SHOULD A CHRISTIAN FAST?
January 1, 1986 Issue
by David A. Stands
In the past several years fasting has become a popular form of protest. Those who wish to publicize their opposing views to the world around them have proclaimed that they would not eat until certain wrongs are righted. To the world this is what fasting is all about. So the question for Christians today is, Should a Christian Fast? Is it scriptural to fast? And is fasting for today?
The truth is, many people in the Bible fasted. Moses fasted on mount Sinai in Exodus 34:28. According to I Samuel 1:7 Hannah fasted when she wanted a son from God. David fasted on several occasions. Many more examples of fasting are found in the Old Testament. But fasting is not just an Old Testament practice. Jesus fasted in the wilderness, Mt. 4. John the Baptist taught his disciples to fast, Mk 2:18, Lk 5:33. Some found fault with Jesus disciples for their failure to fast often, Mt 9:14,15. Cornelius fasted before his Caesarean vision, Acts 10:30. The church at Antioch fasted when they sent Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, Acts 13:3.
Fasting should be an important part of a Christian's life. Although we are never commanded to fast, "per se", it is very important for Christians to fast. I believe it is scriptural for Christians to fast, it is an act of faith. When we fast, we deprive ourselves of the desire to "eat", and in so doing we help build up our ability to overcome sinful desires of the flesh. I think we should understand that fasting is to be done to be seen of God and not man, Mt 6:16-18. Jesus was not condemning fasting, he was condemning those who were boasting of their fasting. Obviously, such is hypocrisy and would not be honoring to God.
WHY SHOULD A CHRISTIAN FAST?
When Jesus returned from the Mount of Transfiguration, a father approached the Lord concerning his son. The young boy was a lunatic, and on many occasions had harmed himself. The disciples had tried to rebuke the demon in the boy, but could not, Mt 17:14-21. Now, although we are not going about casting out demons anymore, I think we can understand that the Lord was telling us that "Prayer and Fasting" increases spiritual strength. That, to me, is what fasting is all about (that is gaining in our spiritual power.) Fasting disciplines the body and makes it a useful instrument to God. Paul writes in II Tim 2:21... "If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the masters use, and prepared unto every good work."
When we fast we determine that our god is not our belly, Philip 3:19. Fasting gives us victory over fleshly desires. Paul says in I Cor 9:27 "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." I am convinced that if you have a problem with a particular besetting sin, fasting, if done correctly can and will help you to overcome sinful desires. When you say "No" to your natural appetite (food), you are building up the willpower to say "No" to a fleshly appetite. Fasting builds your inner strength and diminishes the power of the flesh over you, Rom 6:12-16.
Before our Lord began his ministry on this earth, he set aside time to pray and fast. In chapter 4 of Mt. verse 2 we read, "And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered". Since Jesus was also human, he prepared himself to combat the desires of the flesh by fasting, and was victorious over the devil, Mt 4:1-11. The early church fasted before Paul and Barnabas went on a missionary journey. Acts 13:2-3... "As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. V3) And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away."
WHAT IS THE BIBLICAL
TEACHING FOR FASTING?
Lately there has been some confusion about fasting. Some women's magazines have suggested fasting for dieting. Others have advocated fasting to wash your intestines clean. A few people have done fanatical things when fasting. Of course none of these approaches to fasting represents the Bibles teaching on fasting. On the other hand, many preachers and teachers have said little or nothing about fasting. And many Christians have ignored fasting completely. Biblical examples of fasting teach us that it is totally refraining from food. The typical fast in the Bible did not involve abstinence from water. Although the account of Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9:9 says no drink. "And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink." This might be called a fast, but I don't think it was a typical fast. When Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, we read, "He was afterward an hungered". The scripture does not say anything about thirst. Most scholars of the Bible agree that Jesus drank water in the wilderness, but that he did not eat food.
I also find in God's word facts that included abstinence from sexual relationships between husband and wife. Paul writes in I Cor 7:5... "Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer;". Just as Christians abstain from the enjoyment of eating food, so may a married couple abstain from the joy of marriage. Paul exhorted, however, that when the fast is over the husband and wife are to "come together again, that Satan tempt you not, for your incontinency."
Often the fast in the Bible lasted only one day. It would range from sunset the first day until sunset the following day. A person would not eat the evening meal after the sun went down; nor would he eat throughout the daylight hours that would follow. Judges 20:26... "Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept and sat there before the Lord, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord." Judges chapter 20 teaches us that the children of Israel went up to the house of God in the evening and then fought the Benjamites during the day.
