Fasting has a long and celebrated history in Christianity, practiced and sanctioned explicitly by our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Fasting provides a host of spiritual and physical benefits to practitioners, bringing them from where they are to where God wants them to be. Is there clear Biblical authority for fasting? What are the foremost benefits?
Old Testament Authority for Fasting
The Old Testament is rich with examples of and testimony to fasting. Indeed, the Bible begins with the tragedy of the Fall. Consider that the very first sin recorded in the Bible, that cataclysmic sin, was the breach of a Divinely ordained dietary restriction: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Gen 2, 16-17, KJV.
Moses shows that fasting is indeed Divinely sanctioned in the story of the Ten Commandments. “And he (Moses) was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.” Exod 34:28. The author of Judges records that, “Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept, and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD.” Judges 20:26.
The Old Testament prophets continued the tradition of fasting. Ezra records that,” Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.” Ezra 8:21-23. The prophet Nehemiah tells us:” And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned [certain] days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven.” Neh. 1:4.
The prophet Isaiah records:” Wherefore have we fasted, [say they], and thou see not? [wherefore] have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labors.” Isaiah 58:3. He later tells us,” [Is] not this the fast that I have chosen? to lose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” Isaiah 58:6. The prophet Joel reminds us:” (S)sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders [and] all the inhabitants of the land [into] the house of the LORD your God, and cry unto the LORD.” Joel 1:14. And the Psalmist confesses,” But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing [was] sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom.” Psalms 35:13.
Fasting as Practiced and Recommended by Our Lord
Lest there be any doubt as to the Divine origin and approval for fasting, look no further than the Lord Himself, who began His public ministry in solitude:” Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward a hungered.” The Lord later instructs us to view fasting with joy:” 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.” Matthew 6:16-18. Visit us at www.weareradiant.com to grow with us.
Newer Testament Authority for Fasting
Luke tells us in his Gospel of the “widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served [God] with fasting and prayers night and day.” Luke 2:37. He goes on to record several more examples in the Acts of the Apostles. “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” Acts 13:3. Later, Luke writes that,” when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” Acts 14:23.
The Apostle Paul celebrates fasting in this way: “Defraud ye not one the other, except [it be] with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer.” 1 Cor. 7:5.
As these examples demonstrate, there is overwhelming Biblical evidence that fasting is Divinely inspired and sanctioned. Clearly the Lord intended His followers to practice fasting with the expectation that they, and the Kingdom, would benefit therefrom. And there is considerable evidence for the spiritual and physical benefits that come with fasting. What benefits might one expect?
Many scientific studies have shown that fasting might assist with the control of blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, inflammation, detoxification, heart disease, brain function, weight loss, longevity, cancer prevention, migraines, among others. It is common for practitioners to feel enhanced mental alertness. But for the Christian, the real benefits of fasting are spiritual.
Fasting is a practice that dates back centuries and serves to connect us with our spiritual ancestors. But as fasting has become fashionable for medical reasons, it is essential for the Christian to practice the fast with spiritual purpose. For example, one might fast:
- as reparation for one’s own sinfulness
- in conjunction with intense prayer
- in thanksgiving for prayers answered
- as a sign of humility and dependence upon God
- as a means of overcoming temptation
- in preparation for spiritual or temporal battle
It is clear that fasting has a special place in the Christian faith, inspired by God and practiced for many reasons. The spiritual benefits of fasting will be enhanced for those who view fasting as a means to bring themselves closer to where God wants them to be.