Frugality builds character

“I think frugality and a simple lifestyle are effective ways to cope, morally and psychologically, with the temptations of the modern consumerist world.”  Wise and timely words from Lee Wei Ling, Director of the National Neuroscience Institute, daughter of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, and a Christian.

Thank God she was able today to share her reflections in yesterday’s edition of The Sunday Times, page 31.  Lee goes on to add that “extravagant banquets, expensive wines, designer clothes shoes and handbags – all these things are wasteful.”  Perhaps not always, but they do indeed become “wasteful” when our expenditures on luxuries beyond our needs deprive us of true riches which can only be received through the spiritual disciplines of self-denial.  Lee thus quotes from Romans 5:3-4 to remind us how the Bible “commends suffering:”  “We glory in tribulation also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience, experience, and experience, hope.”

But we should also recall the preceding verse which reads, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.”  “Grace” is the big buzz word today; a true spiritual gem but is becoming more and more re-invented into a doctrine that calls believers to a life of self-indulgence rather than self-denial.  The marketing teams of this re-invented doctrine have forgotten that even greater than God’s grace is God’s love.

The Bible does not describe God as “grace,” but it does describe God as love.  God is love.  So in love God pours out His grace, to empower us not towards self-indulgence, but to self-denial.  He pours out His grace to enable us to deny our self, pick up our cross, and follow Jesus.  I say this without reserve:  if any man chooses to differ on this point— if any professing Christian chooses to differ on this point, he or she is not preaching the gospel of Jesus.  He or she is not preaching the gospel of grace.  He or she is rather cheapening the gospel of grace.  He or she is reinventing the gospel into something else than the gospel of Christ.

But the true doctrine of grace recognizes grace as a verb.  It is active and is flowing of God’s love.  Grace is God’s love flowing downward.  So when we are truly caught up in God’s grace, we too also naturally flow downward, and want to flow downward, because that is the true nature of God’s love.  We freely let go, and want to free give because we have been “graced” by God.  We have been “graced” by God because as Paul says in Romans 5:5, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts.”

Furthermore, a true doctrine of grace cheerfully proclaims that God gives us grace to sustain us when He then fully sends us into experiences of “tribulation.”          In His love, God even sometimes “deprives” of what we want.  He does so for our own good because as our Father He knows best what is good for us.  Lee therefore adds that “There is benefit to be derived from a certain degree of deprivation and even suffering.  Many of the things we like in excess are bad for us – for example, fatty meats, chocolates and alcohol.  Over and above denying ourselves such pleasures, outright suffering is not always bad, and in moderation, is good character training.”

Ms Lee finally concludes her reflection by saying, “I have been through a fair amount of suffering in my life mainly because of my health.  If I had been given a choice to be spared the experience, I would actually have chosen to go through it because suffering taught me lessons no teacher or book can ever teach me.  As the ancients of various traditions knew, tribulation worketh character.”  I hope that Ms Lee receives a greater platform to shares this truly Christian perspective towards suffering, self-denial, sanctification, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and following Jesus in His paths of spiritual discipline, which truly lead to spiritual transformation.


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