Should we fast today?

Friends,

I am teaching an adult Sunday School class this year on the “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.”  Obviously, i am using Dr. Whitney’s classic work as a guide among other resources.

I have finally come to his chapter on fasting.  He suggests that “Jesus expected that His followers would fast.” (Matthew 6:16-17 and Matthew 9:14-15).  He also writes, “And since there is nothing here or elsewhere in Scripture indicating that we no longer need to fast, and since we know that Christians in the book of Acts fasted (9:9, 13:2, 14:23), we may conclude that Jesus still expects His followers to fast today.”

 Help me out here (w/o doing my exegesis for me). :)

 1. What must read resources would you suggest I review to help answer the question: is fasting a mandated discipline for all believers today?

2. Do you agree with Dr. Whitney’s quotes? Why or why not?

3. Other specific thoughts or helps you might have for me?

Thanks to Matt for letting me post this today.  Make sure you read his quote on preaching as well since it’s a great one.

Advertisements

16 responses to this post.

  1. Caleb,

    I have emailed you my sermon notes from Matt. 6:16-18.

    PSL

  2. Paul you note that the Day of Atonement is the only time fasting is commanded in Scripture (Lev 16:29-31; 23:26-32).

    Yet i believe you say in Matthew 6 it is assumed that Christians would fast.

    Is it a stretch then to say if it was assumed that we’d fast (Jesus expected we’d do it) therefore at some point it was commanded? I think that this is Don Whitney’s logic behind his asssertions.

  3. Posted by Greg Smith on January 31, 2008 at 3:55 am

    I don’t believe fasting is mandated for the Christian. However, I think it is correct that Jesus assumed his followers would fast. I have fasted for short and long periods. The longer the duration, the easier it becomes. One book I recommend highly is Piper’s Hunger for God.

  4. How dare you use my words against me :). Allow me to clarify.

    Jesus assumes (as does Matthew for his Jewish audience) that faithful Jews will fast. This seems to be the case in how Jesus frames the issue “whenever you fast” in Matt. 6:16. It’s a conditional phrase that says “maybe you will, maybe you won’t” (cf. Mt. 6:2 “So when you give to the poor”) but if you do here’s how you should understand it. It’s not about externals but about an inner disposition that is right before God (verse 18, “in secret”).

    I think Whitney makes some good points at times as does Piper in his book “A Hunger for God.” My contention comes when pastors/theologians erect a detailed system of fasting that we have to admit is not there in Scripture for children of the New Covenant.

    So if a person fasts I would say it is an issue of liberty and not command. One should also be careful and not assume that their fasting is accomplishing something for them that the Lord has neither promised or insinuated. I have heard people say they are fasting for an answer to something. To be honest, I don’t see warrant for this spelled-out in Scripture.

  5. Posted by Yogi Taylor on January 31, 2008 at 4:43 am

    Paul your a machine! Why haven’t you solved the world’s problems yet, :)

    God Bless,
    Yogi

  6. Yogi,

    Because, I’m part of the problem!

    Respectfully,
    PSL

  7. Paul wrote: “My contention comes when pastors/theologians erect a detailed system of fasting that we have to admit is not there in Scripture for children of the New Covenant.”

    The “when” not “if” with regard to giving, praying, and fasting conveyed the message to me when I preached through the Sermon on the Mount that fasting something Christians should do.

    Yet, I agree with what Paul’s saying above.

    Of course, I might say something similar with regard to giving and praying too … or any of the spiritual disciplines, really.

    I think different Christians will incorporate fasting in different ways and with different frequencies, but I think something is wrong and a believer is missing out if fasting doesn’t even show up on his/her radar screen.

    In other words, for me rather than another “obligation,” it’s a way for my spiritual life to fire on 8 cylinders (for the sake of analogy) instead of just 7.

    In my mind, Christians ought to fast. And when they do, it should be done in accordance with Scripture.

    My ice gets thin if I venture much further than that, however.

    Okay, I was almost able to leave well enough alone … I would think a Christian would have some ‘splaining to do if he/she had been walking with the Lord very many years and had never fasted.

    Why would that be? Would it be seen as an outdated practice relegated merely to the Israelites?

    Would it be something the person would not do UNLESS particularly and experientially led to do so by the Lord?

    I hate to speculate too much, but (and I mean this in the least accusatory and least arrogant sounding way possible) if you’ve never fasted, I would be curious as to why.

    Conversely, I’d be curious as to how and when others DO fast, if they do/have.

  8. Gunny,

    I appreciate your thoughts here. I have a few questions in regards to some of the things you mentioned here. I’m asking because I am sincerely wanting to know how you are thinking this through.

    You stated, “I think something is wrong and a believer is missing out if fasting doesn’t even show up on his/her radar screen.”

    “Wrong” based on what? “Missing out” on what?

    You wrote, “In my mind, Christians ought to fast. And when they do, it should be done in accordance with Scripture.”

    Again, why “ought”? What would be in “accordance with Scripture”? What passages would you say are normative for the believer who “ought” to fast.

    Thanks again,
    PSL

  9. Gunny and Paul,

    Those are the type of answers that i am interested in as well.

    Paul i agree with you in regards to the major point of Matthew 6 but at this point am not fully convinced that Jesus did not expect those things of his disciples (prayer, giving, fasting).

    When i was a teen and my parents said “I expect you to call me when you get back from so and so’s house” i would take that as a command (atleast in application). Some expectations need to be applied as commands.

