The question I want to ask and answer today is this: Why Should We Fast?
The primary reason we should fast is that Jesus fasted and taught His disciples to fast. We don’t fast to be religious, we don’t fast to deny ourselves for the sake of denying ourselves, we don’t fast because we think that all the things of the world are evil and are to be avoided, we don’t fast to earn the love of God or to gain the favor of God—plain and simple, we fast because Jesus fasted and taught His disciples to fast, and as Christians our passion and goal and greatest hope is to be like Jesus Christ. As Christians our greatest longing and our utmost desire is to be by grace what He is by nature, and so we not only obey His teachings but we enter into His way of life. And in His life, Jesus fasted. I don’t pretend to know all the reasons why He fasted or all the reasons why He encouraged His disciples to fast or all the reasons He wants us to fast. All I know for sure is that in the will and ways of Jesus there is abundant life.
Now, someone might question the assertion that Jesus taught His disciples to fast, because there was that one time when Jesus was approached and asked, “How is it that we [John’s disciples] and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” To which Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them?” In other words, there’s no need for them to fast because they’re in a season of rejoicing, that I the only Begotten Son of God am in their midst. But you see, Jesus continued and said this, “The time WILL come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they WILL fast.” Not that they might fast, but that they WILL fast.
And then in Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus said this: “WHEN you fast [NOT IF], do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show people they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But WHEN you fast [again, NOT IF], put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to people that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Now, I won’t belabor the point anymore, but suffice it to say that Jesus assumed His followers would fast, and all throughout the Bible we see them doing just that; all throughout Christian history we see them doing just that—from Justin Martyr to Augustine to Martin Luther to Charles Spurgeon to John Piper, these and thousands more made the feast of fasting a regular part of their lives.
Does this mean that a follower of Jesus Christ has to fast? No. Christ has paid the full debt for our sin and Christ has become the complete measure of our righteousness before God, and there’s nothing we can do to add to that or to compel God to love us anymore than He already does. There’s nothing at all in the New Testament that says Christians must fast or that if they don’t they will suffer the consequences. The Christian is free from the law and is under no obligation whatsoever to fast.
However, the New Testament is replete with examples of the power and benefits of fasting in the lives of God’s people, and just in telling these stories it does commend the practice. The feast of fasting is not an obligation nor does it in any way make us more right with God—our righteousness is in Jesus Christ alone. The feast of fasting is a voluntary choice made by a follower of Jesus Christ who sees that in the habits of Jesus there is life and in the teachings of Jesus there is life and in the habits of His followers throughout the past twenty centuries there is life. The feast of fasting is a voluntary choice made by a follower of Christ, and in making that choice they come to know the power of God that works through fasting as through no other means.
For the glory of Christ,