“The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated in her deeds.”
Do we want to be like Jesus? Then we follow His ways in that verse. Do we follow Paul? If so, there must be obedience to Colossians 2:20-22, Let us pay close attention to the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:19, “With Christ you died to the element spirits of this world. ‘Do not taste’. All these regulations refer to things that perish with use, they are empty human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting an imposed piety, humility and severe treatment of the body”.
If a person says, “The Lord leads me to fast”, then according to the above verse, it cannot be the Lord, who tells us so clearly by His Spirit that it is worldly to be ascetic and fast. The Word of God is the final and only Word to us.
Consider the lack of emphasis on eating or not eating in Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
To be an ascetic, or one who fasts often, is not doing what Jesus did, or Paul or any of the other Apostles. It is doing what unscriptural Christians did and now do, in Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. It is following the style of early so-called saints in North Africa, who fasted and built towers to live in so as to be separated from the world.
God has given us 31,000 promises in the Word of God. They are all for us who believe. 2 Corinthians 7:1 says, “Seeing we have these promises” in relation to certain Old Testament scriptures. 2 Corinthians 1:20 states, “For in Him (Jesus Christ) every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes”. Verse 21 says that we are established in Christ.
Therefore, every promise is for us – already. If God has given us every promise, unreservedly and in grace, we do not need to fast. Those 31,000 promises cover every need we may ever have in this world. We have so many promises, can God give any more? As He has already given us the promises in Christ, all that is left for us to do is to receive them by faith in prayer. Fasting can never add one thing, however small, to any of the promises.
An old hymn says, “Prayer is the Christian’s native air”. The Word of God says to “Pray without ceasing”. It also declares “Give yourselves wholly to prayer and entreaty; pray on every occasion in the power of the Spirit”, NEB. “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of”. A man or woman of God is made one by prayer. The faith of praying by the Spirit wins victories. Prayer is the most important exercise a Christian can engage in.
The best kind of prayer is that of intercession, where the Holy Spirit makes intercession for the saints, as in Romans 8:26,27. These verses show us clearly that we do not know how to pray as we should. If we do not know how to pray, it would be impossible to add fasting to that prayer to improve it. We have the One sent to be our Comforter, Advocate or Helper who is the source, the strength, the power and the suitability of our prayers. He is the Holy Spirit. He knows how we should pray and He is our intercessor. He prays through us. We know that kind of praying from other scriptures also, to be praying in the Spirit, or in other tongues, as shown in the following paragraph. A non-Pentecostal theologian admits that verse 26 shows the individual saint (of that day) praying in other tongues. He then says that verse 27 is the whole church, all the believers, praying aloud together in other tongues. This is how the Holy Spirit intercedes through us. The mistake he makes is that it all finished with the apostles. History records that it did not do so. For the first hundred years we are told, in all the meetings, the believers prayed together aloud in other tongues and also worshipped aloud together in other tongues. Thus is the Lord Jesus Christ glorified and the Father receives the worship and prayer He requires, John 4:24; Ephesians 6:18.
In this kind of prayer, our spirit prays, 1 Corinthians 14:2,3,18-20 and it is by the Holy Spirit. The difference between the Spirit way of praying and fasting is this. Fasting concerns the body. This praying is by the spirit of the Holy Spirit. Fasting is a soulish act motivating the body to go without food of the earth. Prayer in the Spirit is a spirit-ual act motivating the spirit to have spiritual food from heaven. Fasting is our own effort and an effort of appeasing or pleasing God, at that. Prayer in the Spirit is particularly God’s work through us by the Spirit. It is not hard to decide which is more profitable and more effective. Prayer in the Spirit.
This means that as we pray in other tongues in intercession, the Spirit is helping us and motivating our prayers to be according to the will of God. Prayer in other tongues will pull down strongholds of Satan. It will open unreached areas for the gospel. It will prepare the people’s hearts to receive the good news of the salvation. Then they will be born again and at that time, enter the kingdom of God or of Heaven, John 3:3,5; Matthew 19:24; Mark 9:47; 10:14,23; Luke 10:9;12:31;17:21, Matthew 3:2;;21;11:11;13:24,31,33,45,47;16:19;18:23; Mark 1:15, where the kingdom of God is called the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world”, John 18:36. Luke 17:21 states, “The kingdom of God is within you”.
Notice that Matthew, who writes to the Jews, uses the term, “the kingdom of heaven”. Israel was to be a kingdom ruled over by God, on earth. It is clear from Exodus 19:6, “you will be for me a kingdom of priests (on earth)” and in 1 Chronicles 29:10, “God of our father Israel” with verse 11 “Yours O Lord, is the kingdom”. The natural kingdom of Israel knew nothing of a kingdom of heaven. Matthew directs the gospel to them so that they could understand the kingdom of God was indeed a kingdom of heaven. Mark, Luke and John call it the kingdom of God because John exalts Jesus Christ as the Son of God whose kingdom is not of this world and Mark and Luke address the Romans and the Greeks in particular. Neither nation had known the God of Israel on earth. Therefore, they merely needed to be taught about the kingdom of God, knowing it would never be of this world.
The commission Jesus left was to preach the gospel, “the” meaning only one gospel, in all the world – and then the end will come.
Many include fasting with prayer. It is interesting to see what part fasting has paid throughout history. The history of the Jews as found in the Bible has some reference to fasting. Also, we can read books from History and discover how fasting became a part of the orthodox church throughout the centuries.
The early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer”, Acts 2:42. Fasting is conspicuous by its absence. They obviously did not fast. They had great joy and faith, being filled with the Spirit and thus they were in the salvation of the Lord.
We have to admit also that there is an absence of the mention of fasting in doctrine and practice when we delve into books written by the great Protestant and Pentecostal men of God over the past centuries.
SOME FASTING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
The question we may well ask is, “Did God command all the fasts there? The real source of the fasting the Israelites did will be found in the pages of Holy Writ. The Hebrew word for fasting is “som”. It means to deprive the body of nourishment as a sign that one is experiencing great sorrow. They mourned and therefore they fasted, as stated in Esther 4:3, “there was loud mourning among the Jews with fasting and weeping and wailing. They all slept on sackcloth and ashes”.
As we look at Nehemiah 9:1-5 the sequence of events in their fasting was this. They assembled with fasting and in sackcloth. Also, they placed earth on their heads. Then the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their ancestors. They read from the book of the law for a fourth part of the day. They made confession and worshipped the Lord their God for another fourth part. Some of the Levites cried out with a loud voice to the Lord.
This was on the Day of Atonement during the Feast of Tabernacles that was being celebrated after the return from captivity in Babylon, about 440 B.C. It had not been celebrated since the days of Joshua, 1400 B.C., for nearly one thousand years. See Nehemiah 8:17. If we wish to follow their fasting, we should use sackcloth, earth, confession of our own and our forefathers’ sins and be separate in all our habits, ways, culture and traditions of foreigners. In the case of Indians, it is the Hindu culture that is heathen. Is there an involvement with it? Surely believers are expected to be separated from the world, 2 Corinthians 6:14-17; note verse 17.
He who fasted was afflicting himself or his soul. The fast often lasted from sunrise until sunset, 2 Samuel 1:12. It could be a total or partial abstinence from food, Psalm 35:13; Daniel 10:3. In Psalm 69:9-21, that prophesies about the Lord Jesus, fasting is associated with weeping and sackcloth, where the person cries, “Answer me with your sure salvation. Rescue me from the mire (of sin)”.
Fasting accompanied mourning for the dead and for severe grief it lasted seven days, 1 Samuel 31:13.
They also fasted to gain the attention of God on behalf of their suffering in sickness. David fasted and mourned many days for his illegitimate son by Bathsheba, 2 Samuel 12:16. The child, nevertheless, died.
Esther asked all the Jews to fast and entreat God when she requested the King for mercy on her nation, Esther 4:16. Nehemiah fasted upon learning of the sorrowful condition of Jerusalem, Nehemiah 1:4.
If a person blasphemed God, he was to be stoned. Before this stoning, the people mourned the sin and coming execution with fasting, 1 Kings 21:9,12. When Ahab sinned, 1 Kings 21:27, Elijah pronounced judgment from God upon him. Then Ahab mourned in sackcloth and fasted. God had mercy on him and delayed the punishment on his house.
Daniel interceded in supplication with fasting, sackcloth and ashes for the nation, when they were in captivity in Babylon for their great sin and idolatry. Daniel confessed his and his people’s sin, Daniel 9:3-19. While he was praying, the Arch-Angel, Gabriel, was sent by God. He informed him that the captivity would certainly end. He also said God would establish in the future, a new covenant, Daniel 9:22-27.
In Daniel 10:2,3 he mourned for three weeks and did not partake of “pleasant bread, flesh nor wine”. This was not fasting. It was asceticism, where Daniel afflicted his body and did not pander to his taste by doing without delicacies, meat or wine for three weeks.
In Daniel 10 the Angel of the Lord, who was the manifestation of the Eternal Son of God, appeared to Daniel after the three weeks. For that time He had been withstood by the prince of Persia.
This powerful prince spirit influenced the heathen king of Persia and his kingdom against the nation of Israel. He was able to exert his power against them through their heathen ways. His power was eroded by the Angel.
Today, we do not need to pull down spirits who control cities. Our case is different. We are not natural Israel. The Angel of the Lord does not appear. No heathen king is moving against us as against Israel.
Today, this Angel, as our Jehovah Jesus, has conquered Satan on the cross. We pull down the strongholds of Satan in lives and nations through the power of the preaching of the gospel, the Spirit’s power, His gifts, anointings, miracles and the Name of Jesus – all these are our spiritual weapons. By them people are set free from Satan and sin.
National fasting was called during times of extreme crisis, such as a plague, a military threat or the death of a king. We read in Jeremiah 36:1-10 how the people followed evil. God gave His word to Jeremiah. In the midst of their ways of evil, the king and people fasted. On that day Jeremiah ordered Baruch to read God’s word to them. In the midst of their sinning and fasting, they were to turn from their evil way.
There was also Joel, who urged the people to have a fast and said that if they would truly repent in mourning and fasting, God would be gracious and postpone the day of judgment, Joel 1:14; 2:12-15.
The heathen city of Nineveh repented to God in sackcloth, ashes and the mourning of fasting. God responded by not destroying their city as Jonah had preached He would, Jonah 3:5-10.
Various fasts multiplied in the Old Testament, starting from Judges 20:26 in 1200 B.C., 1 Samuel 14:24; 2 Samuel 1:12; 3:35, about 1050 B.C., Daniel 600 B.C. and Zechariah 500 B.C.
We note that all these examples of fasting were because of their sin, idolatry and being away from God. It was always accompanied by total mourning. Not one fast was given by the command of God or under the Law. Also, this was the nation of Israel under the Old Covenant. The Messiah, Jesus Christ had not yet been born. The Gospel was not yet given. The Kingdom of God had not yet come.
The Kingdom of heaven was announced by Jesus Christ when He began His ministry. The Cross of Jesus Christ was still in the future. The Holy Spirit was yet to be poured out from heaven. The New Covenant made with the Blood of Jesus was not yet in existence. They did not know or experience the justifying, sanctifying power of the Blood of Jesus. They did not know the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as we believers do. They were not baptized in the Holy Ghost.
Our experiences with God should be different from theirs. Moreover, if we wish to fast as they did, we should also wear sackcloth and ashes and spend the whole time mourning before God.
The chosen people of God in the Old Testament fell into sin, particularly idolatry, over and over and needed to repent. God had to send judgment upon them.
They fasted and mourned to avert His wrath in judgment. They repented in sackcloth and ashes. Also, they were under Law and not grace.
About 600 B.C., a fast was begun and continued each following year, in the seventh month, to commemorate the assassination of Gedaliah, 2 Kings 25:23-25. These annual fasts were not commanded by God. The people self-righteously observed them, as indicated by Zechariah 7:5-8, “Was it indeed in my honour that you fasted? Even those seventy years that you were in exile, was it for Me that you fasted?” If they had listened to God’s words through the prophets, they would not have been sent into captivity in Babylon. They would not have needed to fast. Therefore, we see that the real problems were:-
- They ignored the Word of God. They did not listen to His messengers, the prophets. They were disobedient. They lived in sin and in rebellion.
- God had to give them up to captivity in a strange land for seventy years because of their sin.
- Because they were in captivity they realised they must repent and call out to God. However, it was only a remnant that did this.
- They fasted to show their repentance and it was merely a form. Nothing that is man-made and comes from the sinful heart of man is pleasing to God.
There were four fasts yearly that were undertaken apart from the Command of God.
These four fasts became institutions after the Exile into Babylon, to memorialise the destruction of Jerusalem. They were in the 4th, 5th, 7th and 10th months. We read about them in 2 Kings 25:3-21; Jeremiah 52:12, 13; 2 Kings 25:23-25. They followed these fasts year by year, merely for commemorating the judgments of God upon them as a nation. These judgments for which they fasted, were – the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple and the murder of Gedaliah, as well as the first attack on Jerusalem.
DISCOURAGEMENT OF FASTING
The prophetic books of Joel and Zechariah discourage emphasis on fasting and human display in it.
In the first, there is joy and the outpouring of the Spirit. Joel 2:23-29 prophesies this. The fulfilment began on the Day of Pentecost, when Peter specifically declares it to be so. He said, “This is that which was prophesied by the Prophet Joel” and quotes the verses. It occurred without any fasting. It was the sovereign act of God, the prelude to all that was meant to happen for all believers during the Church Age. The Bible states that the disciples were filled with joy.
Fasting is past, trumpets the prophet. Zechariah chapters 7 and 8 reveal that the day of fasting is past. The prophet Zechariah says that fasts should become feasts for joy. He prophesied to the remnant who had returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon. We are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. Our captivity to sin and Satan is left behind.
Fifty years later we read about God’s condemnation of fasting, that should have been removed as said by Zechariah. An examination of Isaiah 58:1-8 brings a leading question. Is it about a fast from food? Many would say it is. They had been following one of their fast days. It was totally displeasing to God. Jeremiah 14:12 shows God’s attitude to their fasting, “Although they fast, I do not hear their cry”. In Nehemiah 8:9-11, the remnant are encouraged to “not mourn or weep”. Nehemiah says to them, “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength”.
It is obvious in the passage from Isaiah that the people do not fast because God asks them to. They find a particular pleasure in fasting. It is the same the world over, in all kinds of religions, including Christian. Then God showed them that the fast He required had nothing to do with going without food. This portion discloses God’s displeasure:-
- They did not fast because God wanted them to or asked them to.
- God did not answer them, although they afflicted their souls with fasting.
iii. They found a particular pleasure in fasting. Religious observances can be very satisfying!
