What role can and should fasting have in a Christian's life? This article looks at fasting in the New Testament.

Source: Clarion, 2014. 1 pages.

What Role Can and Should Fasting Have in a Christian's Life? Are we missing out on something if we do not fast?

"Fasting" had a prominent place in the OT, when the LORD raised his still immature people with various com­mands and decrees as part of his cere­monial laws (Galatians 4:3). Fasting, then, was commanded especially on the Day of Atonement, when the Israelites had to "deny themselves," (NIV, literally) by fasting (Leviticus 16:29). They had to humble themselves with confession of sins, with prayers, and deny themselves whatever was pleasing and enjoyable for their body. Later on the Pharisees increased such fasting as a way of earning the LORD'S favour (as the RCC did in developing a prac­tice of fasting for similar purposes, as merit, or as good works). We confess, however, in Belgic Confession Arti­cle 25,

That the ceremonies and symbols of the law have ceased with the coming of Christ ... In the mean time we still use the testimonies taken from the law and the prophets, both to confirm us in the doctrine of the gospel and to order our life in all honesty, according to God's will and to his glory.

The Lord Jesus disagreed with the demands of the Pharisees, where he says in Luke 5:34, "Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?" Yet, then he does add, "But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast." Here the Lord Jesus does not give a new "command" for fasting for the time when he will have ascended into heaven; no, he predicts and prophesies that the NT believers will fast spontaneously. They're no longer immature children who require commands, but as mature believers they will know how to please the Father and when to do his will and order their life, including a time of fasting.

We see how the Lord Jesus observed that in the fu­ture of his church gathering work there would be times again in which fasting will be appropriate. There will be days when the circumstances of war, calamity, fam­ine, deformation, or persecution, will cause sadness and sorrow, which almost "naturally" (spiritually speaking) will lead to a time of special prayers and fasting. Again they will deny themselves the joys and pleasures for the body; they won't have any interest in fun and enter­tainment, in "bread and games." In those days the Holy Spirit will lead them by the instructions and truth of the OT practices to a time of sobriety, of humility, and of prayer and fasting.

In the NT dispensation such times are not com­manded but believers will be moved by the Spirit spontaneously. The NT church could also proclaim the need for such days, as the church in the sixteenth and seven­teenth century did during times of persecution following the Great Reformation, or the church of the nineteenth century under similar circumstances. Calvin, in his In­stitutes, writes extensively about this (Bk. IV, Ch. XII, par. 19-21). The Synod of Dort, 1618-1619, acknowledged the need for such special days in its Church Order (cf. our CO, Art 54), recommending that churches be called to observe such a special day of prayer! At such an occasion it would be highly appropriate again to accompany such special prayer with a time of fasting. At such an occa­sion we would do well to heed the Lord Jesus' words in Matthew 6:17, "But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face (i.e. act normal!), so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

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