Should A Christian Fast?

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Hi C____,

Thank you for your question about fasting.

The first time fasting is mentioned in scripture, it is in connection with the law given to Moses.

Exo 34:28 And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

Moses and Christ “did neither eat bread nor drink water” for “forty days and forty nights.” Such fasting for such an extended period would literally kill most modern men. Nowhere else in scripture are we ever told of anyone fasting for so long.

The next time fasting is mentioned is in connection with the holy days of the old covenant. The ‘day of atonement’ was a day of “fasting and afflicting your soul.”

Lev 23:27 Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD.

David fasted when his son, born of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba the wife of Davids trusted captain Uriah, became sick. David had killed Uriah in order to take his wife for himself. God of course knew what evil was in David’s heart. So God sent Nathan to David to tell him that the child born of this adultery would not live. When David heard this he began fasting, hoping God would have mercy on the child. God took the life of David’s child in spite of the fact that David was fasting. Then David ended his fast.

2Sa 12:22 And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?
2Sa 12:23 But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

David’s fasting did not impress God and certainly did not cause Him to change His mind. David’s fasting was profitable to David because it was an acknowledgment of the need to afflict his soul. Had David denied the desires of his soul when his soul was originally lusting after another man’s wife, this would have been a much grander offering to God than to fast after the battle against the flesh had been lost.

So what did Christ mean when He responded to those who were comparing His disciples to John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees?

Luk 5:33 And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?
Luk 5:34 And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?
Luk 5:35 But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.

Now notice what Christ connects with this statement about when His disciples would fast:

Luk 5:36 And [“And,” meaning continuing the thought about when His disciples would fast] he spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old.
Luk 5:37 And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish.
Luk 5:38 But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.
Luk 5:39 No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.

Here Christ Himself is linking outward ritual fasting with the rituals of the old covenant. When Paul tells us that “the letter kills, but the spirit gives life,” he is telling us that no amount of outward ritual can in any way change you inwardly. Likewise when Christ tells us that “It is not that which goes into a man’s mouth, but it is that which comes from within the man, that which comes from the heart, this defiles the man,” He too, is telling us that no amount of outward ritual, including the outward observance of clean meats, the outward observance of holy days and sabbaths, the outward observance of circumcision, the outward observance of water baptism, the outward observance of tithing and yes, even the outward observance of fasting, will in no way contribute to the spiritual maturity of the inward man. Anything that is outward and observed by men, is unproductive to the growth of the spirit.

I recently had a very able defender of the need to keep the law of Moses tell me, “The old wine really is better. Just ask any wine maker. He will tell you that old wine is better than new wine.” To this man these words of Christ, given in response to the question, ‘Why don’t your disciples fast?’ have no meaning whatsoever. These letter- of- the- law observers, do not even realize that what they are saying with such carnal arguments, is that a new garment is less desirable that an old worn out, ‘fading away,’ ‘vanishing,’ ‘disannulled,’ ‘done away’ with garment. How true is the warning of our Lord: “No man having drunk the old wine straightway desireth the new: for he saith [ to this very day], the old is better.” They do not realize that the holes in the old garment do not cover their nakedness. Yet they prefer the old and still to this day declare “The old is better.”

So while we have established that there is no longer any need for ritual fasting, and there never was any profit to fasting “to be seen of men;” Is there yet any time that one should fast and ‘afflict his soul?’

There are many examples of fasting in the new testament. Cornelius, the Roman centurion, whose house was the first Gentile home to receive the Holy Spirit, was fasting when the angel appeared to him and told him to send to Joppa for Peter. Paul and Barnabas fasted and prayed over each man they ordained as overseers of the churches they had established.

In defending his apostleship to the Corinthians Paul speaks of ‘fasting often:’

2Co 11:27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.

The last time chronologically fasting is mentioned in the New Testament is in Act 27. Paul is in the process of being delivered to Caesar, and the Lord has brought Paul and all on the ship with him to death’s door. They all, “276 souls,” have endured weeks of being tormented by the perception of being hopelessly lost at sea in the mist of a terrible storm:

Act 27:19 And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship.
Act 27:20 And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.

How many days?

Act 27:33 And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing.
Act 27:34 Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you.
Act 27:35 And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat.
Act 27:36 Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat.
Act 27:37 And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen souls.

Why, under such dire circumstances, would Paul tell these people to “be of good cheer?”

Act 27:22 And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship.
Act 27:23 For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve,
Act 27:24 Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.
Act 27:25 Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.

