Fasting: Is Fasting God’s Key to Victory?
Some swear by fasting as being THE key to God’s heart. Fasting can either be a planned period of abstinence or it could simply be the result of an extended prayer session where the need is so great and prayer takes on such intensity that hunger is forgotten for a time. Such times would include periods of personal crisis, grief, or interceding for others to be delivered from satan’s power. Fasting should not be done to “beat yourself up” for being imperfect. Some believers are so sin-conscious they are not Son-conscious. Some give lip service to the all-sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice even as they strive to add their own suffering to “make up the difference.”
Fasting, like “seed-planting”, “praising for miracles”, positive confession, etc, gets glory which should rightfully go to Jesus alone. Does fasting instill humility? NO! Putting faith in “a fasted body” is like a beauty contestant who starves to win. But it is Christ alone Who opens the Way into the Holiest Place (Hebrews 10:19). Fasting, like eating, is a bodily function. Most everyone goes a few hours a day without eating. The weapons of our warfare not carnal (physical) (II Corinthians 10:4). Confidence must not be put in the flesh (Philippians 3:3).
Is Fasting God’s Key to Victory?
Fasting was an old Jewish religious custom. Scripture does not attribute fasting to the earliest saints, such as Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses was the first faster in Scripture. When he received the Law on Mt. Sinai, he didn’t eat or drink for 40 days and 40 nights (Deuteronomy 9:9). When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, he found the Israelites committing idolatry. Moses angrily broke the stone tablets of the Law, then went back up the mountain. Moses REPEATED his fast, for a total of 80 days (verses 15-19)! And Moses was SUPERNATURALLY sustained! No one can live much longer than three days without water. Very few, if any, could survive 80 days without food. Two months without food led to necrosis (bodily decay) in Irish hunger strikers whose breathing had not yet ceased.
Religious tradition motivated the ritual fasting of the Pharisees, not Scriptural command. Fasting was never given as a church ordinance by the Biblical apostles. It is not even recommended! Even under the Law, only one regular fast was commanded by God: the Day of Atonement, when Israelites were commanded to “afflict their souls” (Leviticus 23:26-32). But zealous Jews thought they’d help God out by imposing more fasts. Several fasts were added to the Jewish calendar BY COMMANDMENT OF MEN: the fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months of the year (Zechariah 8:19). They commemorated such national tragedies as the destruction of both Temples on the ninth of Av. One fast was done in remembrance of a political assassination, that of Gedaliah (2 Kings 25:25).
The proud Pharisee who thought he needed no repentance fasted twice weekly
Although God never sanctioned those extra fasts, religious leaders thought “holiness” should be harder to achieve. The proud Pharisee who thought he needed no repentance fasted twice weekly (Luke 18:12). So much for praying for DAILY bread (Matthew 6:11). Speaking of daily bread, if regular fasting was demanded of first-century converts, why did needy widows of the church receive a DAILY distribution of food from deacons (Acts 6:1-2)?
Jewish Pharisees would fast each Monday and Thursday. The only time a Pharisee felt okay about breaking this pattern would be if a religious feast fell on a Monday or Thursday, or if he were attending a week of wedding celebrations. During a wedding feast, all ritual fasting was suspended.
Did Jesus command His church to fast? In Matthew 6:16-17 Jesus says “when”, not “if” ye fast, as many point out. But Christ was addressing Jews who lived under the Old Covenant. They already fasted regularly. Why Jesus tolerated this fasting is hinted at in Chapter 23.
Jesus said of the learned interpreters of Jewish Law
In Matthew 23:2-4 Jesus said of the learned interpreters of Jewish Law: The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. *****They proudly presided in Moses’ place as Law giver. They added their own “oral traditions” (burdens) to the written Law.
3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.***Here is a key to understanding why Jesus okayed the fasting already practiced by His Jewish listeners: Christ encouraged reasonable submission to those who “sat in Moses seat”. But that was before the old Mosaic ordinances were nailed to the Cross of Calvary (Colossians 2:14). Jesus did not veto the Jews’ obedience to expounders (expanders) of Mosaic Law, but He did not want them to “do after their works” of hypocrisy and religious pride.
