A Theology of Fasting: part 1

I have not heard many people talk very much about fasting where I come from. Unless it’s intermittent fasting for health. But, not fasting for spiritual purposes.

Africa is a little different.

Fasting is a big deal in Africa.

That could be a good thing. If it’s taught well. But, it also could be a bad thing. It’s not quite as simple, as just do it or don’t it. In fact, one of the things that made religious people so angry with Jesus was his approach to spiritual practices like fasting.  

I would guess where I am now, many of the people I serve are so used to people talking about the importance of fasting that we might not always notice that one of the things that got the religious leaders upset with Jesus was the fact that he really didn’t.

Where the followers of most of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day would have been characterized by regular fasts, Tuesday and Friday, twice a week, Jesus’ followers clearly weren’t. 

Luke 5:33,

“And they said to him, ‘The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.”

It is obvious, I think, that Jesus had a different approach to fasting than many of the religious people all around him, and I would guess, one that is different than many of the religious people all around us as well, and so I thought it might be wise for us to look a little more closely together at what the Bible teaches about fasting. 

I have gotten asked this quite a bit.

What does the Bible teach about fasting? 

And obviously the Bible does have something to say about fasting.

It’s not that Jesus is against fasting.

He’s not saying that his followers will never have the opportunity to fast. In fact, he says in verse 35, while it is true there was no reason for his disciples to fast at that particular moment in salvation history, “the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, (and he’s talking about himself of course) and then they will fast in those days.”

While Jesus doesn’t exactly command fasting there, he simply says they will fast, he certainly doesn’t forbid fasting either, and we’ll see as we look at what he says about fasting and what other writers of Scripture say as well, that the Bible definitely does have something to say about fasting, but perhaps what is important for you to hear at the outset, before we write anything else, is that we are going to be looking at what the Bible has to say about fasting.

Emphasis on, what the Bible has to say.

Over the course of several posts, I want to give you a number of principles regarding fasting, you might call this a theology of fasting, and the very first principle is simply that the Word of God must direct our approach to spiritual practices fasting.

We don’t just get to make it up.

And though I hope that’s kind of obvious, I think it’s important for you to hear, because I know fasting is one of those issues, where if we have grown up in the church, we may have heard something about fasting, and some of you already have opinions on fasting, you know what you think about it, and while that is good, honestly, you need to know, at the end of the day, in terms of how we are actually going to live as a church, I am not all that interested in what I think about fasting or you think about fasting or what some tradition that you grew up with taught you about fasting, while those might be nice or interesting to talk about or even helpful, in terms of what is actually authoritative, what we do we have to do when it comes to fasting, what matters is what the Bible has to say about it.

I don’t have any right and no one else has any right to command you or bind your conscience where the Bible doesn’t, and so we need to know what the Bible says, but that takes a little work for us to get to, and one reason it takes work, is because it seems to me at least, that fasting is one of those issues where we hear a lot of clichés and opinions, and the person sounds nice and they are speaking loudly and who is going to argue, but sometimes we are taking in what they are saying, without always really as carefully examining as we should what the Bible clearly says.

It’s kind of like, we were out speaking the gospel as a church and we were talking to a nice young man, and I really do think, he most likely was a believer, and yet as he was talking, it was pretty obvious that he was really mostly just quoting back things people had told him, and hadn’t actually studied the Scripture very much himself, and with a subject like fasting, as I was looking at what the Scripture has to say about it, I was just realizing this week, how much of what we think about fasting, often come from what people have said about it, and not nearly as often from the Bible itself.

And that is a problem, it really is a problem.

Ideas about fasting that are not based on what the Bible teaches, and one reason it is a problem is because as we’ll see in our next post, it is very possible to fast without it doing any real lasting spiritual good at all.

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