Question: Some people, to show their love towards Jesus, physically hurt themselves. Is this correct…or should we…only fast?
Answer: I think I know what you mean, do you mean like people do in the Philippines, whipping themselves and getting crucified? Obviously, this is wrong and contrary to Scripture. However, there are other things people do also to their bodies, to hurt themselves in order to try to gain favor with God.
Maybe you have heard how Martin Luther climbed up the stairs in Rome on his knees, thinking he could earn favor with God for his salvation. Here is a little of his story how he tried to merit salvation by works:
“He [Martin Luther] went, as was the custom with Roman pilgrims, to the great sacred stairs [in Rome]. Up near the Lateran Church, the real mother church of Roman Catholicism, these stairs were set, leading to a room containing relics of the saints. Roman tradition told Luther the steps were those up which Jesus had walked the night He appeared before Pilate. Pope Leo IV had granted an indulgence of nine years for every step, and there were twenty-eight steps.
“For centuries the devout in the Catholic faith have climbed these steps, with the proper prayers in their hearts and on their lips, believing in the benefits their church offered for this action. Luther was among them in this belief. He had walked the great pathway of penitence for five years now, and this was a kind of climax.
“…This story, which Paul [Luther’s son] heard at eleven years of age and carried in his memory for thirty-eight years… and the sermon of his father tell us what Luther thought as he reached the top of those steps—
“Preaching in Wittenberg the year before his death, Martin told of some experiences in Rome and related how, as he had reached the top of the stairs, a doubt regarding the power of the practice had come into his mind. ‘Who knows whether this be true?’ he had thought.”
“Luther had read the great Pauline testimony to faith. Bernard and Augustine had died in the pure faith and told Luther so. Staupitz and others had pointed him that way, and the whole trend of his purest Catholic tradition was to turn to the prayer of faith and away from the superstitious confidence in ‘good works.’
“His mind was keen. He had studied these things intently for years, and he well may have felt the hollowness of this action—especially in view of the impossibility that these steps were true relics. (Heroes of the Faith Martin Luther by Edwin P. Booth)
Martin Luther later received Christ as his personal Savior and almost ended up giving his life for his belief in salvation by faith alone. Many Christians know the famous words of Luther who said with great passion:
“MY CONSCIENCE IS CAPTIVE TO THE WORD OF GOD…HERE I STAND, I CAN DO NO OTHER.”
“And then we are reminded of what Luther based his faith on from the Word of God and that was this phrase—“The just shall live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4b, Hebrews 10:38a)
That brings me back to the topic at hand, “Some people, to show their love towards Jesus, physically hurt themselves…is this correct…should we do that or else should we only fast?”
Even though we are told to deny ourselves and to take up our cross daily, nowhere in the Bible are we told to hurt our bodies to show that we love Jesus.
Yes, we are told that we should fast, but beyond this we are not to destroy our temples, our bodies. “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Matthew 6:16-18
There is a vast difference between giving up certain foods or pleasures and hurting ones body physically. When someone takes a whip to ones own back or has other people do this, it is not of God. Of course, Christians have always suffered persecution, but that is not something they wanted to happen or did they desire it. Persecution comes with being a Christian and is to be expected. “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” 2 Timothy 3:12
We want to deny ourselves in many ways, but this does not mean that we should destroy our body temple. 24 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?’” Matthew 16:24-26
Here we see that it is worldly things that we are to give up, it is not talking about hurting our bodies. In fact, we are told that if we defile our bodies God will destroy us or in other words allow our bodies to die prematurely. 16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Again our salvation is a free gift of God and there is nothing we have to do by way of good works to receive it. 8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10
23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 So our faith is in the Lord Jesus Christ, and we should not hurt our bodies thinking this in some way will help us to be saved or in anyway impresses Jesus.
We shouldn’t hurt our bodies to show that we love Jesus. We need to follow His commandments that are found in the Word of God and this will show Him that we love Him!
23 “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. 24 “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” 1 John 3:23, 24
I hope this helps,
Gary T. Panell
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