4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.***Jesus called extra religious requirements OF MEN heavy burdens and grievous to be borne. Christians have been eaten up with needless guilt over a harmful heresy going around: “The longer you starve your body, the quicker your hunger for Jesus will be satisfied”.
Some will point out that fasting was cited by Christ as a rewardable act (Matthew 6:18). But Jesus is not looking for people to “punish their bodies” to gain merit with God. Only the actual prayer done instead of eating has any value. Fasting is the hole in the doughnut of prolonged prayer. Fasting without prayer is a big zero!
No soldier in the midst of a heated battle will stop for lunch
No soldier in the midst of a heated battle with the enemy will stop for lunch. But when the battle is over, he will eat. Another thing to consider is this: Jesus was addressing Jews under the Law who regularly fasted anyway. If fasting was an act rewardable by God, so was circumcision, animal sacrifice, the wearing of phylacteries, etc.
“sANctOREXIA” sounds like a deeply spiritual doctrine but beware! The devil is a religious imposter! FAITH is the key to pleasing God, not fasting (Hebrews 11:6). Even Eastern mystics “fast for miracles”.
Hebrews 13:9: Be not carried about with divers (diverse) and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats (dietary restrictions), which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.* * * *The Book of Hebrews teaches faith in the all-sufficiency of Christ. Its tone is sometimes stern towards negligent believers. But fasting is NOWHERE mentioned in Hebrews as being a duty of discipleship!
Matthew 23: 5: BUT ALL THEIR WORKS (including fasting) THEY (the Pharisees) DO FOR TO BE SEEN OF MEN: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments.
He said not to invite your own kindred (or rich people) to dinner
In certain passages Jesus addresses MOTIVE. He said not to invite your own kindred (or rich people) to dinner, lest they reward you in this life (Luke 14:14). Rather, invite the sick and the poor. Jesus is not forbidding us to eat Thanksgiving dinner with our relatives! He’s saying: Don’t forget the poor! I’m reminded of that NEVER-PREACHED-ON (I wonder why?) tithing passage in Deuteronomy 14:22-29 which states the true purpose of the tithe. It was used to provide food for a party of Thanksgiving before God at the annual feasts of Israel. The Feast of Pentecost and The Feast of Tabernacles were joyous occasions when the Levite, the stranger (foreigner), the fatherless, and the widow in Israel would feast in the Presence of the Lord with those who brought tithed agricultural products to their place of worship (Deuteronomy 16:9-15).
Jesus okayed the Pharisees’ tithing of garden herbs, even while reprimanding them for omitting the weightier MATTERS OF THE LAW: justice, mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23). Did Jesus say Gentile Christians must tithe today? No. Tithing, like religious fasting, was performed by Jews UNDER THE LAW AND BEFORE THE CROSS. Church Age believers are NOT under the authority of those ancient doctors of the Law who dictated twice-weekly fasting. We are under grace, not under the Law (Romans 6:14).
If Christians must fast, and fasting is spiritually beneficial
If Christians must fast, and fasting is spiritually beneficial, then why didn’t the early church apostles write more scripture on its spiritual merits? I couldn’t find any! Why didn’t they devote more time to teaching pagan converts about this alleged key to all the blessings of heaven? Why didn’t Peter, Paul or John ever rebuke anybody for not logging sufficient fasting days? If fasting is the great problem solver and blessing bringer it’s cracked up to be, then those apostles did their converts a great disservice by keeping mum on the subject!
Whenever God ordained times and seasons for feasting, sacrificing or other rituals, God left no detail to speculation. Exodus Chapter 12 specifies which days the Passover Feast must be held. God says that some people qualify to keep the Passover, but others don’t (foreigners and hired servants). He orders unleavened bread to be eaten. God instructs how to cook the lamb, and how to dispose of leftovers.
If Matthew 6:16-18 commands Christians to fast, it breaks God’s earlier pattern of specifying “who”, “when”, “where”, “how”, “how long”, and “how often.”. Jesus’ listeners already knew what their particular fasting tradition was when they heard Him tell them to “appear not unto men to fast”. Jesus wanted their fasting, like their almsgiving (Matthew 6:3-4) to be a private matter between themselves and God. How can today’s Christians “appear not unto men to fast” when everyone is talking about how hungry the big church fast is making them? The Pharisees would deliberately appear miserable, to get people’s sympathy and admiration. Jesus said that would be their only reward.
