Legalistic Fasting

I thought I’d make today a “flashback Friday.” Back in 2011 I wrote about something that is on a lot of people’s minds right now…fasting. One point I was trying to make back then, and one that is still applicable, is this: fast if you will, but don’t be legalistic about it.

Another point I was trying to make is that we should not be guilted in to doing something that is not entirely biblical. Fasting might be a great thing, but do it according to biblical standards and don’t just take the word of someone promoting a new diet book.

Now, I’m not infallible, so I’d love your feedback. Leave a comment below.

“…if we are hungry enough for God we won’t need anyone to tell us when or how to fast.”

Don’t be legalistic about fasting.

There, I said it. It’s off my chest. I can sleep better, now.

You see, a lot of folks in the Christian community act no differently than the Muslim community during the month of Ramadan. They treat fasting as something necessary to gain favor with God. They think fasting is somehow required to be spiritual. I disagree.

Matthew 6:16 is a verse commonly used way out of context.  In that verse Jesus said, “when you fast.” It was not a command, but a prelude to a command. He said, “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance.” Jesus wasn’t commanding anyone to fast, only to not be like the hypocrites who make themselves look all pitiful.

When Jesus said “when,” He was speaking on the assumption that fasting was a common practice with those in the audience. However, we must be careful to take note that it was not a command to fast, nor one that gave instructions. All He said was that when you do fast, don’t be as one of those who seek attention from men.

Lest we forget, there is nothing that we can do to earn the favor of God. His grace is unmerited. His love is not based on the prerequisite of starving one’s self once a year, month, or week. There is nothing wrong with fasting, but there can be serious flaws with our intentions.

False Biblical Examples

It is evil to teach formulas for health, wealth, and happiness based on select passages of Scripture. A good example would be the Prayer of Jabez teaching that says, “Pray this prayer and you will be wealthy.” But examples of fasting in the Bible are also used for exploitation. The first one that comes to mind is the Daniel Fast.

If you remember, in the first chapter of the book of Daniel, Daniel “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank.” Because of Daniel’s courageous stand, based on his faith in God and the dietary laws given to Moses, God chose to work a miracle and honor the Hebrew children, in turn bringing glory to Himself.

Sadly, there are those who look at what Daniel did and say, “Hey, if I just eat vegetables and water (because meat and wine are obviously evil), then I will be guaranteed health, wealth, and favor.” This is a classic example of misapplication.

True Biblical Examples

When I read the Bible, there are 3 things that seem to be common with true fasting: 1) Desperation, 2) Mourning, and 3) God’s glory. Nowhere do I see it taught that it should be used as a way to become a better person, a more spiritual saint, or a healthier individual. Nowhere do I see it taught that if one did not regularly fast, then that person should be considered spiritually inferior.

What I DO see are examples of people who, when faced with insurmountable trials, impending defeat, or crushing repentance, found food to be the least of their concerns. I think of David when he was praying for his dying son (2 Samuel 12:16 & 17). I think of Nehemiah when he heard of the broken wall (Nehemiah 1:4, 6).  I think of Queen Ester faced with the annihilation of her people (Ester 4:3). I think of Ezra, who, fearing the name of the LORD would be tainted, called the people to a fast before God (Ezra 8:22). These are the common examples.

Too often we take something from Scripture and cheapen it to the point that it becomes a simple 4 or 5-point how-to bestseller. In our slightly inconvenienced world we resort to claiming the only thing truly desperate people had at their disposal. We say, “if you do this, then that will happen.” More often than not, when people in the Bible fasted, it was not because they wanted to – they couldn’t do anything else.

Modern Legalists

Then there are those who like to flaunt the fact that they are disciplined and spiritual – the modern “hypocrite.” They look with derision upon the one who has not fasted once a week. They proudly proclaim “I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:12), when in reality their fasting is nothing more than a supposed means to a selfish end. Because of their judgmentalism, they force others to be like them. They create a law to which they hold all others accountable, while in the darkness the truly humble is beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

One Last Thing.

There is no denying that we probably do not fast enough. As a matter of fact, according to Jesus (Matthew 17:21), many a spiritual battle has been lost because of a lack of fasting and prayer. That is the key – prayer.

Fasting without prayer is nothing more than scheduled Anorexia. The whole point of fasting is to seek the face of God, laying all other allurements aside, such as food (even marital relations – 1 Cor. 7:5). It is not that we need to fast; we need God. If fasting is what it takes, then that is what we should do. But one thing is for sure, if we are hungry enough for God we won’t need anyone to tell us when or how to fast.

Let me know what you think. Do you fast? How long? Why? Results? 

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4 Comments

Filed under Food, God, legalism, worship

4 responses to “Legalistic Fasting

  1. Melissa

    Love this. One of the things that had me questioning as a Jewish person was Yom Kippur. It was always centered around when we would eat. Jewish people actually have a special “break- fast” dinner as sort of a celebration which I always found completely odd. I also consider myself a recovering legalist and have struggled with the issue of fasting. These days, I find myself on some very interesting fasts, and they become times when I feel the closest to God. Your post is so right, thank you.

  2. The majority of my fasts in recent years have been for personal (and by extension family) reasons and/or for major ministry events. The last one was for our youth winter retreat in January. I spent two days fasting and praying. The results: our first session that weekend set the pace with students completely opening up, confessing, repenting, and leaning on each other was we pursued more of what and Who God is! Out of five sessions, that was the first, but not the mildest!
    In the five weeks since, some of those youth have been stepping up in leadership and service for the purpose of sharing God.
    I like those results. Was it my fasting and praying? God honored it, sure, but it was all Him, baby!

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