By Edwin Christiaan | May 4, 2021
The Bible does not command Christians to fast. God does not require or demand it of His Children. No pastor should obligate or guilt trip anybody to fast in order to receive God’s blessings or to get His attention or get God to answer prayers. Fasting should never be put as a burden or duty on a Christian. Fasting should not be used as a way to appear more spiritual than others. Nowhere in the scriptures is there any indication that God is more likely to answer prayers if they are accompanied by fasting!
OLD TESTAMENT MEANING OF FASTING
Under the Law of Moses, the Jews were required to fast once a year, on the Day of Atonement.
“Ten days later, on the tenth day of the same month, you must call another holy assembly. On that day, the Day of Atonement, the people must go without food and must do no ordinary work.”
Numbers 29:7 NLT
Furthermore, in the Old Testament, fasting with prayer was done out of deep need in the face of actual or anticipated calamity, or used in times of mourning, repentance, or desperation.
King David, for instance, prayed and fasted over his sick baby, pleading with God to heal him.
“David therefore pleaded with God for the child, and David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground.”
2. Samuel 12:16 NKJV
Another example is that of Queen Esther, who urged Mordecai and the Jews to fast for her as she planned to go against the law and appear before her husband the king to save her people from a plot to kill all the Jews.
“Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai: Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”
Esther 4:15-16 NKJV
The city of Nineveh fasted when Jonah pronounced judgment on them,
“When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city: “No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.” When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.”
Jonah 3:6-10 NLT
Fasting was supposed to be done with a pure heart and in obedience. The Lord told the prophet Isaiah to declare the following to the people,
“What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.”
Isaiah 58:4-10 NLT
After abusing people in a similar way while hypocritically fasting, the Lord had Zachariah tell the Israelites,
“It was then that the Lord All-Powerful told me to say to everyone in the country, including the priests: For 70 years you have gone without eating during the fifth and seventh months of the year. But did you really do it for Me?”
Zechariah 7:4-5 CEV
“So once again, I, the Lord All-Powerful, tell you, “See that justice is done and be kind and merciful to one another! Don't mistreat widows or orphans or foreigners or anyone who is poor, and stop making plans to hurt each other.””
Zechariah 7:8-10 CEV
Seventy years of fasting meant nothing to the Lord because it was done insincerely!
FASTING MENTIONED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
In the New Testament, prayer and fasting are NOT practiced in connection with repentance or in facing calamity.
For instance, the prophetess Anna worshiped night and day in the temple, fasting and praying. She fasted as part of serving God.
“And this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.”
Luke 2:37 NKJV
Making decisions in ministry
In the book of Acts 13:2-3, the believers were fasting and praying to make an important decision, and as they were doing so, the Holy Spirit told them to dedicate Barnabas and Paul for the special work to which God had called them. After more fasting and prayer, they laid their hands on them, and sent them on their way. In turn, Paul and Barnabas, with prayer and fasting, appointed elders in every church, and turned them over to the care of the Lord (see Acts 4:23).
Dealing with unbelief
In another passage, Jesus told His disciples, who were struggling with unbelief, that the kind of demon that was in the boy He cured, would not go out except by prayer and fasting.
“A man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.”
Then Jesus answered and said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour.
Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”
So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
Matthew 17:14-21 NKJV
Here, Jesus seems to be saying that if the disciples didn’t have faith to defeat demons, they could resort to fasting as a way of increasing their faith. However, judging by Jesus’ sharp rebuke to the disciples, fasting wasn’t his original plan, but having faith was! If they had had faith, there would have been no need for fasting!
Times of testing before going into ministry
Biblical Christian fasting is going without food, as Jesus demonstrated when He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. Jesus resisted him and ultimately caused the Devil to flee from Him. During this time, Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights (see Matthew 4:1-2).
Fasting with humility and discretion
Jesus said that when we fast, we should not make it obvious as the hypocrites did, for they tried to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. But when we fast, we should comb our hair and wash our face. Then no one will notice that we are fasting, except our Father, who knows what we do in private. And our Father, who sees everything, will reward us (see Matthew 6:16-18). Fasting should be done in a spirit of humility and discretion.
AFTER THE DEATH OF JESUS CHRIST
When Jesus died on the cross, He ended the system of the Law with its commandments and regulations (See Ephesians 2:15). Under the New Covenant, the Christian church is not under the law of Moses, and therefore not under the command to fast on the Jewish Day of Atonement. That is why the Apostle Paul did not give instructions to the church of any kind to fast. Instead, he told them that,
“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.”
Romans 6:14 NLT
“I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.”
Galatians 2:21 NLT
In other words, born-again believers and followers of Jesus Christ are NOT obligated to fast!