Jesus urges humility
In Matthew 6:1-2 Jesus urges humility “when thou doest thine alms” (give to the needy). Jesus did not decree that everyone in all circumstances must give alms. According to the Jewish Talmud, a poor man was not required to give alms out of his meager subsistence. Jesus was telling people that when they did hand out alms, not to act like the Pharisees did.
Some scriptures are addressed to specific individuals, rather than having a universal application. Jesus told a healed leper to “shew himself to the priest” and offer a ritual gift (Gr.doron, sacrifice) (Matthew 8:1-4.) Jesus also commanded the healed leper TO TELL NO MAN. Does that mean we must offer animal sacrifices today and keep it a secret when we are healed? Jesus asked the rich young ruler to go and sell all that he had (Luke 18:22). Jesus did not ask Zacchaeus or Jairus to sell all their possessions.
Matthew 6:16-18 doesn’t say how OFTEN each person must fast. Once a lifetime? Once a week? Can you have juice? It wasn’t clarified whether fasting must be done without food and water night and day, as the Jews did in a time of danger (Esther 4:16). David sometimes fasted till sundown (Judges 20:26; II Samuel 1:12; 3:35). Is that okay? That’s similar to how Muslims keep their month-long Ramadan fast. They fast by day and feast by night.
It wasn’t clarified whether certain groups must fast to be faithful
It wasn’t clarified whether expectant mothers, children, or sick and elderly Christians must fast to be faithful. Nowhere does Scripture command Christians to reserve specific day(s) of the week for fasting, or pick their own days. Christians who “covenant” with God to fast on certain days come under a law of “observing DAYS and months and times and years” (Galatians 4:10). Every time “fast day” rolls around, the believer might worry that if he doesn’t keep the “spiritual disciplines”, God might discipline (punish) him. That’s fear, not grace (Romans 8:15).
I’ve read various pieces on how to properly break a fast, reflecting on the fact that no rules about fast-breaking are given in Scripture! Even when the fast is “over”, people are made to feel guilty if they don’t “show discipline” in resuming the eating of food. “Discipline” (prolonging the misery) means just nibbling on a bit of fruit, etc. for a couple of days. This really amounts to continuing with the fast in a modified form, as approved “fast-breaking foods” have few calories.
Eating anything more than that for awhile is said to repel the sweet Presence of God the faster strove so hard to achieve during His fast. I do know that prolonged communion with the Lord, whether fasting is involved or not, is very refreshing to the soul. Being afraid to spoil that sparkling clean sense of spiritual intimacy with Jesus by ending the fast is a lot like giving being reluctant to ruin that just-brushed feeling by using your teeth to chew your next meal!
Nonsense, isn’t it?
But that’s nonsense, isn’t it? IN Matthew 15:11 Jesus said food does not defile people (make them ritually unclean). It is SIN in every form which alienates God’s Spirit, not the presence of food in His Temple (our body)! God doesn’t mind meat (food) being present in His House. Just refer back to good old Malachi 3:10!
Where it concerns the resumption of eating after a fast, everybody’s needs are different. Weak, watery foods might not suffice for some. David’s men found a young Egyptian slave who had fainted in the wilderness after being deserted by his master for being too ill to travel. The lad had gone without food and water three days and three nights. David did not offer the Egyptian just a teaspoon of yogurt. David fed him bread, dried figs and raisins, all energy-dense foods, so that his “spirit came to him again” (I Samuel 30:11-12).
Some caution that if you immediately go back to a normal diet you’ll only undo all the benefits of your fast, so better keep your fuel tank on fumes, or God’s hands are tied, where getting your miracle is concerned! I thought God was mightier than that! He upholds the entire weight of this earth WITHOUT anybody fasting and praying that He’ll continue to do so! God is well able to bear our burdens too!
As for the body being an inherently evil thing
As for the body being an inherently evil thing to be punished for Adam and Eve’s sin, that’s an age-old heresy. Adam ate the fruit out of a heart of disobedience, so sin originated in Adam’s heart. The seat of sin is the heart, not the stomach (Mark 7:18-23)! Worship proceeds out of the regenerated spirit of man, not out of our intestines, gall bladder, liver, stomach, etc.
