What You Were Taught
Allow me to show you what you were most likely taught about fasting. It usually goes something like this:
“Fasting is a way to deny your flesh and put your flesh in submission. It’s something you do to focus solely on God and deprive your flesh.”
Sound at all familiar? Now allow me to ask you a very important question: Where does the Bible say any of that?
It’s funny to me to find entire doctrines, deep-seeded in the body of Christ that have absolutely no biblical foundation whatsoever. Really, can you think of any verses that explain that description of fasting? Any verses at all that explain the purpose of fasting that way? That’s a problem if we believe something without any biblical basis at all.
This article will show you a bit about what fasting IS, but mostly what fasting is NOT. Fasting is not a way to deprive your flesh by not eating, as if there would be any value in that.
The Bible specifically says that denial of your flesh may look like wisdom and it may look like godliness, but it is of no value against fleshly lusts. In other words, simply denying your flesh something does not transform you or change your desires one iota. Only the renewal of the mind does that.
Colossians 2:21-23 (NKJV) 21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,”… 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
We’ve been taught that depriving our flesh and doing certain things that make us uncomfortable (like not eating for a period of time) is somehow stretching us and allowing us to grow. We believe it puts the flesh in some kind of submission to us. And “Bravo!”, if you are able to wrangle your flesh into submission. If you can tell your flesh what to do, you don’t even need Jesus! That’s what the law of Moses required precisely, and if you can bring your flesh into submission… you have no need for the transformation of the Holy Spirit!
But for those of us that can’t keep the law of works and need Jesus to transform us by the renewal of our minds, you must know that trying to deny your flesh and making it feel uncomfortable by not eating will be of no value in changing yourself. The only way to be transformed is by knowing Jesus more.
2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV) But we all… beholding… the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
So What About Fasting?
The Bible certainly does talk about fasting. And the Bible clearly shows godly men abstaining from food at different times, especially when mourning (often while wearing sackcloth). For that matter, even the law prescribed fasting during certain times and during many festivals. So what about all of that?
It’s not usual that we write an article if we don’t have a perfectly clear picture of what something means, but we do know what fasting is NOT. And we do have a good idea as to what it may be symbolic of. Yes, symbolic. As in, “a shadow of the new covenant.“
Very quickly, let’s take a look at a verse about circumcision. Circumcision of the foreskin of a male child was practiced under the law and before the law, but God made it clear that that’s not the circumcision He wants.
Deuteronomy 10:16 (NKJV) Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.
In verses like this, you can tell God is describing the TRUTH about circumcision. Verses like this make it clear that it was supposed to be symbolic.
In the same way, the Lord says that the kind of fasting He desires from a person is not the suffering of the body and making yourself low. As you’ll see, the “fast“ that the Lord says He desires is actually equated to rest! He says that the “fast“ that He wants is rest from works — a Sabbath. In other words, even if we don’t clearly know the specifics on what it is symbolic of, it seems very clear that it IS symbolic (just like tithing, burnt offerings, circumcision, etc.).
Isaiah 58:3-7 (NKJV) 3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’ “In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, And exploit all your laborers [notice the reference to labor] 4 Indeed you fast for strife and debate, And to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day To make your voice heard on high. 5 Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, And an acceptable day to the LORD? 6 “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens [notice again the labor references], To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke [yoke means servitude]? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
God said some really important things here.
- The kind of fasting the people were doing at the time involved not eating, afflicting themselves and making themselves low. The Lord asks, “Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul?”
- He says, “You will not fast as you do this day.“ An indication that this was an old covenant symbol and that a new covenant was coming in which we would fast differently.
- He says, “This is the fast that I choose… to undo heavy burdens…” A clear indication that fasting is a symbol and the true fast that the Lord chooses involves the ceasing and abstaining from labor.
You can see that fasting (the kind that the Lord really desires) is actually equated to rest. But there’s more. Let’s keep reading.
Isaiah 58:3 (MKJV) They say, Why have we fasted, and You do not see? Why have we afflicted our soul, and You take no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and crush all your laborers
Notice He says in verse 3 that, instead of FASTING the way the Lord wanted, they found their own pleasure… they fasted the way that they pleased. Now look just a few verses later…
Isaiah 58:13 (MKJV) If you turn your foot because of the Sabbath, from doing what you please [notice the wording] on My holy days, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of Jehovah, honorable; and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure…
Notice this: In verse 13, instead of speaking about fasting the way that they pleased, He suddenly begins speaking about them keeping the Sabbath the way that they pleased.
In verse 3 He tells them to, “Fast the way that I desire. Don’t do your own pleasure“ and then in verse 13 He tells them to, “Keep my Sabbath, instead of doing what you please.“ He literally uses the term Sabbath interchangeably with fasting.
Seeing that God uses the term Sabbath (which means rest) and fasting interchangeably in the same chapter is noteworthy. Not to mention, He just got done saying, “This is the fast that I choose… to undo heavy burdens… and break every yoke” All things considered… I think we’ve got fasting extremely wrong in the body of Christ. Not kind of wrong, extremely wrong!
There may be more details to learn, but this chapter makes the case that afflicting your body in sackcloth and ashes (which is how they fasted back then) is not the fast God wants, but rather the ceasing from labor, the keeping of His new covenant Sabbath rest.
(Note: By the way, this is no reference to dieting. If you believe it is healthy for you right now to be on a certain diet, by all means that is fine. That is not related to what we are talking about here.)