In general, fasting is abstinence from food for spiritual reasons; it is that personal discipline that aids us in our spiritual life.
To start, I want to tell you that I am not a regular faster, nor do I enjoy even the thought of it. But as any discipline, I know that it has its purpose; and so, as I present this information—which happens to be in the chapter of the book I am blogging through, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount—I am now trying to follow God’s will if He should guide me to fast. I will now present to you the follow four points:
The Biblical Basis for Fasting
Some would argue that in this day of grace, in this New Testament era, we should not be fasting. But clearly, there is a biblical basis for it, both in the Old and New Testament. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out, under the Law of Moses the children of Israel were commanded to fast once a year. And there are several examples of Old Testament fasting. Fasting is also mentioned in the New Testament. It is not directly commanded or taught by Jesus, but is indirectly taught and approved of by Jesus, since He Himself fasted (Matt. 4:2), and so did the early church (Acts13:2-3; 14:23).
Lloyd-Jones points out that the problem many are having now with fasting is clearly an over-reaction against Catholicism; for you recall from history that fasting was a huge part of the Catholic religion and clearly was an incorrect use of it.
The Wrong Use of Fasting
If we stick to what fasting basically is, a discipline that aids us in pray and in our spiritual relationship with God, that will keep us from any wrong use of it. With that being said, here are four wrong uses:
1. Fasting should not be done as a good work in itself.
2. Fasting should not be done to try to make yourself more disciplined or more spiritual.
3. Fasting should not be done to get a blessing from God or to be more prosperous.
4. Fasting should not be done to see if we can achieve some personal fasting goal—for example, to try to fast for a certain length of time. Overall, fasting itself will not please God. It should not be an end it itself. It is always to be regarded as a means to an end and not as an end in itself.
Correct Purposes for Fasting
Again, we will begin with the definition of fasting, which is a discipline to aid us in our spiritual life. From there we derive the following purposes:
1. To aid us in our lack of faith in doing some spiritual work (example: casting out a demon, Matt. 17:19-21).
2. Basically it is to be closer to God. We get this from Mark 2:18-20, where Jesus explains that His disciples did not fast because they were with Him, and so they had no need to fast. But after Jesus would be “taken away from them,” then they would fast—for obvious reasons.
3. As an aid in doing a special work of God, which would require a special spiritual guidance (example: Acts 14:2-3, choosing Barnabas and Saul as missionaries; Acts 14:23, appointing elders).
4. To receive help from God when faith is lacking (Example: the nation of Israel fasted when Moab and Ammon came against them and they were afraid, 2 Chron. 20:3).
How to Act When Fasting
Just as with giving and praying, fasting, Jesus said, is a practice of righteousness (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16), and therefore, we should do these things without sounding a trumpet, as to inform those around us what we are doing. For any act of our Christianity should be an act of humility and just between us and God. Fasting therefore should be done in secret, or, without people knowing that we are doing it. Hence, we shouldn’t draw attention to what we are doing by not washing or shaving. We should rather look as normal as possible. And if we are worried that we will not get our proper recognition, we can take comfort in the fact that God sees everything we do and will secretly reward us (Matt. 6:18).
“And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17 “But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face 18 so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. NASB