Try telling someone who is ravenously hungry from a three-day fast that he (or she) will lose the reward of their fast if they break that fast with something delicious! That is an ascetic (body-punishing) attitude and falls into the “taste not” and “commanding to abstain from meats” category (Colossians 2:21; I Timothy 4:3). Once you feel within your spirit that God has sent His answer, why should you continue to go hungry? Rather, you ought to rejoice and eat your meals with gladness (Acts 2:46). The early believers ate their food with gladness, not guilt!
Understanding the Complete Picture
Jesus’ warning against religious pride is the dominant, recurring theme of Matthew 6:1-18. Jesus warns that almsgiving, praying and fasting must not be done “to be seen of men”. Christ was addressing Jews who lived under Mosaic Law, not Grace. If you keep part of that passage AS A LAW you must keep it ALL. Jesus tells fasters not to look unhappy. He instructs them to “anoint your head with oil”, another Jewish custom not universally observed. So if you must fast in response to this passage, you must get the oil bottle out too.
In Matthew 9:14-17 John the Baptist’s disciples ask Jesus why His disciples don’t fast like they do. Jesus immediately links fasting with mourning. Jesus compares fasting to old wineskins which cannot contain new wine. They’ll burst. Jesus says it’s useless to patch up an old garment with brand new cloth. It will tear. Fasting is a perfect tissue match with Old Covenant legalism, not New Covenant liberty. Jesus wasn’t trying to patch up old Jewish customs to hand them down to the church!
Jesus says that the children of the bridal chamber cannot mourn while the Bridegroom is with them. But the days would come when the Bridegroom would be taken away from them, and then His disciples would fast. In the days between Jesus’ crucifixion and His resurrection, His disciples did mourn. Their joy returned when Christ rose again (Luke 24:52).
Bridegroom hasn’t returned for us we must fast.
Many believe that since the Bridegroom hasn’t returned for us we must fast. True, Jesus is not among us in His resurrected, glorified body. But He is continually with us in Spirit. We are spiritually united to Christ by faith (I Corinthians 6:16). So how can we say the Bridegroom is not with us? Jesus Himself said, just before His return to heaven:: LO, I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS, EVEN UNTO THE END OF THE EARTH (Matthew 28:20b). If you are filled with the joy of the Lord, why should you fast? That’s like getting married in a morgue! The normal Christian experience should be “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Peter 1:8).
Some think that only when Jesus is PHYSICALLY present with His people (in heaven or at the Rapture) will they no longer have to fast. There are a couple of flaws in this assumption. Even when Jesus walked the earth, He did not tell disciples of John and the Pharisees to stop fasting just because He was physically present with them. But Jesus did tell them that mourning was inappropriate for His own disciples while the Bridegroom was with them (Mark 2:19). Jesus did not object to religious Jews continuing their fasting customs. But Jesus did not order His disciples to fast.
Is the Bridegroom with us or not
The key question is: Is the Bridegroom with us or not? You believe He is only if you take Matthew 28:20b at face value. Even when Christ comes again, His glorified body will be a literal flesh and bone body (Luke 24:39). Jesus’ perfected body is awesome. It can vanish, and can even pass through walls (John 20:19; Luke 24:31). But Jesus’ glorified body will be limited to one geographical location at a time. Whenever Jesus sits on His glorious Throne in Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:3), He will be physically absent from saints ruling in other parts of the earth.
Jesus will ALWAYS be spiritually present with each of His loved ones (Matthew 28:20b). The best way to picture God’s omnipresence (being everywhere at the same time) is to think of millions of people viewing the same TV program at once. God is able to reach and teach billions of souls simultaneously. Christ our Bridegroom is spiritually present with us NOW, even though the marriage ceremony of Jesus to us, His Bride the Church, is yet future (Revelation 19:7).
“The children of the bridal chamber” are widely assumed to refer to Church Age believers. But Christians, corporately, are Christ’s actual Bride. The wedding guests and the Bride cannot be one and the same! The Greek word for “children” in Mark 2:19 is “huios”. This word is used in a wide variety of applications in the New Testament. According to comments in Strong’s Concordance, “children of the bridal chamber” can be interpreted as “friends attending a wedding.” John the Baptist called himself the Bridegroom’s friend, or, the groom’s best man (John 3:29). Jesus said to His disciples in John 15:14: Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I (not the Pharisees) command you.