- They ignored the problems and troubles of their social and economic situation, by fasting. They should have acted correctly, without this prayer and fasting.
- They engaged in quarrelling. Fasting did not turn God towards His people.
There was a day in the year when God did require a fast. It was the Day of Atonement The children of Israel kept this Day of Atonement, annually, Leviticus 16:29,31; 23:27- 32. In this latter verse, they were told to “humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath”. They were to afflict their souls and were to fast from the evening of the ninth day to the evening of the tenth day. The duty of the people on this day was to rest from all their labours. “It shall be a sabbath of rest”, v 31. The day of atonement seems to be that sabbath spoken of by the prophet (Isaiah 58:13), for it is the same with the fast spoken of in the verses before. They must afflict their souls. They must refrain from all bodily refreshments and delights, in token of inward humiliation and contrition of soul for their sins. They all fasted on this day from food (except the sick and children) and laid aside their ornaments and did not anoint themselves, as Daniel, ch. 10:3, 12. David before that time, had chastened his soul with fasting, Psalm 35:13. For them in Isaiah 58:6,7 it signified the mortifying of sin and turning from it, loosing the bands of wickedness.
On the tenth day of the seventh month a special sin-offering for atonement was appointed. There was the sin-offering of a kid, presented before the Lord. The blood of this slain kid, as a yearly event, was carried by the high priest into the Holiest and there sprinkled upon the mercy-seat and before the mercy-seat seven times.
Israel’s sins of the past year, were thus in type covered over and blotted out from God’s remembrance. The sins of the people were then laid upon the head of a goat which was sent off into the wilderness. Fasting as an ordinance was never given under the Law.
The book of Hebrews explains this Day of Atonement. We find it in Hebrews 9:1-7, which describes the entrance of the high priest into the Holiest on the yearly Day of Atonement. It was only for Old Testament times. Moreover, verse 8 shows that “The Holy Spirit makes this evident that the way into the true Holiest Place was not yet open to us”. The way into the Holiest was opened for us when Jesus ascended into heaven and had gone into the presence of God forever. He opened the door for us to enter in freely, Hebrews 10:19-22.
They fasted for sin on that yearly Day of Atonement and this atonement was under an order that was not perfect and that had to pass away. The Law made nothing perfect, Hebrews 7:19 and the high priest on that day, served that which is a copy (only) and shadow (only) of the heavenly things, Hebrews 8:5. It was under the first covenant. It was not satisfactory as it had fault in it, Hebrews 8:7. God made that first covenant obsolete, with the Day of Atonement and the fasting and sacrifices for sin under it. He made it disappear, Hebrews 9:13.
However, Christ has appeared as “High Priest of the things that have come”, Hebrews 9:11.
He has “entered into the Holy Place in heaven, by His own blood”, Hebrews 9:12.
We do not need to offer any sacrifices and fast yearly as the Children of Israel were required to do.
The blood of Christ has “cleansed our consciences from dead works”, Hebrews 9:24. We experience Hebrews 9:26 that says, “But now once and for all, at the close of the ages, He has appeared to put away the power of sin forever by dying for us”. The cross of Christ is our trust.
Romans 5:11 reads “Nor is this our hope only for the time to come but this too: we shall continue to joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ by whom we have now received the atonement”. Atonement has been made by Christ for our sins. It is a matter of joy.
As verse 2 of that chapter says, “We rejoice in the hope of sharing in the glory of God.” Now in the face of this, we do not mourn and fast as did the Children of Israel on their Day of Atonement, which pointed forward to the atonement that Christ would make. Rather, we have a joy that is not to be restrained.
“Atonement” means – “reconciliation, or restoration to favour”. This is found in 2 Corinthians 5:18, “It is all the doing of God, who has reconciled us (me), made us at peace with himself through Christ.” Praise the Lord!
“We have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He has opened for us, let us draw near to God with sincere hearts fully trusting Him to receive us,” Hebrews 10:20,22.
We are not like the Children of Israel, who in fear and mourning for sin, had atonement made yearly to merely cover their sins, by animal sacrifices and mourning in fasting. We have been washed in the blood of Jesus.
We have a free entrance into the presence of God Himself. We draw near with confidence, crying, “Father, my sins are all forgiven. I am washed in the precious blood of your Son, Jesus Christ.”
Fasting was a means to obtain the favour of the Lord. It was intended to be a time of grief, as with sackcloth and ashes, to move the heart of God as well as an expression of their self-humiliation. Pentecostal believers and followers of orthodox churches, are expressing self-humiliation and grief, in the hope of moving the heart of God. This is not the New Testament way.
We do not have to move the heart of God. His heart is moved on our behalf as we approach our High Priest after the order of Melchizedek in Hebrews 7:11,15,16; 8:6; 9:8,11,12,24; 10:11191,20-23. We have a High Priest in heaven who intercedes on our behalf and moves the heart of God. We do not need to express grief and self-humiliation to add to His intercession. The work for us on the Cross enabled Him to cry, “It is finished”.
The prophet was commanded to cry, in verse 1 of Isaiah 58, “with the throat”, i.e. with all the strength of the voice, lifting up his voice like a bugle in a shrill shouting tone. His voice must be heard by the people.
The Lord wants the people to know how unspiritual is their great religious activity. How much more this kind of worship applies to we believers today, who have Christ living in us and who are also filled with the Holy Ghost! Our activities must be spiritual, that is, in the Spirit and dominated by the Holy Spirit.
The people’s idea of a fast was to chastise themselves by wearing external signs of mourning, hanging their heads, putting on sackcloth and lying on ashes, Isaiah 3:24; Esther 4:3; Joel 1:13.
It was not acceptable to the Lord.
The idea of fasting was as a means to gain the Lord’s favour.
They demonstrated their grief hoping to move the heart of God because of their distress. Also, the idea of this was self-humiliation over sin.
It can be seen readily that these people not only were in sin and being judged for sin but they were not under the Gospel Age, as we are.
Fasting is not God’s requirement clearly stated in Isaiah 58:6. God as saying, “Is not this the fast that I must ever choose; to unbind the tight cords of lawlessness, to unloose the bands of the yoke and to let the crushed go free and that every yoke you tear off.”
It is evident from this verse that the fast God requires is indeed not a fast from food, at all. He indicates the thing that pleases Him. He says, as in verses 4 and 5 that the fasts from food they undertook did not please Him. It had self-humiliation but lack self-denial. They were full of injustice and oppression of the poor, or of the “lower castes”, the “untouchables” or other believers if you like.
In verses 6 and 7, God refers to a “fast” He has chosen and then goes on to say that it is – a. To divide your bread with the hungry, b. To bring the homeless poor into the house and c. To clothe the naked. A strong proof that He is not referring to a fast from food is that on that day they are to share their food. Another reason is that it is not possible that God is stating that when they “fast – meaning go without food”, because on that particular day (which would have to be the meaning) they were to help the hungry, homeless, poor and naked. They were to “share their bread (food)”.
His intention was that at all times they would provide these social blessings for the poor. That is the reason that the sense of the “fast” He mentions can only be not a season of abstaining from food but a continual giving to the poor and thus refraining from the evil of lack of compassion, love and concern. Many believers would prefer to abstain from food than to help their needy brethren in love. They lack love
Now He goes on to state emphatically what it is that would please Him for them as a nation. It has nothing to do with fast from food. Rather, it is a “Fast from evil doing”.