“All hope that we should be saved had been taken away.” All on board were fasting. I seriously doubt that their reason was ‘to be seen of men.’ Their very hope of life was taken away. They were ‘afflicting their souls’ and denying their flesh. To these lost souls their “bridegroom had been taken away from them.” Just as with the disciples of Christ, the outward circumstances seemed to be clear. Three and one half years of casting out demons, healing the sick and feeding thousands was all for nothing. Where was their Savior right now? “All hope that we should be saved was taken away.” This is the time to afflict one’s soul:

Luk 5:35 But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.

We might think that Paul’s faith was not being tried through all of this. How little do we understand the pulls of the flesh upon the Son of God Himself:

Mat 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

It seemed at that moment, even to our Savior Himself, that His ‘bridegroom had been taken away.’ Would the apostle Paul have had more faith than our Lord? No, Paul was given the assurance by the angel because he needed that assurance, to stand up under the circumstances that seemed to all 276 people on board that ship that “all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.” This is the experience not just of our Lord. Neither is this experience just for His apostles, like the apostle Paul. This experience of having “all hope that we should be saved… taken away” is common to all of God’s elect. It is a time for “afflicting our souls.” But let us never forget this Truth:

Joh 6:63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh [ and the suffering of the flesh] profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.

The Words of Christ concerning ‘fasting’ and ‘afflicting your soul’ are as spiritual as any words of scripture. So what, in the final analysis, is the fast that God wants of us all? How would He have us to spiritually ‘afflict our souls?’ How spiritually should we ‘deny ourselves… and die daily’ to the things of the flesh?

Isa 58:4 Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
Isa 58:5 Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
Isa 58:6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free and that ye break every yoke?
Isa 58:7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Isa 58:8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.

There it is. “This is the fast that I have chosen…” This is the fast that God really wants. This is “a day for a man to afflict his soul.” This is the ‘fast’ that God would prefer for either David or for us. And what is this spiritual fasting and affliction of the soul?

“… This is the fast that I have chosen. To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke! … To deal bread to the hungry… bring the poor that are cast out into your house… when you see the naked, you cover him… and hide not yourself from your own flesh.”

Is this the ‘fasting’ we hear of from the ministers of orthodox Christianity? Do they not do the exact opposite in every case? Are they not strengthening the bands of wickedness by telling God’s people to participate in the affairs of this age? To physically fight for God and country? To physically kill their enemies whom Christ has said we should love? Do they not strengthen the bands of wickedness with their doctrine of man’s free will, denying the sovereignty of a God who “works all things after the counsel of His Own will?” Who plainly tells us “You did not choose me, I have chosen you?”

Instead of “undoing the heavy burdens, letting the oppressed go free and breaking every yoke,” do they not increase the burden of those in their charge with their blasphemous doctrines of everlasting, unending, eternal torture in real flames of literal fire for the vast majority of the human race of all time? This in spite of the fact that we are told that “Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world” (1Jn 2:2). Instead of letting the oppressed go free and breaking every yoke, do they not place those in their charge under the unscriptural doctrines of observing days months times and years, paying tithes on their net incomes, binding burdens of ‘voluntary service,’ upon them which serves only to increase the physical wealth of those who should be their spiritual servants?

Just last night I witnessed an NBC documentary on pastor Benny Hinn in which Mr Hinn refused to allow an audit of his ministry’s finances. Pastor Hinn knows full well how obvious it would be that he places burdens on the hearts and finances of those he claims to serve, while he, himself, and his family and friends live a lifestyle that any king on this earth would envy. And Benny Hinn is by no means the exception to this twisting of the truth that “they who preach the gospel, should live of the gospel.” While “The Son of Man may have nowhere to lay His head,” many of today’s ‘men of God’ have multiple mansions where they occasionally ‘lay their heads.’ The rest of the time their heads are reclining in the beds of the most luxurious motels and hotels the world has to offer. “Live of the gospel” has been twisted into ‘Live in luxury of the gospel.’ The blatant gaudiness of clothes and stage furnishings testifies to the truth:

Rev 3:17… Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.

So should a Christian fast? If your sole purpose is to ‘afflict your soul’ and deny your own selfish desires, the answer is yes you should fast. There is a time in the walks of all Christians when physical fasting has a place. But for those who are able to receive it, the fast that God prefers is outlined in the scriptures given above. In the final analysis there is nothing you can do physically and outwardly that will improve you spiritually and inwardly. Physical fasting is something that should be known only to God. Spiritual fasting is something that, “like a city on a hill, cannot be hid.” This is the fast that God has ordained for His elect:

Isa 58:7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Isa 58:8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.

I hope this has answered your question to your satisfaction. I have placed the emphasis where I see it placed in scripture.


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