Christ did say “I WILL (future tense) BUILD My church
Toward the end of Christ’s earthly ministry, He told His disciples that He would henceforth (from now on) call them His friends instead of His servants (John 15:14). But at no time before the Cross did Christ refer to His Twelve disciples as a church. Jesus didn’t even call the Seventy a church (Luke 10:1-24). But Christ did say “I WILL (future tense) BUILD My church in Matthew 16:18. Only in one other passage does the word “church” (Gr. ekklesia) appear before Jesus’ crucifixion, where He addresses disciplinary problems which would arise once the church came into existence (Matthew 18:15-17).
Before Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, His disciples were still spiritually unregenerated and living under the Law. Like John the Baptist and other Old Testament saints, they were still “friends of the Bridegroom”. After His resurrection, Jesus breathed upon His disciples and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22). I believe it was then that they were spiritually born again (I Peter 1:23).
I also believe that the Holy Ghost, not fasting, empowered them for Christian service at Pentecost (Luke 24:49). Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples didn’t include fasting! Jesus told them to tarry (wait) in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on High (Luke 24:49). Many assume that Christ’s followers fasted all ten days they waited for the Spirit in the Upper Room, but a plain reading of Scripture doesn’t support this (see Acts 1:12-14; 2:1-4). The disciples continued in prayer and supplication (no mention of fasting in this context).
Pentecost was the birthday of the Church.
Before Pentecost there was no church, just a band of disciples. When they were baptized into the one Body of Christ, they were spiritually united to Him (I Corinthians 6:17;12:13). They became members of His betrothed Bride (2 Corinthians 11:2)! This is a much closer relationship to God than that enjoyed by Old Testament saints. Before Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary made spiritual regeneration of the disciples possible, they were among the GUESTS of the Bridegroom, the ones Jesus referred to when He said, “In those days they will fast”. Jesus was not ordering His Bride to fast. Jesus prophesied that His disciples would fast for sorrow of heart when He was violently taken away from them. Isaiah 53:8 speaks of the Messiah being “taken from prison and from judgment”. Translator’s notes in the margin read: “He was TAKEN AWAY by distress and judgment”.
Psalms 102:24 speaks of the coming Messiah: I said, O my God, TAKE ME NOT AWAY in the midst of my days. Christ was to be taken away by a violent death, and His disciples would sorrow greatly. But their sorrow would be turned into joy when Jesus rose from the grave (Luke 24:41; John 16:20; Acts 2:46).
Old Testament sinners are sometimes commanded to humble themselves with fasting, but nowhere in Scripture do people fast to celebrate their normal condition of joy in the Lord. I’ve heard of people going on “thanksgiving fasts” to show gratitude to God. But that’s akin to monks whipping themselves to achieve religious ecstasy through self-humiliation . It is said that St. Malachy, the Irish monk who had a vision of all the popes who would ever live, was taught that self-inflicted suffering would bring him closer to God. Malachy beat his body and slept on boards.
Severe treatment of the body is discouraged
Such severe treatment of the body is discouraged by Colossians 2:20-23 as being a poor way to subdue the flesh. It’s almost as if some saints think that the unmerited gift of Jesus’ joy isn’t fitting for a proper sour-faced religion. Suffering-obsessed believers are still saddled with a sin nature. They think they don’t deserve to be happy this side of heaven. So they punish their own bodies to stay sad, in keeping with their lowly earthly estate.
Beware of false religious mysticism. Satan can appear as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Why do some people think God enjoys “sacrifices” of self-inflicted suffering? Failure to “live a fasted life” could lead to guilt feelings for “depriving God of a sweet-smelling sacrifice” He supposedly delights in! But Christ is the ONLY Sacrifice we need to stay right with God! Adding our own efforts to Christ’s finished work on Calvary is deadly to faith. Falling from grace results from putting ourselves under a yoke of legalistic bondage (Galatians 5:1,4).
The early church has often been called “a fasting church”, and that’s supposedly why there were lots more miracles in those days. But could it be that those miracles happened more as a result of a heart full of love than from an empty stomach? Acts 2:44-45 and Acts 4:32-35 shows how greatly Christians loved one another in the beginning. They walked their talk. They would even sell their valuables to provide for needy brethren, so that there was none among them who lacked for life’s necessities.