This kind of fast would mean they would do things that pleased Him in their dealings with other people. They were to do justly, love mercy, not oppress others, not deprive others of their liberty, not enslave others and to provide food and shelter with clothing to those brothers and sisters in need. This is the love of God. This would be according to the Law of God that ordered the setting free of the oppressed, Exodus 21:2 and Deuteronomy 15:12.
For a New Testament believer, the parallel is found in James 1:26,27; 2:13-20. We quote as follows, “Someone may think he’s religious but if he doesn’t control his tongue, he’s deceiving himself – his religion is worthless. Your way of worshipping is pure and stainless before God the Father if you look after orphans and widows in their troubles and keep yourself unspotted by the world” – “So faith without good deeds is dead”.
It is the inward condition and not external religious acts, as is shown in 1 John 3:21, 22, “If our conscience doesn’t condemn us, we can talk boldly to God and get from Him anything we ask because we obey His orders and do what pleases Him.”
Let us look at our personal situation as believers in Christ.
- We are in a position of favour already, before God. Romans 5:2 states “Through whom also we have had our introduction by our faith into this favour wherein we stand”.
- We do not need to get into feelings and manifestations of grief and distress to move the heart of God. 1 John 5:14,15 says “This is the confidence that we have in him that whenever we ask anything that is in accordance with his will, he listens to us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.”
iii. We should not feel self-humiliation over sin, as is clearly declared in Romans 8:1, “There is no condemnation at all, for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.” We have been “declared righteous by faith”, Romans 5:1 and according to Hebrews 10:10,14, “we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” and “by that one sacrifice He has made perfect for all time those who are consecrated to Him, those who are made holy.” Verse 17 records “I will never, never any more recall their sins and deeds of wrong” and this is why it is written in verse 19, “Since then, my brothers, we have free access to the real sanctuary, through the blood of Jesus, … let us continue to draw near to God with sincere and perfect faith with our hearts cleansed from the sense of sin and our bodies bathed in clean water,” (verse 22). We would do well to receive, meditate on and believe all the above scriptures.
- The only requirement God demands has to do with our hearts and lives and not externals. We are of Spirit and not Law, as shown clearly in Galatians.
- Fasting cannot kill the “flesh”. The “flesh” in Isaiah’s day was not killed. Far from it. Their lives were full of sinful thoughts, actions and religious works. Our “flesh” has already been killed, as shown in Galatians 2:20, “I have been put to death on the cross with Christ”; Romans 6:2, “We have died, once for all, to sin; can we breathe its air again?”; Romans 6:6, “For we know that our old man was crucified with Christ, in order that our sinful nature might be neutralised, or in order that the sinful body might be made powerless”. We must reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God, verse 11, in order to appropriate it.
JOY FROM ZECHARIAH’S PROPHECY
Zechariah 7:2,3,19; 8:19.
Messengers went up to Jerusalem to ask the priests and prophets whether certain days were still to be kept as days of mourning and fasting, to remember the burning of the Temple and an assassination. They wanted the prophets to enquire of the Lord for them.
We should note that this was under the period of the Law. The fasts were man-made, not commanded by God and it can be said self-righteousness was rampant. What happened then has become part of the Word of God written by the Holy Ghost, for us.
The Lord then declared to the people through Zechariah that He does not look upon fasting as a service well-pleasing to Him and that He desires obedience to His word, (verses 4-7). Their fasting had previously no effect on Him. He told them that if they would turn again to His ways He would bless them.
He said He would make the previous fast days into days of joy and delight to them, when He would glorify Himself and many would come to seek and worship the Lord. The Lord showed that He required love and mercy, as He also reveals through Isaiah.
In Zechariah 8 God promised them many blessings. Most of these were fulfilled a couple of centuries before Christ. However there still remains a fulfilment for us. These promises in a spiritual way, carry over for the Church today, proven by the promise of Joel 2:28,29 that was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost and carried forward as a promise for all of us who believe, today.
Zechariah 8:19 reads “the fasts… will become joy, gladness and cheerful feasts.”
Instead of fasting and mourning, when they were restored to their land out of their captivity in Babylon, they would replace these fasts with feasts (eating), full of joy, gladness and with cheerful hearts.
One translation says, “They will be changed to joyous festivals if you love truth and peace.” We have been redeemed from our bondage in the land of our captivity, the land of sin and Satan. We have been brought back into the promised land, i.e. the land of “our salvation”. Mourning, sorrow and sighing have passed. Now we rejoice at our freedom from sin and from Satan.
Zechariah 2:10 commands us, “Sing and rejoice, daughter of Zion, for I am coming and I will dwell among you – it has been declared by the Lord.”
This speaks of two things, firstly, that the Son of God was to become incarnate amongst men. He became man and dwelt among us. Secondly, He would send the Holy Spirit to us on His return to heaven. If we could only catch the glory and the full experience of having the Lord, by His Spirit, dwelling in the midst of the Church today, what marvels we would see. What rapture, what ecstasy, what joy and wonder! What power He would manifest!
Zephaniah 3:14 says, “Sing joyfully, O daughter of Zion, shout, O Israel, be glad and rejoice whole-heartedly.” This is God’s word to us. We are “the true Israel of God”, Galatians 6:16. We are not obliged to follow Law. We are of the Spirit, Romans 2:29.
Also we quote Isaiah 51:11, which was a prophecy for the Jews when they were to come out of captivity in Babylon and for us, the Church of Jesus Christ. “Therefore the ransomed of Yahweh shall come again unto Zion with shouts of triumph and everlasting joy shall be upon their head, delight and joy will be theirs; sorrow and mourning will flee”. That includes the mourning of the fasting periods. We are to be full of gladness.
Let us keep the feast of our redemption with feasting and joy.
Jesus has a table spread, a table of rich spiritual food and He calls to us His disciples as He called to His disciples on the sea-shore after His resurrection, “Come and dine”.
We are commanded to keep the feast, 1 Corinthians 5:7,8, “For our Passover Lamb has already been sacrificed (For indeed our Passover has begun). Let us, therefore, keep the FEAST, …with the unleavened bread of unadulterated truth”. Leaven in the Bible stands for sin.
When Moses instituted the Passover, it was to be a yearly feast, Exodus 12:14, Deuteronomy 15:19-21; 16:2,3. It was a feast. They literally ate the Passover lamb with bread that had no yeast in it, for seven days.
We also eat of the Passover Lamb and unleavened bread. Our feast is a spiritual feast, without the sin that has been dealt with on the cross. We are to eat of the bread of eternal truth that has not been polluted. John 6:54, 58 shows we eat of Him, the Bread of Life and so receive eternal life, when we believe in Christ and partake of His blood when we have faith in Him so that His blood cleanses us from all sin. None of this is literal. It is real and spiritual.
1 Corinthians 10:3 shows we, with the Children of Israel referred to, eat of the same meat, who is Jesus Christ.
We partake of Christ. This is our feasting, as is stated in 1 Corinthians 10:17, “You are all partakers of that one Bread.”
Hebrews 3:14 shows we are “partakers of Christ” and 2 Peter 1:4, that we are “Partakers of the Divine Nature” and 1 John 1:3 “our fellowship is with the Father; and with his Son Jesus Christ.” Only Christ through His Spirit can satisfy us. Jesus invites us, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink”, John 7:37.
