taught. It is a self-serving doctrine, rather than a self-denying lifestyle. This heresy teaches that God wants believers to be physically healthy, materially wealthy, and personally happy. Christians are further encouraged to focus on the blessings you want from God instead of focusing on God Himself. The blessings you’re hoping for become idols in your life, drawing your attention and worship away from God the Creator and toward your own desires – created things.
Instead of stressing the importance of wealth, the Bible warns against pursuing it. Believers, especially leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3:3), are to be free from the love of money (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus warned, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). In sharp contrast to the Prosperity preachers emphasis on gaining money and possessions in this life, Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). The irreconcilable contradictions between prosperity teaching and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is best summed up in the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:24, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”
The word mammon comes from a Syrian deity, god of riches. If we were to contextualize this verse, we could say “You cannot serve both God and Mahalaxmi.” Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity. Professing Christians would balk at the suggestion of worshiping God and a Hindu deity, but in reality under the guise of faith, so many churches today encourage their followers to pray to this created deity, even demand material blessings from this man made god of wealth. God has been reduced to a good luck charm, a spiritual genie we pray to when we want prosperity.
Creflo Dollar writes, “When we pray, believing that we have already received what we are praying, God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass. . . . It is a key to getting results as a Christian.” The key to getting results as a Christian is by fearing God and keeping His commandments, by denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Him, not by some special “mantra” or formula we use to “speak into existence a better reality”. The prosperity gospel teaches prayer is a tool to force God to grant your desires. Man—not God—becomes the focal point of prayer. This is not Christian, Hindu maybe, but certainly not biblical Christianity.
The pursuit of wealth is a dangerous path for Christians and one which God warns about: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim 6v. 10). If riches were a reasonable goal for the godly, Jesus would have pursued it. But He did not, instead he taught about self-denial, not self-satisfaction.
Simply put, this “prosperity gospel” is nothing more than a satanic philosophy designed to keep us worshiping created things rather than the Creator. The true gospel teaches that following Christ faithfully, means there is a crown at the end, but there’s a cross on the way. Self-Denial and persecution. The gospel is not about what’s in it for me or what do I get when I get Jesus, it’s about being willing to give up everything for the sake of Christ, for the sake of the gospel. Ask yourselves one simple question: “Is Jesus my treasure?” If He is your treasure then you won’t mind giving up anything and everything else that gets in the way of you worshiping Him supremely. If not, your heart is divided and he is not the treasure He ought to be. Repent of your sin, exalt Him rather than yourself, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Christ.
The real Gospel demands total devotion and offers complete forgiveness of sins. Jesus died to save us from the judgement of our selfish sins, not so that we can become prosperous. Have you been saved from your sins?