Beginning of the Church Age
In the very beginning of the Church Age, the poor were tenderly cared for, not neglected . Can you imagine that happening today? Instead, Christians are taught that “successful” saints swim while those who don’t apply “God’s Seven Keys to Prosperity” sink. “Seeds of faith” are sent to rich TV preachers instead of being used to relieve poverty in the church. Helping a poor struggling family is a much greater love gift to God than starving on a fast. Isaiah 58:7 makes it clear that what God really wants is to see the hungry fed, the naked clothed and the homeless housed.
Acts 2:42 says: And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
Acts 2:46-47: AND THEY, CONTINUING DAILY WITH ONE ACCORD IN THE TEMPLE, AND BREAKING BREAD FROM HOUSE TO HOUSE, DID EAT THEIR MEAT WITH GLADNESS AND SINGLENESS OF HEART, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved***. No mention of fasting in those verses. The early Christians shared meals in each others’ homes with gladness, instead of keeping mournful fasts.
The apostle James was reputed to be a strict adherent of Mosaic Law
The apostle James was reputed to be a strict adherent of Mosaic Law, and very Jewish in His devotional practices. James allegedly spent so much time praying on his knees that he developed calluses on them like a camel’s. In his epistle James rebuked Christians for failing to prove their love in practical ways. He rebuked believers for talking dirty. James rebuked them for double-mindedness. He rebuked the rich for being proud and greedy. James rebuked Christians for fighting among themselves.
But he never upbraided anybody for failure to fast! James, that most legalistic of Christ’s apostles, never once commands, or even mentions, fasting in his epistle. James did urge sinning, double-minded believers to “be afflicted, and mourn and weep” (James 4:8-9). Such an attitude of deep sorrow for sin could involve fasting, but fasting isn’t mentioned even there. Instead of urging more fasting to refine your faith, James exhorts believers to do more than just pray when a brother or a sister is hungry for DAILY food (James 2:15-16). Feed them!
James tells Christians how to handle certain situations (James 5:13-14). If a believer is afflicted, he is to pray (no mention of fasting). If he is merry, he is to sing psalms (not go on a thanksgiving fast). Anyone sick is to call for the elders of the church and have them pray over him and anoint him in the Name of the Lord. James does not command the elders to fast and pray, just pray.
Why didn’t the apostles mention it more
If fasting were such a critically important issue, why didn’t the apostles mention it more? Except for Paul’s “fasting oft” (going hungry because of persecution, etc.) not much is said about fasting in the epistles. These doctrinal letters to the churches NEVER bind fasting on believers! The apostles never specify how severe a fast has to be, how long it should last, how often a fast must be undertaken, etc. In I Thessalonians 5:14-22 Paul gives a list of things faithful Christians are to do, including pray without ceasing, or staying in a spirit of prayer. No mention of fasting in that list. If you fasted without ceasing, you’d get to heaven faster than the preacher at the potluck!
Some point out that the apostles sought God’s counsel with fasting (Acts 13:2). The urgency of the apostles’ need for God’s guidance took priority over all earthly concerns as they sought God in prayer. Yet it is also true that during the transition from the Old Covenant to the New, the Jewish disciples still clung to some of their old ways. In Galatians 2:11-14 Paul rebuked Peter for refusing to eat with Gentile believers, out of fear of legalistic Jews. Even more significantly, in Acts 18:18 the Apostle Paul shaved his head and made a vow in the Temple after the manner of the Old Testament Nazarites, who would cut their hair when their period of consecration was finished (Numbers 6:18).
Paul went up to Jerusalem to attend one of the Jews’ three yearly religious festivals
Some time after Paul shaved his head as part of his vow-keeping ritual, he went up to Jerusalem to attend one of the Jews’ three yearly religious festivals (Acts 18:21). Does this mean that we have to to follow Paul’s example and travel to Jerusalem to keep the Jewish High Holy Days? In his epistles Paul never commands anyone to “go up to Jerusalem” to literally keep the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. We spiritually keep those days. Jesus is our Passover Lamb, of whom we spiritually partake every day (John 1:29; John 6:48-58).
