Jesus doesn’t encounter people in the New Testament—or you or me—and ask, “What do you know?” He doesn’t even ask, “What do you believe?” He asks, “What do you want?” This is the most intimate and piercing question Jesus can ask because we are what we want.
Our wants and longings and desires are at the core of our identity, and our identity is the wellspring from which our actions and behavior flow. Our wants show what’s in our heart, that’s why Jesus is so insistent on transforming our wants and regenerating our hearts.
So discipleship—becoming like Jesus—is just as much a matter of hungering and thirsting as it is of knowing and believing. Jesus’s command to follow him is a command to align our loves and longings with his—to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is utmost in our needs and longings.
Fasting helps us immensely in this process. Fasting gives us the opportunity to die to self, and died to self is what Jesus asks of us. “If anyone comes after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24
When it comes to transformation, Jesus is not simply after our intellect, he is interested in empowering us to die to self, thereby transforming our deepest loves. He isn’t content to simply deposit new ideas into your mind; he is after nothing less than your wants, your loves, your longings. And this process takes a lifetime, through moment by moment re-alignment with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is after these things because it is what is ultimately good and best.
Here’s the process of transformation:
Conviction: This is when the word of God, your Christian community, a sermon, or the Holy Spirit exposes you of wrongdoing before God. The literal translation is “proving a person guilty of sin.” In Acts 2:37 it says, “They were cut to the heart” upon hearing the Word of God, and they immediately asked Peter, “What shall we do in response to what we have heard,” and Peter says, “Repent and be baptized.”
Repentance: A sincere turning from the sin you are proven guilty of. This often includes sorrow for, confession of, and where possible restitution. Repentance is the change of mind or heart that leads to a change of action.
Belief: Placing your faith and trust back in God as satisfier, savior and Lord. Seeing things the way God sees them. You know you "believe" when you are able to understand why a particular sin is wrong, and are willing to choose God's perspective at the cost of your own desires.
Obedience: Once you have God’s perspective on the subject, you by faith act on that perspective, even if it cost. Obedience is faithfully choosing to daily put belief into action. Obedience is saying “Yes” to God, it’s over and over again saying “Yes” to God.
All of this leads to your transformation, your changing into the likeness of Christ.
Your willpower will never change the actions of your heart. It can’t. We’re not strong enough. What changes you is the process of conviction - repentance - belief - obedience. When we give God access to change our heart, he will do the work of transformation and our actions will follow. This takes discipline and this takes a while.
Remember, the best way to escape conforming to this world is not by trying to be unlike the world, but by allowing the Holy Spirit to make us more like Christ. Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
As we start this 40 day journey of fasting, remember willpower isn’t the point. Experiencing God’s power is the point. Pulling back the layers of sin in our heart is what fasting allows us to do. And when the sin is exposed it should be our joy to repent and believe and transform.
Over the next 7 weeks through Lent we will be exploring these themes:
Joy in the Word of God
Joy in Multiplication
Joy Even in the Suffering
Joy in the Family of God
Joy in Seeing God Save
Bearing the fruit of transformational obedience is what your joy depends on, what your Christian community needs and what will make Jesus look so attractive to an unbelieving world.
Our prayer for our church is simple: Fasting would lead us to a deeper joy in Christ and a more powerful witness in the world. Evidence of a life changed is what no one can argue with, and it’s what God offers his people through the Spirit. Let’s take the offer. Let’s take on the joy of dying to self and see the joy of being transformed by Christ.