A Theology of Fasting: part 2

We have to go back to what the Scripture teaches because fasting is not profitable, in and of itself.

It is not like, hey I just stop eating food and the magic happens.

I know sometimes people think if there is a religious practice that we find in the Bible, doing it will always be good for us, even if we don’t know why we are doing it, just so that we do it, but that is clearly not even close to being true, because here in Luke, these people are fasting on a regular basis, the ones that are objecting Jesus, and some of them are going to end up being the very ones who want to kill Jesus.

And obviously, if you are fasting, and you still want to kill Jesus, that fasting is not helping you spiritually, at all. And if fasting is not helping you spiritually, why do it, I mean, because fasting is difficult, by definition, pretty much.

When you are fasting, you are not eating, for spiritual reasons, that is what fasting is. Sometimes people call almost anything fasting. Like, if I don’t watch television for a week, that’s fasting, but that’s not really the fasting the Bible talks about, it’s more self-denial in general, the words the Bible uses for fasting, have to do with not eating food for spiritual reasons.

Which is difficult, for most of us, at least. 

It’s not just that you are not hungry, and you say I don’t want to eat, I must be fasting, no, it’s denying yourself the legitimate pleasure of eating even and especially when you want to or need to, because you are focused on something even more important, and primarily, of course, this something that is more important, has to do with your relationship with God, and that clearly, for most of us, is hard to do. Once in a while, there are people who don’t like to eat very much, but this   is not eating for a purpose, even though you want to and that’s difficult and it’s so difficult, that you don’t want to really do it, if it’s not doing you any lasting spiritual good.

Obviously, it’s not just that by itself more spiritual not to eat. 

I am starving so I am spiritual.

You are like, I am fasting, it must be doing me spiritual good.

No.

It’s not that simple.

As someone has said,

“Fasting in and of itself is unknown in Scripture as an end in itself. All of the benefits of fasting in the Scripture are indirect, not direct. Fasting is never isolated to create some virtue in and of itself.”

There’s a view of the Christian life that is like, if it is good for you, it must be bad or maybe, if you enjoy it, then it’s wrong, but that view is not a biblical one, clearly.

Sitting down to eating a meal is not less spiritual than saying hey I am going a month without eating.

“You can’t just say, I want to be spiritual, so I am not going to eat. You are no more spiritual because you don’t eat than because you do eat.”

In fact, Paul says the opposite can be true. 

1 Timothy 4, verse 1.

He writes that “the Spirit expressly says in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”

We were made in other words to glorify God by enjoying food and the other good things He created, and so just mindlessly or thoughtlessly choosing not to eat by itself, maybe because you think just suffering for no reason like that, is somehow going to get you closer to God, isn’t necessarily true.

You obviously want to know what the Bible says about fasting, because there’s no reason to fast, otherwise, if it is not doing you spiritual good and that’s completely possible, in fact, let’s take this a step further, it’s totally possible to fast in a way that is not connected to the gospel at all.

There’s a lot of fasting, that is not distinctively, in any way, biblical or having anything to do with Jesus. It’s kind of interesting, actually, as you read through the Bible that it never really defines fasting so much or explains it, as much as it assumes it.

There’s not a place in the Bible that says, ok, this is fasting and this is how you do it, and this is how you need to practice it, and the reason for that, is because fasting  is not unique to the Bible, all kinds of people have fasted, it is a little like praying or even sacrificing, in that it was something God’s people were doing and that people who were pretty much pagans were doing as well.

It’s not like only God’s people fasted.

Now of course, the Bible teaches us a different way of fasting, but the point is, that by itself, choosing to go without food for a certain period of time, isn’t necessarily even Christian because all kinds of people have done that, that had no connection with the gospel.

I mean, if you want to be real straight about it, Hindus fast, Buddhists fast, though honestly I am not sure about Buddha, as the little statues of him don’t look like he did much fasting, but definitely his followers fasted, and lots of other people as well, there have been many people throughout history who fasted, and it wasn’t really honoring to God at all because it had no connection with Jesus.

Like again, for example, some of the religious people in Jesus’ day.

This was actually the problem, in verse 34 of chapter 5, that Jesus says he had with their fasting.

It had no connection with what God was at that moment doing through Him and He uses a little illustration to show that.

“Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?”

Which is why, while it would be easy to think, ok, those people are praying and fasting, so they must be more spiritual, that’s not actually always true, you can’t just say fasting equals more spiritual, because as we see here, these people were fasting, and their fasting wasn’t proof that they were more spiritual than Jesus, or knew more than Jesus, that’s for sure, instead it was proof that they were reading their Bibles and talking about spiritual things they didn’t have much a clue what God was actually doing.

There’s a kind of fasting, that is kind of neutral, it’s not really good or bad, like fasting to lose weight, or to feel better, and I know, there are a lot of books on fasting, that bring those kinds of things up as reasons to fast, and while I don’t know, you can fast, to lose weight I am sure, but that’s not the kind of fasting the Bible is talking about. The Bible never talks about fasting for those kinds of reasons. I am not saying it necessarily wrong, but it is not the kind of fasting the Bible’s talking about.

There’s another kind of fasting though, that’s not neutral, and that’s fasting that is supposedly done for spiritual reasons, but is not tied to the gospel. We have to think about what the Bible says about fasting, because there is an approach to practices like fasting out there that is completely inappropriate and spiritually dangerous.

And that’s the point of several couple parables that Jesus told about not tearing the piece from the new garment and putting it on the old or pouring new wine into old wineskins, or even that proverb about someone drinking old wine, and not wanting the new. It’s not just that rituals like fasting are neutral, sometimes people are fasting and it’s wrong, why and how they are doing it, and the way they are fasting is not helping their relationship with God, it’s actually hurting it.

This is one of the ways Paul says false teachers were doing damage in the early church.

He writes in Colossians 2:20, “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to its regulations, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’ referring to things that all perish as they are used, according to human precepts and teaching. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

Which is, I mean can you imagine, listening to this and going to all this work, week after week, and it’s not helping you but actually hurting you, it looks religious, but it is actually worldly. It’s possible to fast in a worldly way, and yet, at the same time, you know, as we look to the Word of God, we find many proofs that it is also possible to fast in a way that isn’t.

The first principle in terms of fasting and really any approach to God, is that the Scriptures must direct the way we think about it, otherwise we might be exerting all this effort to do something, that is actually leading us way from Christ, that is first, and then second, the second principle is that in God’s Word we do find many examples of fasting, which we will look at next time.

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