Pentecost, which came fifty days after Passover, was the day the wave sheaf offering (first ripening sheaf of grain) was presented to the Lord by the Jewish High Priest (Leviticus 23:15). The Holy Ghost (the Spirit of Christ, the Bread of Life) fills believers like He did on the Day of Pentecost (Mark 1:8; Acts 2:1-4). The Feast of Tabernacles commemorates the years the Israelites dwelled in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land (Leviticus 23:33-44). We abide in Christ, our Living Vine (John 15:1-10).
In Acts 15:24 the apostles clearly state that circumcision (and Law-keeping) is not required of Gentile converts. Yet Paul circumcised Timothy out of fear of offending the Jews (Acts 16:3). Later on, Paul stood his ground and refused to also circumcise Titus (Galatians 2:3). The apostles did not teach circumcision to their Gentile converts. They did not teach them to make Old Testament-style vows or keep Jewish rituals. And they did not require tithing and fasting.
Even if the apostles had made fasting a condition of Christian discipleship,
Even if the apostles had made fasting a condition of Christian discipleship, they would not have assumed that a non-Jew raised in an idolatrous, party-going culture was already familiar with fasting. That convert would need to be taught about fasting and its merits from scratch. The apostles’ council of Acts 15 was held to determine whether Gentile converts to Christ had to adopt Jewish laws and customs (that would include fasting).
Even James, who was zealous for the Law of Moses, sat on this council (Acts 15:13). In verse 28-29 the apostles spell out what they, AND THE HOLY GHOST require of the Gentiles, besides faith in Christ and walking in the Spirit. Only that the new converts abstain from sexual immorality, the consumption of blood, and meats strangled or dedicated to idols. The old wine of Jewish legalism was replaced by the New Wine of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost (Romans 14:17).
The closest I found to a fasting commandment in the epistles was I Corinthians 7:5, and it wasn’t even a commandment: Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer (some early Greek manuscripts omit fasting); and come together again, that satan tempt you not for your incontinency (lack of self-control).
Not even a commandment
I Corinthians 7:6: But I SPEAK THIS BY PERMISSION, AND NOT OF COMMANDMENT.
The Christian is not commanded by Scripture to fast. But neither is he commanded to eat when he feels no need to. Faith, not food intake or lack thereof, determines the quality of a believer’s service to God.
I CORINTHIANS 8:8: BUT MEAT (FOOD) COMMENDETH (approves) US NOT TO GOD: FOR NEITHER, IF WE EAT, ARE WE THE BETTER; NEITHER, IF WE EAT NOT, ARE WE THE WORSE.
Whether we eat or don’t eat, it doesn’t affect our standing before God. You are free to eat and you are free not to eat. But if you decide to abstain from food and/or drink during a season of prayer, don’t look upon fasting as adding to Christ’s own redemptive work on Calvary. He meant what He said: It is finished (John 19:30).
Can Fasting Make You a Miracle Worker?
Fasting can induce a “God owes me” attitude. If some non-faster easily obtains the very blessing the faster prays for but doesn’t receive, this can cause resentment and envy which could imperil the faster’s relationship with God. God is not obligated to grant requests which oppose His express will or violate His Word. The penitent King David fasted for seven days, begging God to heal spare his ailing infant son, who was born of his adultery with Bathsheba. But no miracle happened. God did not spare the child’s earthly life.
David’s men asked David why he started eating again. David said there was no point in continuing to fast (2 Samuel 12:23). God had already given His final answer: Someday David would go to where his son was, but his son would not return to him. Fasting, however hard or long, can never purchase one solitary benefit from the Hand of God.
Some justify compulsory fasting by saying Jesus did it. But what does the Bible really say about how Jesus ate? The lifestyles of Jesus and John the Baptist are contrasted in Matthew 11: 18-19. John “came neither eating (bread) nor drinking (wine), so people said John had a devil. Jesus “came eating and drinking” so Jesus was called a winebibber and a glutton. BOTH men drew criticism! People noticed that Jesus didn’t habitually fast. Jesus’ enemies twisted that fact to discredit Him. If Jesus had eaten barely enough to keep a fly alive, the “winebibber and glutton” allegation would be as ridiculous as calling a lion a vegetarian!