FASTING IN HISTORY, INCLUDING CHRISTENDOM
It is a well-known fact that fasting has been practised for centuries. In many countries and cultures, multitudes have fasted and still do. It is part of the tenets of their particular religion. These religions are not of God. Therefore their fastings come from a human point of view which is of Satan.
All major religions of Europe and the Middle East and parts of Asia incorporate fasting as a practice, to this day. Pagan beliefs incorporate fasting. Fasting has been used to appropriate the gods worshipped. Fasting is part of the Moslem and Hindu religions.
There has always been fasting in initiation and in heathen cults. As a Christian encyclopedia reads, “The Greeks and Romans performed these rites before initiation. Weakened by fasting, the devotees in wild ecstatic dance to the accompaniment of music, worked themselves into a delirium, ate raw flesh with blood, performing orgies.” We know that ended in demon possession. “Fasting, purification and offerings were preliminary exercises in healing cults preparatory to receiving visions or engaging in a magical ritual”. That also is demonic.
We must be careful that we do not carry over into our Christian beliefs and practices, anything that has come from heathendom or false religions, as is often done in Asian countries. This includes philosophies, life-style, manner of praying, fasting, tendencies to dreams and seeing demons, or similar traditions. New-Agers follow fasting/yoga, along with meditation. We have a new way of living and all we do must spring from Christ Himself. 1 Peter 1:18,19 tells us “For you know that you were redeemed from the futile ways and traditions inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ.”
There was a legalistic probably Jewish-Christian formulation that stated “If you do not fast, you will not find the kingdom of God; if you do not keep the Sabbath, you will not see the Father”. This statement about both fasting and the keeping of the Sabbath is foreign to the New Testament. The “Gospel of Thomas” says, “If you fast, you will beget for yourselves a sin”! Fasting and keeping of the Sabbath were made spiritual only, by some of the earlier writers. Circumcision was no longer physical but spiritual; keeping the Jewish Sabbath was to be idle regarding evil actions; and fasting was spiritual only and not physical, being abstinence from all evil.
Fasting had been a small part of some Christians since the second century after Christ. I can find nothing in either the earliest of Church literature or anything taken from early manuscripts, that dates the general practice of fasting in the Early Church before the beginning of the third century. General practice of fasting did not exist.
At that time, there was a compilation of writings by various men of God, called the “Didache”. It was written about 210 A.D. It states that fasting had first been introduced for a candidate who wished baptism. Before this act he was to fast a couple of days. In that book, there is mention of fasting by some Christians twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays. They chose those particular days to distinguish themselves from Jews, who fasted on Mondays and Thursdays.
Weekly fasts in any church did not become common until the later fourth century. The Roman Catholic Church fostered this fasting. That church brought many pagan beliefs and customs into church practices. The Medieval Church, Roman Catholic and Orthodox, encouraged forty day fasts with penitence before Easter, at Lent. The churches during this period were far astray from the pattern of the early church. Even in Australia and Canada at least, in this century, Catholics ate fish on Fridays instead of meat, as a form of fasting. Most churches do not fast during Lent.
The Greek Orthodox Church on the Isle of Patmos fasts today, saying, “We are cleansed by confession, fasting and charitable works”. The Bible says we are cleansed by the Blood of Jesus.
Early leaders in some parts of the church interpreted Matthew 6:16 which states they were not to imitate the “hypocrites”, as being it meant they must fast but not on the Jewish fast-days. It must be on two different days. They could still say like the proud Pharisees, “I fast twice in the week!” Their interpretation is obviously wrong.
The Eastern Orthodox Churches have a writing called the Philokalia. It is a collection of literature written by Orthodox Christians from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries. This book is second only to the Bible in those churches. This book urges watchfulness and zeal as human effort. For them salvation is a mixture of the grace of God and human effort. We believe we are saved by grace through faith and not by adding any human works. This is the teaching of the Bible.
This book shows concern at our struggle with the passions and vice. According to it, we use our efforts to attain virtue and godliness through bodily asceticism – fasting, vigils, prostrations, tears, repentance. These works of religion have no part in the Gospel of Jesus Christ or in our walk of faith as believers in Him.
We have seen that there were isolated cases of fasting in the Early Church. Certain early Christians in some places practiced various kinds of fasts. Some of these fasts they inherited from Judaism. Others were developed. In some places, there were a few Christians who fasted twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, around 100 A.D., according to an encyclopaedia. About 150 A.D. a man called Justin wrote, “All are instructed to pray and to entreat God, with fasting, for the remission of past sins; and we pray and fast along with them”. . Do we have to entreat God, with fasting, to have our sins forgiven? A thousand times, “No”. He is faithful and just to forgive us, as 1 John 1:7 says, “If we walk in the light … the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.” He also believed in baptismal regeneration, which we state emphatically is not part of the gospel. Justin was wrong.
Many Christians of the earlier centuries had an exaggerated idea of the importance of fasting. This was an element of Judaism or legalism or even paganism that they imported into Christianity. Historical records show there was early misunderstanding regarding prayer which was to include fasting, as the believers were thought to need “Holiness of an ascetic kind”. In their hearts they regarded fasting as a meritorious, human and pious activity. Under grace, we do not endeavour to find merit from anything we do. Our merits are the merits of Jesus Christ put to our account.
Because of this growing practice of fasting from the third century, the word “fasting” wrongly crept into numerous manuscripts and versions in such places as in Mark 9:29, where it should be, “This kind can come out only through prayer”.
Later, at the beginning of the Third Century a writer called Tertullian, referred to a general custom of fasting on the “day of the Passion”, meaning Good Friday. Josephus, that famous Jewish Historian, relates that Jesus Christ was buried and resurrected on the third day. In a footnote, he records Jesus died on the 3rd April, 33 A.D. and was resurrected on 5th April, 33 A.D., “Three days and nights”, according to Jewish reckoning of time.
It was not until the fourth century, in a back-slidden church, that a forty day fast became widespread but fasting was forbidden between Easter and Pentecost.
Also, fasting before communion became common during the fourth century. Fasting was required of persons doing penance. It is practised in the Catholic Church. Monks made fasting a regular feature of their training.
There was a group of Christians called the Montanists. We first hear of them around 170 A.D. They majored on celibacy (no marriage) and fasting. Some years later, they emphasised long fasts, prohibited second marriages and running away from martyrdom. This was in Asia Minor which is now Turkey.
These Montanists also spoke in tongues and prophesied. However, they erroneously said that their prophecies were not capable of being wrong.
They also twisted certain scriptures to make allowance for parts of their prophecies to be included, particularly regarding Eschatology, i.e. end-time events. When their prophecies disagreed with Scripture or were added to Scripture it shows they were disobedient to Revelation 22:18,19, “I warn everyone who hears what the prophecy of this book tells him: If you add anything to this, God will add to you the plagues written in this book. And if you take away any words in this book of prophecy, God will take away your share in the tree of life”. No one can tamper with the original writings of Scripture.
The gift of prophecy is capable of having error in it, contrary to what these Montanists said. There is a fine line between the spirit and soul and the Spirit’s anointing and the mind. This kind of prophecy is different from that which produced the inspired Word of God. So the Montanists were wrong when they said their prophesying was without error. We therefore cannot accept “fasting” as scriptural from such a source.
JESUS UNDER TEMPTATION
Many try to follow what the call the fasting of Jesus as recorded in the gospels. The true facts are these. Jesus was in the wilderness for a period of time under the control of the Spirit and sustained by God’s providence. Jesus was supernaturally sustained for forty days, without food. That being the case, he did not “fast” for self-mortification.
