WitnessForChrist 5  _ 2010

Should Christians Practice Fasting ?


In the midst of the fasting month of Ramadhan practiced by Muslims, question arises which is addressed to Christians: "Should Christians practice fasting or not?"

The origin of fasting command in the Old Testament is unclear, it is recorded that when Israel faced the Philistines they are urged to repent and fast (1Sem.7:6). Although not referred to as fasting, Moses didn’t eat or drink for 40 days (Ex.34:28). When Nehemiah heard the situation of Jerusalem, he prayed and fast (Neh.1:4). Joel told the people to repent and fast (Jl.2:12). There are also many other verses that show the practice of fasting in the OT.

In the New Testament practice of fasting is also mentioned. Jesus is recorded once as practicing fasting by not eat any food for 40 days (Matt.4:2) as a preparation to face temptations and tests. When Paul and Barnabas were sent to preach the gospel the others fast (Acts.13:3). Fasting is usually associated with repentance and is raised by a prayer in an effort to draw closer contact to God (1Kings.2:27; Psalm.35:13), or request for a miraculous power to fight the devil (Matt.17:21; Mark.9:29).

As with many things in the Torah where the spiritual meaning of the law is buried by what is outwardly appeared, so too with fasting. It was not practiced as an expression of repentance, but the people of Israel make it as claims to obtain something (Isa.58:3) so that God accepted (Isa.58:5). Fasting often downgraded as mere ritual ceremony without surrendering to God (Za.7:5), and becomes hypocritical behavior (Matt.16:6) to justify oneself (Luke.18:12).

Moses and Jesus fasted for 40 days not because of religious law, but as a time of preparation for facing temptation and test before they were sent in a heavy ministry. The background shown a mountainous desert atmosphere where food & drink are not available, and there was no hint that Jesus brought any food even though it was said that Jesus was simply 'not eat' (Matt.4:2).

Fasting in the practice of Torah Law of Israel has degenerated into legalistic habit in specific days, time, and in a certain way but has lost its meaning, therefore Isaiah strongly rebuked & emphasized the true meaning of fasting. He said the word of God:

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?(NIV, Isa 58:6-7)

Even though Jesus had fasted for 40 days, he had not commanded his disciples to fast as a law, and since the disciples did not fast they were blamed by the Pharisees (Mark.2:18), but Jesus said that they will fast whenever Jesus had left them (Mark.2:20). Thus, fasting according to Jesus is no longer a religious law but particularly when the inner preparation and repentance are needed in dealing with tough issues such as his departure later or in asking for miracles or to fight against the devil (Matt.17:21;Mark.9:29).

Jesus did not justify the Pharisees who runs the religious law including fasting who did with pride, but He justifies the tax collector who did not fast (Luke.18:9–14) but repented. Thus, Jesus did not tell people to fast neither forbade people if they do it for special purposes.

Accordingly we know that fasting has a deep and special meaning in mastering one's inner relationship with God who is holy and true, but fasting tends to fall just as a religion of legalism in the form of outwardly looking religious practice but without an in depth meaning. Isaiah clearly told the people of Israel (Isa.58) that fasting should be done inwardly, i.e. fasting from the behavior of despotism, torturing and enslaving people. Fasting from the selfishness into feeding the hungry, the homeless, and the nudes (comp.Matt.24:31–46).

Jesus also does not teach people to fast, not even justify a snob who fasted, but he also does not prohibit people for fasting. Thus, fasting in itself has no meaning if not an expression of a broken heart and humbled oneself before God.

Redemption by Jesus on the cross fulfilled the OT Law which depended on human effort to save themselves by doing religious law (circumcision, burn offering, Sabbath keeping, fasting, clean food etc.), but instead becomes God's grace given to every person who believes and repents (John.3:16; Efh.2:8–10; Tit.2:11–15). This is perfected by the arrival of the 'Holy Spirit' who strengthened & filled the believers which was fulfilled at the Day of Pentecost (Acts.2; cf.Matt.28:20).

From this teaching of Jesus, to answer the question "Should Christians practice fasting?" in the light of the NT we can answer 'no' and 'yes', it means that Christians (except Catholics) 'not' practice the obligation of fasting as a religious law at the specified and defined times, and 'yes' that any time Christians can practice fasting for special purposes in earnest when he needed, but we need to realize that 'fasting practice' in itself is not a charity – a good ritual that brings a reward for those who do it, but for 'one’s preparation.'

Fasting is an expression born out of a broken heart that repented and humbled oneself before God. The outward practice means nothing without inward repenting, otherwise without outward expression it does not matter as long as there is a repenting heart, because this is the true essence of fasting. Although the Christian congregation in the New Testament is mentioned as occasionally practice fasting, this is merely continuing the habit of Jewish tradition but not as a religious law to get a reward as in the Old Testament but voluntarily practice and preparation for ministry. ***


With love from YABINA ministry www.yabina.org


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