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Fasting Explained

By Justin Johnson

With the growing confusion about fasting in the church and conflation of Christianity with Catholicism, it is important to understand religious fasting from a mid-Acts dispensational perspective.

When Children Fast

It used to be common practice for parents to send children to bed without supper if they were disobedient. Going to bed hungry would cause them to consider their disobedience and drive them to repentance or go hungry.

Children need this sort of discipline.

Children also must be told when they can eat certain sweets or desserts. Greedy children would not know when to stop, and would eat only desserts if they had the liberty.

They must be taught to abstain themselves from over indulgence and to be temperate. Parents make rules. God made laws.

Likewise, fasting was a requirement within Israel as they were being tutored and governed by the law as God’s children.

“Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.” – Gal 4:1-2

It would be doctrinally childish for the Church today to be put under the laws of fasting, since we are no longer children in understanding (Eph 4:14; 1 Cor 14:20).

When Israel Fasted

The laws of fasting were designed for Israel without an understanding of our complete position in Christ. They needed fasting to learn humility before God and to trust his words over the pleasures of the flesh.

“And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.” – Deu 8:3

Fasting was a requirement for Israel. The law required fasting along with confession of sins in order to receive God’s forgiveness and grace (Joel 2:12-13).

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” – 2 Chron 7:14

(See why this verse is not for the Church today.)

Without the humbling of themselves through fasting, Israel would not display the contrite heart required for God to hear, forgive, and heal.

Jesus Fasted

Jesus fasted for 40 days after his baptism. Just as he was not baptized for sins but to fulfill all righteousness (Mat 3:15), Jesus fasted not for sins but to fulfill the law (Mat 4:4).

Through fasting, God manifest in the flesh felt humility as a man that suffered (Phil 2:8).

“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” – Heb 4:15

Jesus humbled himself through fasting when he became a man. Imagine the God of the Universe experiencing hunger! He could have any food he desired, as the Devil pointed out, but he went without food, resisting temptation, and fulfilling the law.

Why Don’t They Fast?

When Jesus was with his disciples on earth they did not fast, and it made the law keeping religious Pharisees curious.

“And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?” – Luke 5:33

Jesus responded that his disciples did not fast because he was with them, and it was a time of celebration not mourning (Luke 5:34-35). However, when the Messiah left and the kingdom did not come, his disciples taught fasting once again:

“Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” – James 4:9-10

On the very feast day of Pentecost, Peter and the twelve preached a message of sorrow and shame that they had killed their Messiah (Acts 2:36-37).

Their fasting and confession of sins were required for the Lord to return and heal the land as the law and prophets required (Lev 26:40-45).

Why Churches Fast

Many churches today teach the necessity of fasting especially during Lent and Easter. If not as a requirement they teach it as a suggested spiritual discipline.

Their doctrine of fasting comes from the verses quoted already from Israel’s program. That churches would require or recommend fasting displays ignorance of the mystery of Christ and the Bible rightly divided.

The Roman Catholic church leads the way for others who teach fasting by making it a church law going so far as to declare fasting an act that joins us to the mystery of Jesus.

“By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” – CCC 540

What nonsense it is to identify something clearly explained under the law (fasting) as a mystery of Christ which Paul says was kept secret since the world began (Rom 16:25).

The apostle of the Gentiles, who was given the mystery of Christ and the church, never teaches the need to fast, but rather identifies it as a weak practice, as well as day observance, circumcision, and Sabbath days.

“But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” – Gal 4:9

A failure to rightly divide is the cause of the fasting confusion. It truly is a mystery why churches promote religious fasting, when we have something far better in the gospel of Christ which is the power of God unto salvation.

Why Don’t We Fast

Fasting was a requirement for Israel under their law program, but is not a Church ritual or requirement being not under the dominion of the law.

“For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” – Rom 6:14

We do not need fasting, confession, self-sacrifice, or prayers to remove the power of sin. Christ did that for us when he died and resurrected (Rom 6:3-6).

What Israel did not have under the law, the Church now understands by the mystery of Christ being no more children, but adult sons.

“To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” – Gal 4:5

The mystery of Christ in us gives us all spiritual blessings of forgiveness, grace, redemption, salvation, and peace with God through faith in the gospel of Christ (Eph 1:3).

“To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will…” – Eph 1:6-9

What a privilege and a joy to have the riches of God’s grace! We are no longer told what to eat or not to eat (1 Tim 4:4). For what spiritual benefit would we need to fast that we do not already possess in Christ freely?

While we take showers to stay clean, we do not need water baptism. While we may restrict our diet for health reasons, we do not need religious fasting.

We are not waiting for a kingdom. We are at peace with God. The penalty of our sins is paid. The power of sin is removed. Our flesh is to be reckoned dead.

Whether we eat or not does not change our position or our blessings in Christ. Neither eating nor fasting commends us to God, but Christ (1 Cor 8:8, Col 1:27).

“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday…” – Col 2:16

There is now no condemnation to those in Christ who walk after these spiritual truths.

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Published: February 23, 2013
Last Modified: February 21, 2021
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