Jesus had an extra-ordinary elevation of spirit. He had some special unction from God that enabled Him to experience forty days without hunger at any time. Those who fast always experience hunger pangs at some stage.
According to His replies to Satan and His experiences with Satan, Jesus had:-
- Power to live by the food of the Divine Word.
- Ability to cross the limitations of ordinary vision.
iii. Power to transport Himself into a state that was outside of that which existed in actual experience.
All these meant an unusual spiritual life and behaviour. Jesus also:-
- Had understanding of the possibility of the innocent exercise of Messianic power, which He was not to exercise at that time. This was one thing that Satan was attempting to accomplish.
- Possessed a Divine and Spirit inspired strength of will that would not pursue wrong to follow His God-given mission.
iii. Had humility which, though fully convinced of a unique relationship with God, refused while in the flesh to rise above the limitations of mortal restraints.
His time in the wilderness is related in Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12,13; Luke 4:1-13. In Luke 4 we note a few things as we read one translation that says, “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and for forty days was led about by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was being tempted by the devil. He did not eat anything in those days and when they were finished He was hungry.“
- Jesus was filled with the Spirit, after His baptism.
- The Spirit led Him for those forty days.
- The Spirit led Him into the wilderness and supernaturally sustained Him so as not to hunger. Perhaps it indicates that Jesus was supernaturally transported into the desert, even as Elijah was supernaturally transported. The Holy Spirit controlled Jesus. Note that Israel was forty years in the wilderness, sustained by supernatural food, Manna from heaven. Moses was on the mountain for forty days when he neither ate nor drank. He too, was sustained supernaturally, Exodus 34:28 and verse 29 shows that his face shone. There was also Elijah who was forty days in the wilderness without food, on the mount of God. He had previously been supernaturally fed by the angel, 1 Kings 19:5-8.
The purpose of God was for Christ to be tempted by the devil, as a prelude to His ministry. Satan was putting Him to the test to see what good or evil there was in Him. He was soliciting Jesus to do evil. Thus began the fulfilment of His “heel was bruised” in this period of trial or temptation. Jesus would not and could not do evil. Although the second Adam, He as Man was different from Adam. 1 Corinthians 15:47 tells us why, “The first man (Adam) was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.” He is the union in one Person of Divinity and humanity. This accords with what the angel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you; therefore the child to be born will be holy.” That holy child grew under the direct control of the Spirit, in holiness.
It does not state that Jesus was led by the Spirit on to a fast. It merely states He did not eat for forty days. We do call it a “fast”, however. I have known of many Pastors and Evangelists who went on a fast for forty days. They felt hunger pangs and I was told they received nothing further from this act, personally or for their ministries. At any time, through prayer and faith, we can receive guidance from the Lord. He will “guide us with His eye” as He promised. If we wish to follow Jesus in what happened after He was filled with the Spirit, we need to follow the same criteria surrounding His experience in the wilderness. We should :-
- Be totally filled with the Holy Spirit.
- Be compelled by the Spirit.
iii. Be tempted by Satan for forty days.
- Be commencing a conflict with Satan for the world of sinners.
- Be without food for forty days, not feeling at any time any hunger.
- Be sustained by the Spirit in this supernatural abstinence. The actual translation of Luke 4:2 is, “for forty days He was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days and when they were over, he was hungry.”
vii. Be alone and not with others, the same as Jesus was.
viii. Be in the wilderness with the wild animals.
The Spirit of God in all of this guided the humanity of our Lord. This gives promise to us in our Christian walk. It does not give promise to us that we can fast for forty days and experience what He experienced. That will never be. We are not meant to do what Jesus did as Saviour and Messiah. We always point to Him as such. It should e noted that in Luke 4:14, “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit” and this shows that the purpose of the Temptations mainly concerned His ministry as the Messiah to Israel, as He then taught in “their synagogues”. See also Isaiah 61:1,2; Matthew 3:29; 12:31; Leviticus 11:20; Exodus 8:198; 31:18; Deuteronomy 9:10; Psalm 8:3; 33:6.
Let us realise that on no occasion in the Gospels, is it recorded that Jesus combined any fasting with prayer. In fact, no other mention apart from the above confrontation with Satan is made that Jesus suffered a prolonged period of going without food. It can not be called a deliberate fast.
There is an ancient tradition that makes a memorial of Jesus’ Temptation in the Wilderness. It is the observance of Lent as a period of fasting for forty days, which began just after 300 A.D. Some early Christians had fasted two days of forty hours at Easter time, from the time of the crucifixion to the resurrection. They began on Friday and continued through all day Saturday. It is true that the Jews fasted in the day time and ate at night, see 2 Samuel 1:12. This is where the Moslems get their idea of a one month fast from (Ramadan), when they fast all day and eat much of the night.
To make it an authority for a regular annual “fast” of forty days by Christians (“Lent”) is wholly unwarranted and very strange. To engage in such a fast does not give any spiritual value to a person. Rather it does the opposite, as it places the Christian in the position of relying on works of the flesh and self-mortification instead of totally relying on Christ and His work on the cross.
According to one who had studied to be a Jesuit Priest in the Roman Catholic Church, since 600 A.D. the Roman Catholic Church followed Jesus Christ as the role model, in that He went without food for forty days in the Wilderness. They called it “fasting” but the Scriptures reveal that He did not go on a “fast”. Many today cite this episode in the life of Jesus as an example of fasting. These Pentecostals who do so fail to realise they are following Roman Catholic traditions.
To this day, the fasting of Saint Patrick, the Irish Patron saint, for forty days on a mountain is honoured in Ireland. Close to the 1st August, thousands of pilgrims ascend that mountain, bare-footed, to remember this fast. Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, revered by Roman Catholics. Pagan/Christian rites in Ireland for centuries have been performed bare-footed, which is a heathen custom.
For centuries, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches imposed upon the people, the errors and cruelty of various penances for sin and religious burdens. History records watchings, fastings, hair shirts, beatings, superstitions, fanatical practices and fights with fiends (demons). Fasting was included.
History therefore teaches us that the practice of fasting by certain Christians and fasting in the church, did not begin wholesale until long after all the apostles and first and second generation of Christians had died. It was not the custom to fast and pray. It was the custom to pray.
Surely Peter would know if we are required to fast? His first epistle of Peter was written about 63 A.D. Peter had heard what Jesus said about fasting, yet he made no mention of fasting in his writings. Even though he addressed believers who were undergoing the judgment of God, he did not ask them to fast.
This judgment of God was on His New Testament house, the church of Jesus Christ. When it happened in the Old Testament house (under Moses), Hebrews 3:2, they mourned and fasted, as shown previously. . Under the New Testament, there is no record that they were to do so.
In 1 Peter 4:12-19, the persecution the church suffered is clearly shown. Then in verse 17, Peter states that it is “judgment”. He writes, “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God.” This judgment was God’s discipline to purify their lives. They were to rejoice. In Old Testament times they would have fasted and mourned. Under the New Covenant, they obviously did not fast. They rejoiced as they were persecuted.
They were told to do a few things, such as:-
- 1 Peter 4:7,8 – “Be sensible and keep your heads clear for your prayer (or give yourselves to prayer)”.
- “Have intense and unfailing love for one another.”
iii. “Do right and entrust your souls to a faithful Creator”, 1Peter 4:19.