    Whether or not that is the case with fasting i don’t know.

    You are correct the New Testament does not command as anywhere to fast. Paul does however command us to pray (1 Thess 5:17), and Jude in (Jude 20-21).

    I look forward to Gunny’s and others replies…

  10. Caleb and Gunny,

    I think an important point of distinction has been missed here.

    On one level I would agree that Jesus did expect his audience in the SOM to fast but neither of you have asked “why?”. Jesus’ immediate audience (Jews) were expected to fast because they were to follow the law as they were still under the law when he gave the SOM. So they were obligated to keep Lev. 16. The command to fast was for the Day of Atonement and not for us. Jesus assumed that they should keep this fast.

    Allen Ross has rightly stated, “The new covenant no longer has need for an annual Day of Atonement. Now every believer has a right to enter the heavenly sanctuary because of the finished work of Christ.”

    To make fasting a requirement or to even more gently say believers “ought” has no biblical warrant unless one claims to be a consistent theonomist and believes that Christians are obligated to keep the Feast/fast Days (including both obligations and penalties). I know of no one who does the latter.

    More practically, when a pastor tells his congregation that they ought to fast or that they can’t fire on all spiritual cylinders unless they do then he has placed a burden on his people that the Bible does not. Additionally, he has missed the point of what Jesus DID say in Matthew 6:16-18.

    One more point. Fasting is not the same as prayer. Prayer is commanded for numerous occasions and in many circumstances. When Jesus talks about fasting, he doesn’t say a word about prayer (Mt. 6:16-18). When he does teach on prayer in the near context he doesn’t mention fasting (Mt. 6:8-13). So it seems you have raised a moot point when you say, “You are correct the New Testament does not command as anywhere to fast. Paul does however command us to pray (1 Thess 5:17), and Jude in (Jude 20-21)” I agree and ask “so what?” So Paul commands us to pray, what does that have to do with fasting?

    Thanks to both of you for letting me think this out loud. I hope this is helpful to you as it has been for me.

    Blessings,
    PSL

  11. Paul i appreciate the spirit of this discussion. Friends discussing theology for the purpose of edification…

    You wrote, “Jesus’ immediate audience (Jews) were expected to fast because they were to follow the law as they were still under the law when he gave the SOM. So they were obligated to keep Lev. 16. The command to fast was for the Day of Atonement and not for us. Jesus assumed that they should keep this fast. ”

    I don’t know if WE KNOW if Jesus was speaking of Lev 16. and the Day of Atonement fast…That is just an assumption in my estimation.

    I think you’re right that under the New Covenant we find no direct command to fast. Is it expected that New Covenant believers would fast like those in Matt 6? Did God intend Matthew 6 to be applied in a similiar way as the Jews Jesus spoke to in this direct context?

    Still searching….

  12. Posted by Jim Masters on February 1, 2008 at 7:49 am

    Caleb,
    Have you read John Piper’s book “A Hunger for God”?
    It’s a good that talks about fasting and its importance.

  13. Posted by Jim Masters on February 1, 2008 at 7:50 am

    “It’s a good book that talks about fasting…”

  14. I have not read Piper’s book though i did borrow it…

    I came across a great article by Curtis C Mitchell from BSac 147:587ff (Oct 90). It is titled “the practice of fasting in the N.T.” So far it has been the most helpful thing i’ve found on the subject.

    CK

  15. Paul,

    My point on prayer is that it is commanded while fasting is not.

    Is fasting expected of us today? That is the question at hand.

    I have made my way through Piper’s book yet but he says Matt 9 (not Matt 6) is the key passage that answers our question.

    In Christ,
    Caleb

  16. Posted by Patricia Backora on May 8, 2009 at 10:28 am

    It was the Pharisees, not God, who invented weekly “fast days”. Occasionally God called for a day of national fasting in Israel when repentance was needed or danger threatened. But NOT ONCE did God ever order any regular fast day except the Jews’ annual Day of Atonement. Other fast days were added by COMMANDMENT OF MEN, not God. It was the self-righteous PHARISEES who insisted that their twice-weekly fasting was God’s requirement for living a holy life (Luke 18:12). But they had no Scriptural authority to justify the extra burdens they laded upon men (Matt.23:4). Christians who keep regular religious fasts are following the Pharisees in this, not Jesus. Only ONE prolonged time without eating is attributed to Christ: His forty-day abstinence in the Wilderness, when He had the power to live off the Word of God (Matt.4:1-4). Scripture says that AFTER those days were finished He hungered. Jesus came eating and drinking, and drew criticism for it (Luke 7:34). Fasting is not mentioned in Scripture before Moses, Giver of the Law. Religious fasting is not attributed to such righteous men as Abel, Noah, Enoch, and Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. While Moses was up on Mt. Sinai he neither ate nor drank for forty days and forty nights. When he came down with the tablets of the Law, Moses broke the stone tablets because he was mad at the Israelites for worshipping the Golden Calf. Moses went back up the mountain for forty more days and nights. Moses went without food or water, for a combined period of eighty days (Deut.9:9; 18)! Moses had to have been supernaturally sustained by God, because no one can live more than a few days without water. Moses, who fasted for nearly three months, was strong enough to walk back down that rugged mountain! Obviously, Moses did not abstain from food to “mortify his flesh” as is taught today. None of Christ’s apostles command fasting or teach on its merits in their epistles to the New Testament churches. Fasting has its roots in Judaism. It was not commanded to Gentile Christians in the first church council of Acts 15.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: