Fasting is an exercise in self-denial and self-discipline to abstain from food. Going without food or drink for any period of time is a form of fasting. “Breakfast” means to ‘break a fast.’
Many ancient pagans believed that demons could enter the body through food. When they felt they were under demonic attack, they would fast to prevent more evil spirits from gaining access to their bodies. In modern western society, fasting has become popular for purely physical and cosmetic reasons.
Legitimate fasting always had a spiritual purpose and is never presented as having any value in and of itself. The only fast commanded in Scripture is the one connected with the Day of Atonement. They were to ‘humble their souls’ (Lev. 16:29), a Hebrew expression including forsaking food as an act of self-denial. Fasting is shown to be an entirely non-compulsory, voluntary act, not a spiritual duty to be regularly observed.
Jesus spoke about fasting in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:16-18.
1. False Fasting (Matthew 6:16)
Fasting had become a ritual to gain merit with God and attention before men. Many Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12), usually on Monday and Thursday. They claimed those days were chosen because they were the days Moses made the two separate trips to receive the tablets of law from God on Mt. Sinai. But those two days also happened to be the amor Jewish market days, when cities and towns were crowded with farmers, merchants, and shoppers. They were the 2 days with the largest audiences.
2. Proper Fasting (Matthew 6:17-18)
Fasting is mentioned 30 times in the New Testament, almost always favorably. Fasting is normal and acceptable in the Christian life. Jesus assumes His followers will fast on certain occasions, but He doesn’t give a command or specify a particular time, place, or method.
Jesus’ disciples did not fast while He was with them because fasting is associated primarily with mourning or other ties of con suing spiritual need or anxiety.
Fasting is never shown in Scripture to be the means to heightened spiritual experience, visions, or special insight or awareness – as many mystics, including some Christians mystics, claim. Fasting is appropriate in this age because Christ is physically absent from the earth. But it is appropriate only as a response to to special times of testing, trial, struggle.
When is fasting appropriate?
- Times of sorrow (2 Sam. 12:16; Ps. 35:13)
- Overwhelming danger (2 Chron. 20:3; Esther 4:16)
- Penitence (Jonah 3:5,7)
- Beginning of an important task or ministry (Acts 13:2,3). d.
- Helps us share in others in need. Share what we might have eaten (or its cost) with the undernourished.
A person who fasts should do everything to make himself normal and do nothing to attract attention to his deprivation and spiritual struggle. The one who sincerely wants to please God will avoid trying to impress men. Fasting is not to be a display for anyone, including God. We can bluff a human audience and they can be taken in by our performances. But God is not mocked. We can’t deceive Him. God hates hypocrisy but loves reality.
I hope these thoughts helps you in your Christian journey. Fasting provides an opportunity to practice self-discipline to draw closer to Jesus Christ.
You can read my other Sermon on the Mount articles: Life Redefined: Sermons from The Sermon on the Mount.