- 1 Peter 1:6-8, “In such a hope keep on rejoicing though for the passing moment you may have to suffer various trials (persecution), so that the genuineness of your faith…may redound to praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ appears… you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
Despite suffering and persecution, they were to pray, love and rejoice. In the Early Church, they feasted with joy rather than fasted. In Acts 2:46, “They broke bread from house to house and ate their meals with gladness.”
NOW UNDER GRACE AND THE SPIRIT
We shall look at the chief mentions in the New Testament of the words “fast” or “fasting”. It is necessary that we do not form a doctrine first and then use the scriptures to support our doctrine. We should look at the Word first and then formulate doctrine. What does the Holy Ghost say regarding fasting under the New Covenant, this covenant that is based on Grace?
There is mention of fasting in Luke 2:37. Although found in the New Testament, it happened in the transition period from Old to New. Anna was an old woman of 84 years. She was under the Law and the Old Covenant. She stayed at the Temple in Jerusalem and worshipped there continually night and day with fasting and prayers. This showed her hunger for God’s kingdom and for the hope of Israel, as well as her humility. She was rewarded. It was revealed to her that the baby Jesus was the Messiah.
The next mention about fasting in the Gospels is found in Matthew 6:1-18. The subject is “Piety before Men“. Let us remember Jesus, the Prophet, was addressing those who were still under the Law, about giving alms, which is not our general custom, about praying in streets and about fasts. He looked at what the religious acts were and then gave instruction suitable for the Pharisees, as He taught His disciples.
It was customary for the Pharisees in particular to make a proud show of their religious acts. Jesus said to act differently and not to manifest sadness, grief or humiliation. Their tradition said that “Whoever makes his face sad, God will make his brightness to shine in the world to come”! Their hearts were wrong.
Jesus taught this was error. They did it to be regarded highly of men. That would be their reward and they would receive none in the world to come.
The whole chapter is about motives of the heart in religion and not about any necessity to fast. Also, Jesus in His teaching, recognised that the Jews then were still under the Law and that for the most part, they followed traditions and not the spirit of the Law. The Cross had not yet been revealed as the centre of God’s dealings with mankind.
We note this recognition of the Law again in Mark 1:44 where Jesus asked the leper whom He healed to “show yourself to the Priest and let him examine you; then in order to prove to everyone that you are cured, offer the sacrifice that Moses ordered”. That was a command of the Law in Leviticus and was to end at the Cross. The Law against us was nailed to the Cross, Colossians 2:14.
The Lord said that when they fasted, their clothing should be the same as on other days. There should be no special clothing or colour. He also said they should not disfigure their faces as the hypocrites were doing. They were to anoint their heads! Their custom in times of mourning was not to anoint the head. Their whole system of fasting was wrong. Jesus did not replace it with another kind of fasting. He merely pointed out that it was unacceptable to God.
If we are to take this passage in Matthew 6 as a literal application to ourselves, we should do it all – make a practice of giving alms, go without food and in doing so have a cheerful face. We should not use special clothing, or wear white or a certain colour, at any time. Also, we should anoint our heads!
However, note that fasting and mourning are always joined together. Therefore, in a time of joy, fasting would be unnatural. Jesus could not have been encouraging His followers to fast. He gives them everlasting joy.
Without a doubt, there is no trace in the New Testament of any appointment of a particular season for fasting. When the church down the centuries in ecclesiastical authority made seasons of fasting it has had no Scriptural authority.
Fasting has no merit in itself.
Another fact to consider is that old English used “fast” also to mean “go without food”. That is why the word “break-fast” is in common usage. It has no connection with a religious fast. It means that after a night of sleeping and refraining from eating, our first meal of the new day has broken our refraining from eating. Thus, in English, we call that first meal, “Breakfast”. We have broken our fast.
This meaning of going without food in every day life for a while, is used by King James Version in Matthew 15:32, where multitudes had gathered to hear Jesus and be healed. He then said, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint.” N.A.S. and TCNT correctly translates it, in present English usage, “I will not send them away hungry”. Beck says, “go without eating”, Williams, “have nothing at all left to eat”.
Many times people quote the King James version of Matthew 17:21, “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting”. In actuality, the King James has used this verse and its translation wrongly. The whole verse is spurious and is not found in many ancient authorities. Most English bibles omit this verse in Matthew by placing it in brackets. A footnote is given stating, “Many manuscripts do not contain this verse”. Therefore, it is not necessary to pray and fast to cast out this particular kind of demon.
A further proof of this is found in Luke 10:9, “I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy” and in Luke 9:1 where Rieu’s translation reads “He gave them power and authority to deal with every kind of demon”. This is given, without any need to fast, as a decree to all believers, because in Mark 16:17,18 all believers are said to be given power in His Name to cast out demons. Every kind of demon includes the demons mentioned in Matthew 17:20 above. There is no scriptural basis for having to fast for these demons to be cast out.
We have known demons as in Mark 9:20-29 to leave three people, without fasting, just praying previously, as Jesus said and then commanding the demons to leave in Jesus’ Name. Mark 9:29 in the King James Version includes “fasting”. It appears not to be part of the original text. As stated, Matthew 17:21, King James Version, “This kind goeth out but by prayer and fasting” is not in original and ancient manuscripts. More recent translations and concordances, omit it altogether.
Similarly, Acts 10:30 should be received as “I was praying in my house”; and also 1 Corinthians 7:5, where it really is “devote yourselves to prayer”.
However, the word “fasting” is part of the genuine text in Matthew 9:15; Luke 2:37; Acts 13:2f; 14:23.
‘YOUR DISCIPLES DO NOT FAST’
The disciples of John fasted. They had come into the Kingdom through the preaching and the baptisms by John. His disciples who fasted could not understand because the disciples of Jesus did not. They asked Jesus, “But your disciples do not fast”. It is found in Matthew 9:14-18; Mark 2:18-22; and Luke 5:33-39.
The Pharisees, of course, always fasted. John the Baptist was an ascetic. He wore camel skin and ate only locusts and wild honey and lived in the desert. He ministered in the transition period between the Old Covenant, towards its end and the New Covenant. He was still under the Law, even though he was the fore-runner of Christ. John had been beheaded and it was not long after that we read of his disciples questioning Jesus.
Perhaps the disciples of John were mourning his death and it prompted them to fast. Maybe John himself had taught them to fast. Then again, they could have thought it was the right thing to do, as the Pharisees fasted.
They fasted. Jesus did not fast and neither did His disciples. In fact Jesus says in Luke 7:33,34 “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine and you say ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of the collectors and sinners’.” Obviously, Jesus and His disciples did not even follow the fast on the Day of Atonement.
Jesus then questioned John’s disciples as He showed that He the Bridegroom was with the attendants, who were His disciples. He asked John’s disciples to answer and say what should be done at such a time, to feast or to fast. He said, “You cannot make them fast, can you?” The answer was “No”.
Jehovah and His people in the Old Testament and Jesus Christ, the Jehovah of the New Testament, with His church, are described in Scripture as having the bond of love as found between bridegroom and bride, e.g. Isaiah 50:1; 62:5; Matthew 25:1; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:32.
The Bridegroom would be taken away, tragically. Jesus said it is absurd to expect the attendants to fast while the groom is with them. How can His disciples mourn in His presence? How can we who are washed in the blood of Jesus and filled with His Spirit, mourn in His presence?