John was a frequent faster (ascetic). Jesus wasn’t. John lived on locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). Locusts are grasshoppers, though some airbrush John the Baptist’s bugs by saying they were really locust pods (carob). Carob is a cocoa substitute.
Only while in the wilderness did Jesus fast
Did Jesus live a “fasted life”? He sacrificed His all for us, even His very life. But scripture records only ONE occasion where Jesus went without eating for a prolonged period: The fast in the wilderness, where He ate nothing for forty days and nights, and was tempted by satan (Matthew 4:1-5). Christ was supernaturally sustained by the Word of God (verse 4). AFTER Jesus finished the fast He felt hungry (verse 2).
Eating DAILY was Jesus’ normal practice (Matthew 6:11). He even feasted with despised social outcasts and sinners (Matthew 9:10-11; Luke 5:30). The Pharisees upbraided Christ for dining with tax collectors and other scoundrels. They criticized Jesus for freely enjoying His meals instead of fasting often. But did Jesus’ eating and drinking, even in the company of sinners, diminish His miracle ministry? No. Unless hindered by other people’s unbelief, Christ enjoyed total success in His healing ministry (Mark 6:1-6; Luke 4:40). Devils were cast out. The dead were raised. Blind eyes were opened. Deaf ears were healed. While John the Baptist languished in prison, he heard about Jesus’ many miracles. These mighty signs and wonders proved that Jesus was the Jews’ long-awaited Anointed One (Gr.christos) (Matthew 11:2-6).
John the Baptist was among the greatest of mortal men born under the Old Covenant (Matthew 11:11). He was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15). John was specially anointed by God to call the nation of Israel to repentance (Luke 1: 16-17; 3:2-18). John ate grasshoppers and honey, and only enough to keep going.
John the Baptist did much more fasting than Jesus and His disciples
But if fasting were the key to a mighty miracle ministry, John the Baptist should have healed many more people than Jesus, because he did much more fasting than Jesus and His disciples. But it was Christ, the One Who “came eating and drinking” Who performed those supernatural works of God. John had a wonderful prophetic preaching ministry (Luke 1:76-77; 3:1-18). But NOT ONE miracle is attributed to John by Scripture!
John called Jesus Someone Who was mightier than himself, One whose shoelaces he was unworthy to untie (Luke 3:16). Christ would increase, while John was to decrease (John 3:30).
If going hungry could work miracles, every fashion model could empty hospitals and raise the dead! If fasting makes miracles happen, then why did people travel over rough terrain to GO TO JESUS for healing in the Bible? They could have just prayed and fasted at home to get healing from God!
Ephesians 6:10-18 speaks of the warfare of the Christian believer, and the spiritual armor of that warfare. Verse 17 describes the Christian’s Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Verse 18 exhorts Christians to pray with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, with perseverance and supplication for all saints. Some think “supplication” means “fasting”. But “supplication” (Gr. deesis) simply means “a prayer of petition”. If fasting is such a powerful weapon against satan, why is it not even mentioned in Ephesians Chapter 6? It is the Word of God and prayer in the Spirit which bring victory, not physical hunger.
Some think prayer in the Spirit must include fasting
Some think prayer in the Spirit must include fasting, even if they aren’t one and the same thing. But I Corinthians 14:15 indicates that prayer in the Spirit is praying in tongues. Paul says: What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also; I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.***Prayer and singing with the understanding are distinguished from prayer and singing with the spirit, which cannot be understood by the natural mind.
Just before Christ’s crucifixion, He ate (Luke 22:15). I don’t know about you, but if I thought I was about to get killed in that way, I wouldn’t be ABLE to eat! After supper, Jesus fought his hardest prayer battle ever in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was an agonizing ordeal for Jesus, as He fought against the very strong survival instinct built into every living creature, so He could go to Calvary for you and me. Jesus won that battle WITHOUT FIRST FASTING, strengthened by an angel (Luke 22:43).
Ultimately it is God Who gives the increase (harvest) for our labors here below (I Corinthians 3:6-7). Fasting is not a cure-all for spiritual weakness. The key to victory is abiding in Christ and having His Word abide richly in us (John 15:7). We are to look unto Jesus, the Author and the Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). If Jesus finished it, what can we possibly add to it to improve it?