Last night on ABC’s 20/20, Diane Sawyer reported a story on cloistered nuns and the sacrifices they make in order to live a life “married to Jesus Christ”, click here to read a brief explanation of the story on ABC’s website. Cloistered nuns take four vows, which can take up to nine years to affirm. The vows are of chastity, poverty, enclosure (or isolation from the world), obedience and in some cases a vow of silence. Some cloistered nuns even practiced flagellation (self beating, a form of penance), but that now is banned. See the Sisters of Carmel website as it details and describes the life of a monastic nun.

At first glance the life a monastic nun may appear noble and self-sacrificing, but is this what Christ desires from his followers? Is asceticism the answer? Colossians 2:20-23 addresses this question. “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” Jesus desires our hearts and as we fall deeper in love with him, our desire for the world should diminish. But Christ in not impressed with self-imposed rules of asceticism, to whatever degree we may take it. He is concerned with the condition of our hearts. Yes, we are commanded to take up our cross and deny ourselves( Matt. 16:24,25), but this is a process that God leads us through as we interact with the world and live our daily lives. When Jesus was on the earth he was among the people, he reached out to hurting and lost souls. The Great Commision commands us to “Go” out into the world and make disciples, Matt. 28: 16-20.

A natural consequence of loving the Lord and living for him is to shed the things of the world that cloud our hearts and keep us from true intimacy with him. Yes there may be things that we feel compelled to give up (ie secular music, smoking, drinking, swearing, or immodest dressing), but ultimately God desires a simple faith that flows from a heart that is fully devoted to him. We may even choose to give up things that distract us from him (ie TV, chocolate, movies, I even knew a guy who would not go at night because it gave an appearance of evil), but we need to ask ourselves if that is something that just makes us feel holier, or is it truly valuable for eternity? Is the cloistered nun’s denial of self really making her holier? Is it really and truly drawing her closer to God? Or is it just a self-imposed rule? Only God knows our hearts. Romans 12:1-2 sums it up perfectly: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer 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.”