What is the purpose of fasting? Maybe you are like me and the thought of “fasting” has both intrigued and bewildered you. We know the Bible talks about fasting, and scripture seems to indicate that fasting has spiritual benefit…. But how? How does fasting benefit my relationship with the Lord? Can I grow as a Christian without fasting?
The good news for all anti-fasters is the Bible does not require or demand fasting from Christians. However, the Bible does present fasting as something that is good, profitable, and beneficial. The book of Acts records believers fasting before they made important decisions (Acts 13:2; 14:23). Fasting and prayer are often linked together (Luke 2:37; 5:33).
There is no denying it–fasting is biblical. However, I have also witnessed people fast for some unhealthy reasons. Reasons that have nothing to do with biblical fasting. I know this sounds like I am judging people’s intentions. I must confess I am guilty in this, but fasting for the wrong reasons can be counterproductive to your spiritual life. In fact, Jesus spent time teaching about the wrong motives of fasting. He called it hypocritical (Matthew 6:16) and noted that wrong motives will rob us of any reward. (Matthew 6:1).
Reasons you should not partake in a biblical fast:
#1 To lose weight. While losing weight can be a result of fasting, this should not be your purpose. If you feel like you need to lose weight for health reasons, go lose weight. I support you in this venture. Don’t mask fasting behind a spiritual disguise if the true motive is weight loss.
#2 To manipulate God. Some people think that if they conduct enough religious work, then God will be indebted to them (like God owes you). God is not indebted to anyone. God is not to be manipulated. Fasting is not intended to manipulate God.
#3 To Punish your flesh. This too is a religious way of thinking. Why punish yourself if Jesus has already paid your punishment? In our culture, paying twice for a single crime is called double jeopardy. It’s illegal. When Jesus died for your sin, he paid for it all. Punishing yourself on top of what Jesus has already paid is an insult to the payment Jesus made for you. Romans 8:1 tells us there is no condemnation in Christ. This means we have no need to condemn ourselves when Jesus was condemned for us. It is good to eliminate things from our lives that we have gotten out of control with, but we don’t do this to punish our lives. Rather, it should help us walk with Christ.
In summary: fasting is biblical, but your motives for fasting are important.
Fasting: Understanding the big picture.
While I appreciate learning about fasting, none of what we have discussed thus far has answered the key question. Why fast? Out of all the things we could do to grow in our walk with God, why is fasting one of them? How can God use fasting to help grow our spiritual lives?
What helped me understand the purpose of fasting was this thought: From the beginning of mankind, eating has always been a part of life. In the Garden of Eden, life was perfect. Mankind had a perfect relationship with God and with others. In this Garden, Adam and Eve were told to eat. They were told they could eat from all the food bearing plants except for one tree (Genesis 2:16-17). When I stop and think about this, I must acknowledge that this perfect Garden of Eden runs contrary to our typical self-concocted picture of paradise. It’s also probably the reason why we struggle to understand fasting. Many people view heaven as a place where we are completely satisfied by everything within our being and we never needing anything from anyone. I just get to be happy all the time in my state of blissful autonomy. Yet this view has one huge flaw. We are the source of our bliss.
No one can imagine how great heaven will be (1 Corinthians 2:9). We will not lack. However, the reason we will not lack is not because we are autonomously self-sufficient. The reason we won’t lack is because we have need from one being, and that being will always satisfy our souls (Revelation 21:3-4). That person is the Lord. That need we have from the Lord has been sewn in to the fabric of our DNA. Adam and Eve in the perfect Garden still needed God to supply. They had to eat, and this required God to create the supply to sustain them. Mankind will never be satisfied within himself. Mankind was created to find fulfillment in God, and God is faithful to meet our need.
Think about it. From the moment we first existed, we have always been eating. Even at the end of the book of Revelation, there is a description of Jesus together with his people, and what are we doing? Eating at the marriage supper of the lamb (Revelation 19:7). Who supplies the food to meet our need? GOD. We are in heaven scarfing down because of him.
Here is the point: We are dependent upon God. Even in the most perfect state of heaven, we always have a need for the Lord to supply and satisfy our being. The good news is that in heaven God will always be with us and satisfy our being. God is the center of heaven. He is the Sustainer of our lives. He is eternal joy.
So, when we think about fasting, what does it mean? We are recognizing we have always had a need to be sustained, fulfilled and satisfied (even in perfect heaven). How are we satisfied? Not in ourselves, but in the Lord. God is the one who creates the provision we need in our soul. Fasting reminds us of this.
Fasting is our way of saying that while I may have physical needs, my greatest need is to draw near to the Lord. Early in Jesus’s ministry, the Gospel of Matthew records Jesus in the wilderness fasting for 40 days. During that fast, he was also tempted by Satan. Jesus’s response to Satan was to say, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by the very words of God. (Matthew 4:4)” Our temptation is to look at the things of the world as satisfying. The truth is God is life. Fasting is a giving over of my flesh to acknowledge Jesus as the true source of life. From now into all of eternity I am dependent on him to fill my soul. Fasting is a way I connect with him to recognize that, from the beginning and for the rest of eternity, I need Jesus. God help my soul to walk in this truth, and may I cling to you.