22. The Sermon on Mount 7

“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. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 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” (Matthew 6:16-18).

From the Creation of the world, Satan has sought to dismantle all that God has ordained. He seeks to divide inward religion from outward religion. He has especially been successful amongst those who are ignorant of his devises (2 Corinthians 2:11). 

In all generations people have tried to be committed to moral requirements and outward duties without living by true faith in God. They have thought that God would justify them on the merit of their good deeds. Others hold the mistaken notion that a believer needs do nothing but pray, attend church and read books. Because they lack the truth people go to extremes. Such extremes are clearly seen in the area of fasting. Some undervalue it, while others overvalue it. It is either regarded as nothing, or considered to be everything in the Christian life.

Scriptural fasting
Every Biblical writer regarded fasting as abstaining from food for a prescribed length of time (sometimes up to forty days). Superstition and legalism has added all kinds of detail that have no warrant in the word of God. Self-neglect and abstinence from other things is not Biblical fasting. Putting the body through torments is heathenism rather than pure Christianity. The mutilation and deprivation of the flesh speaks more of Baalism than faith.

Partial fasting, such as eating smaller portions, is not supported by Scripture. There is a case for abstaining from luxuries, as with Daniel and his three friends (Daniel 1), for the sake of purity and separation, but this should not be taken as a proof text for the unbiblical Lenten observances amongst some.

Scripture informs us that national fast days were called for by kings, prophets and priests. Such fasting was for national repentance and separation unto God. Repentance, for the most part, is what fasting was instituted for. This gave the sinner added time, away from the normal everyday requirements of the body, to establish his relationship with God.

The reasons for fasting
1. The most important reason for fasting is to have the heart and mind engrossed in the Lord. This means that the believer is absorbed by the things of God and is too impatient with the distractions of life.

2. Fasting is also a sign of grief over the many abominations the believer, nation and the world commit. A person under deep conviction will often not take the time to eat, but instead wants to pray through to the victory.

3. Fasting can be used to hinder the excesses of life. God calls us to be temperate in all things, nevertheless we must be careful not to use fasting as a holy diet.

4. As indicated above, fasting allows the believer more time for prayer and fellowship with God. Thus fasting must always be united with prayer. Fasting without prayer is totally worthless.

5. Though the believer should not fast simply to receive a blessing, it goes without saying that God will bless those who fast for the right reasons. The blessing follows repentance rather than the act of fasting.

How to fast
What kind of fasting is acceptable to God?

1. Those who fast should have their eyes exclusively fixed upon God rather than thinking that there is some special significance in the act of fasting.

2. Fasting must never be done if it is only to make oneself appear holy and pious before men. Nor should the believer make mention that he or she is fasting, in fact they should act as though they are not.

3. We should not think that God must reward us for our fasting otherwise we are going about establishing our own righteousness. The abstaining from food is the least significant part of fasting (Isaiah 58:5), for God is looking on the heart.

4. Do not go too far with fasting. God does not want us to fast our way to ill-health. He has no delight in the destruction of the body. Always remember that we fast to seek His face.

5. Those who grieve over their godlessness and sin show that they have a longing for sanctification. The inward emotion often manifests itself in some outward form. Fasting is a product of this. Fasting, it must be stated again, must not lose its connection with prayer.

God leaves the need for fasting to the individual believer, for there is no command for collective fasting. It should never be used as a means to an end, nor should it be thought of as a way of twisting God’s hand. In its Scriptural setting fasting is an uninterrupted time to get right with God by avoiding the many hindrances of life. God knows those who are pure in heart. He will reward them with the richest of His blessings, for He sees the true motives of their heart.