Are Christians Required to Fast?

If the Bible commands something to be done, we are to do it. If the Bible gives an approved example, then we are to follow that example. If the Bible necessarily implies something, then we must by necessity infer it (or we miss the import of the implication). The Bible teaches us with commands to be obeyed, examples to be followed, and implications which are necessary to understand the commands or examples which are given. If the Bible commands, shows an approved example of, or implies that the Christian is to fast, then we must adhere to the teachings, and make fasting a part of our Christian walk.

With this in mind, what does the Bible teach regarding fasting?

In the Old Testament, fasting was not just associated with prayer, but also with mourning. Lev. 16:29 is the only command to fast (afflict your souls) in their observance of the Day of Atonement. Otherwise, there are several examples of those who fasted voluntarily, and was for the purpose of intensifying the spiritual aspect of dedication and prayer. In fasting, one denies himself the usual comfort of a regular meal, thereby “afflicting the soul.” David fasted when his child became ill (2 Sam. 16:16, 21-23). Ahab, upon hearing Elijah pronounce judgment upon him, fasted, put on sackcloth, “and went softly.” God delayed His judgment because of this. (1 Kings 21:17-29). Of course, the Lord having nailed the Old Law of Moses to the cross of Calvary (Col. 2:14), the command in Lev. 16:29 is not binding on us today.

By the time that Jesus had come to the earth, fasting had turned from a dedicated approach in making serious supplications to God into a way that the insincere and hypocritical Jews would try to appear spiritual. They wanted everyone to witness their “sacrificial attitude.” Jesus warned the disciples against making a show of their piety in order to gain the praise of men.

Matt 6:16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

Of course, any aspect of one's spiritual life can be put on for show in an effort to demonstrate one's piousness; and of course, this is in reality nothing other than hypocrisy, as Jesus made clear in this passage. Particularly, those hypocrites of Jesus' day had made a practice of being seen for the sake of being seen. As Jesus described them, they look sad, and distort their face for the sole purpose of showing how much they suffered as they fasted. And, as Jesus further declared, “They have their reward.” But, that reward was not from the Father: they only impress their peers. So what?! Some reward. Jesus taught that when we fast we are to continue in standard personal hygiene so as not to appear to be fasting. Our fasting and praying is to be in private. We do not make a public spectacle of ourselves. The reward? Our Father in heaven sees what we do in secret, and rewards us accordingly.

From this we also learn that Jesus places the choice to fast in the personal sphere for one's private life, and classifies it as a matter of private devotion. He made no regulation nor gave any command regarding the practice of fasting. He left it up to the individual to decide for himself whether to fast or not as he commits himself to private, dedicated prayer.

Curtis A. Little, Royse City, TX

Curtis A. Little
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