Why should we fast as Christians?
Fasting, meaning abstinence from food and drink for a long or short period, is frequently mentioned in the Scriptures. Sometimes, instead of the single word ”fast,” the descriptive phrase “to afflict the soul” is used, the reference being too physical fasting rather than to spiritual humiliation. This term is used in various parts of the OT but is the only one to denote the religious observance of fasting in the Pentateuch.
The book of Acts records believers fasting before making important decisions (Acts 13:2; 14:23). Fasting and prayer are often linked together (Luke 2:37; 5:33). Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. Instead, the purpose of fasting should be to take your eyes off the things of this world to focus entirely on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God and ourselves that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God.
Fasting is a practice found throughout Scripture. A fast in the Bible is usually voluntary, total abstinence from food for a set time to devote oneself to seeking God. Fasting denies our flesh what it wants so that we can focus more clearly on strengthening our spirits.
Why Did Jesus Fast?
It doesn’t seem that Jesus fasted often. His critics condemned Him for “eating and drinking” (Matthew 11:19). There is only one recorded instance in Scripture of Jesus fasting. This fast immediately followed His baptism (Matthew 3:13), which inaugurated Jesus’ public ministry. Matthew 4:1–2 says that the Holy Spirit-led Jesus into the wilderness to fast for forty days and nights. During that time of fasting, Jesus was repeatedly tempted by the devil. This testing time prepared Him for the three-year ministry that would change the world.
During those forty days, when Jesus’ flesh was at its weakest, He endured relentless temptation from Satan. Satan offered Him alternatives to God’s plan, compromises that would satisfy His natural desires, and attacks upon His very identity as the Son of God (Matthew 4:3). Jesus used the Word of God, not His own strength, to defeat those temptations and remain victorious over sin. He demonstrated for us that fasting can strengthen us spiritually when we use it to draw closer to God.
After Jesus’ fast, the devil left Him and “angels came and attended him” (Matthew 4:11). Luke 4:14 concludes the account of this testing time by saying, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.” He had conquered temptation and was ready to embrace the purpose for which the Father had sent Him. He would not rely on His humanity to perform miracles, deliver the oppressed, or defeat death. Fasting was a way to declare mastery over His human nature so that He would live every moment directed by the “power of the Spirit” (Luke 10:21). He set the example for us who “are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit” (Romans 8:9). If the Son of God did not rely on His flesh to live in obedience to God, then we can’t either.
John Wesley practiced a weekly fast from sundown on Thursday to sundown on Friday. He refrained from eating food while taking water and tea during the day. On Friday evening he broke the fast with a light meal (broth, bread, and water or tea).