There are certain dangers associated with fasting. Perhaps this is the reason why no explicit commands regarding how often or how long we are to fast are given. There are physical dangers associated with fasting and we should be careful during the fast and not harm our body. Another danger of fasting is the problem of spiritual hypocrisy. In His sermon on the Mount Jesus warns, Mt 6:16... "Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward." Elsewhere Jesus pointed to the pride of the Pharisee who stood in the temple and thanked God that he was not as other men. The Pharisee boasted, in Lk 18:12 "I fast twice in the week...". When a person calls attention to his fast, he has missed the point of fasting. Fasting is not designed to get the eye of the world, but to get the eye and ear of God. It is to be a private matter between God and the Christian who is fasting. Brothers and sisters fasting must be done in the right spirit and for the right motives. Let us not be as Israel of old who said in Isaiah 58:3 "Wherefore have we fasted say they, and thou seest not? Wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?" The fact that Israel complained after fasting shows that they did not have the right spirit during the fast. They fasted out of the wrong motives.
Joel tells us that outward grief is not the reason that God honors a fast. A Christian must fast out of humility and sincere repentance. He writes in Joel 2:12-13... "Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness."
HOW TO FAST
Fasting is not merely abstaining from food. Many people do without food for health reasons, but they are not fasting, biblically speaking. Someone may miss a meal because they are too busy, but this is not fasting. Fasting involves prayer, repentance, and searching ones heart. Fasting involves the right motives and scriptural reasons. Isaiah described fasting as "afflicting ones soul". Fasting is to be done with a spiritual purpose in mind if it is to be a testimony to God. The Word of God does not tell us how often or how long we ought to fast. Nowhere are there specific commands. Yet this does not mean that fasting should be ignored. When one feels a need in his life to fast he should fast. I can only assume that since all Christians experience spiritual problems and difficulties, then all Christians should fast at some time. Remember fasting helps you build up your ability to say "No" to sin and "Yes" to God.
HOW TO BEGIN A FAST
1. Begin by Refraining From Food.
Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. The physical body is not capable of abstaining from water. We suggest drinking some liquids.
2. Begin by Repenting of Sin.
The Psalmist David wrote in Psalms 69:10... "When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach." If a Christian doesn't repent with the right attitude in his heart, his abstinence from food is useless. God warned in Jeremiah 14:12... "When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offerings and an oblation, I will not accept them". Repent and search out all of your sin. Make sure that you are in the proper relationship with God and that you are not holding back any "hidden sin" in your life. David said in Psalms 19:12... "Cleanse thou me from secret faults".
3. Begin by Prayer.
Paul taught us to "Pray without ceasing", certainly you should not commit yourself to fasting if you are not willing to commit yourself to periods of prayer during the fast. In II Chron 7:14 God says... "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land". During fasting, why not set aside several periods of the day when you can pray to God. Since you are not eating any meals, why not plan to spend that time in prayer. Ask the forgiveness of God and for cleansing from your sin. John writes in I John 1:9... "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Jesus says to "Ask", Mt 7:7, He said... "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find, knock; and it shall be opened unto you..." James 1:6... "But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed."
4. Begin by Reading Scripture.
When you fast you should double your study of God's word. Perhaps you could read one, two, three, or more books of the Bible. Maybe you could study specific subjects. Perhaps some sin, or sins, that you are trying to overcome. Yes "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God." Perhaps you could memorize key verses that will help you to overcome. David said in Psalms 119:11, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart that I might not sin against thee."
We recommend fasting to bring the body into submission. The key to spiritual victory is self-control. The key to self-control is the putting to death ones evil desires and thoughts. Fasting was designed to help you do that. During a day of fasting I challenge you to feed upon Jesus Christ and the Word of God. As Jesus said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." In John the 4th chapter, while the disciples were gone into Sycar to buy food, Jesus preached to a woman of Samaria at Jacobs well. Read John 4:25-34. No one had come and given him food, yet he said "I have meat to eat that ye know not of". The thing that satisfied the Lord was doing the will of his Father in Heaven, "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." (verse 34). As a result I do not believe that fasting is only giving up food for a season; but also a giving over of oneself to doing the will of God. If you are serious about overcoming sin (and certainly we all should be) try fasting.
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