Jesus told them “The days will arrive when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then, during those days, they will fast.” This is an early prediction of Christ’s death on the cross, found in Isaiah 53:8 saying, “By oppression and judgment he was taken away”. Jesus used the same phrase “taken away” as Isaiah. He also told them in Luke 9:22 that He would be killed.
These words of Jesus refer to a violent death. This happened to Christ on the Cross. It was then that He was taken away from His disciples. In John 16:19,20, 22 He told them plainly “’In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me. I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices You will grieve but your grief will turn to joy. Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice and no one will take away your joy’.”
It is not normal for a bridegroom to be taken out of a wedding scene. If it happens, it is because of his death and is a tragic event. This is what Jesus experienced. The Cross was tragic.
John 16:16 indicates it would be a short time. We quote it, “A little while and you will no longer see me and again a little while and you will see me.” They would see Him after the resurrection. “Because I go to my Father” signifies that He was saying He would see them, at Pentecost, in the coming of the Holy Spirit. This meaning was also shown in John 14:18, when Jesus speaks of “another Advocate” in verse 15, the Holy Spirit, He says, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you”, In a little while the world will no longer see me but you will see me”.
Then in John 16:20 He explains the Cross as being a time when they would weep and mourn, while the world rejoiced. In verses 22, 23 He clearly indicates the parting would be brief. He would go to the Cross. After that, He said, “Your hearts will rejoice and no one will take your joy from you … Ask and you will receive so that your joy may be complete”.
We believe that we are to ask and receive in this age and dispensation. Also we believe we will rejoice. We are to comply with these words of Jesus, when we come in seasons of prayer to God. We are full of joy. We ask and we receive!
Christ makes it clear that gladness is to fill the hearts of believers of all ages and not sadness. Immanuel, God with us, is a reality. Christ is in us. The Holy Spirit fills us and Jesus Himself said to us, in Matthew 28:20, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The Bridegroom was taken away on the Cross. He returned to them because He arose from the dead. He was then no longer “away from them”. He is with us, His Bride His church, always, until He comes to take us up into His heavenly home. He is with us. We have joy. Nowhere does He command us, “You must fast”!
Jesus answered the question on fasting from John’s disciples by stating:-
- The friends of the bridegroom were full of joy in His presence and so could not fast. Also after His resurrection, He would be with them for a short time.
- They would mourn and fast when He was taken away violently by death, on the Cross.
- We are to know that a bridegroom as in the parable would never disappear from the wedding function unless he suddenly died.
- The only reason for fasting according to these verses, would be sorrow.
How does this portion of Scripture apply to us today? If we use these verses as a basis for fasting today, we must place ourselves in the same position. We must have hearts of sorrow. We must acknowledge that the bridegroom is not with us! That would be contrary to His promises. He promised us in John 14:18 that He would not leave us “orphaned”. “I am coming to you”, He said. In the Divine Spirit, our Lord comes to us His disciples. We have joy now, Luke 24:52,53; 1 Peter 1:8.
The Roman Catholic Church states that the Lord in Matthew 9:14-18 declared the church after His departure was to be a fasting church. This would mean that God’s people would always be sorrowful and sad. Is not their Catholic music in the minor key? In this area of fasting, as in most of their practices, the Roman Catholic Church is in error. Should we who have Christ, follow them?
The disciples sorrowed when He went to the Cross. It is true that Jesus said His disciples would fast due to sorrow! They did so when they thought the Messiah had died and that was the end of all their hopes. Jesus spoke of grief and fasting as being tied together. They sorrowed then and fasted.
A different day has dawned. Jesus Christ is exalted now in heaven and He fills us with joy. He said we would have joy, not as the world gives joy. The interpretation given by that church has to be false. This practice of fasting has also penetrated the Protestant and Pentecostal churches in some areas particularly from Charismatics. This very verse, that includes sorrow, is the basis of such fasting. Fasting is for the house of mourning. We are in a time of joy and rejoicing as the disciples were full of joy after He arose, Luke 24:52.
We should understand the parables because many use them to establish the custom of fasting today. Jesus was talking to the disciples of John, amongst others. John himself said, “I must decrease and He must increase”. With a parable, Jesus began to teach them the difference between His own ministry and John’s.
John had been a reformer. He preached repentance and regret. He baptized his converts in water. Jesus came as the One for whom John prepared the way.
Jesus was also speaking to the Pharisees, who “patched garments” and used “old wineskins” in that they added “patches” of their oral law and traditions on to the Law of Moses and did not have any new revelation or teaching from God. They were addicted to religious practices in which fasting held a prominent place. They fasted habitually. Jesus was indifferent to the legal forms.
According to the Pharisees, Jesus had neglected the usual legal forms. They were correct in thinking this. He told them His reason. New patches could not be put on to old cloth.
He was bringing the gospel of grace and legalism could not be placed with it. Legalism with its demanding rules and regulations is not part of the gospel of Christ. The legalistic spirit controlled them, as in Mark 7:3, with regard to their tithing of mint, in washings and prevalent fastings.
Jesus was different. He did not make a practice of fasting, Matthew 11:19, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking”. He did not do any “patching” or using of “old wineskins”. He came to bring new wine, the wine of the Holy Spirit in the gospel. He was not pouring it into the old wineskins of the Law, John’s teaching or the traditions of the Pharisees.
Christ was providing new “wineskins”. In other words, He was introducing new truth under a new wineskins covenant. All that concerned the old was to be done away with. It is a “new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil”, Hebrews 10:20; Hebrews 8:13, “When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete (old).” Jewish Christians still clung to the Old.
Their experiences with Jesus were different from that of any of the prophets of former days, including John the Baptist.
Already, they were beginning to experience the new Wine of the Kingdom in new wineskins. They had the Presence of the Bridegroom which Presence would be intensified within them by the sending of His Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
In the presence of this heavenly Bridegroom, both then and by His Spirit after the day of Pentecost, they had fullness of joy. This Presence precluded sorrow. He was with them always and they did not need to fast.
They experienced a new beginning even before the Day of Pentecost. The outpouring of the Spirit was the culmination of all that they had heard, seen and experienced in the presence of Jesus, the Living Word, the eternal Son of God.
The wineskins also represent the new kind of people who were to receive the new wine of the Kingdom, the teachings of Life that Jesus gave. His words are Spirit and they are life. These people would not be the followers of the old legalistic ways. They would not be those who are like the proud religious Pharisees. It is to be those who do not rely on religious works or anything legalistic. They will have the humility to consider themselves needing to believe on Christ.
Verse 39 reads, “No one, after drinking old wine wants new, for he says “The old is good”.” Those who kept on saying that the old was good, rejected the “new”, fresh, life-imparting teaching of Jesus. They wanted fear and fasting, instead of faith and freedom given to us as Romans 5:14 states, “You are not under law but under grace”.
Jesus meant them to understand that the old things of the Law, with the way taught by John and the traditions of the Pharisees, were all old. Now was the time for something different and new.
Christ Himself was bringing something entirely new. Therefore, His disciples were correct in not fasting. Judaistic, legalistic, joyless fasting is out of line with the joyous salvation Jesus is bringing. His gospel is one of grace, through faith.
The disciples who were following John, were now to follow Jesus Christ and His teachings. The Pharisees needed to be converted and to turn from their own ways unto the true Way, who is Christ Himself. Jesus has taught us that legalism in any form is contrary to what He came to preach.
In Matthew 9:17, the account of the fasting question there is concluded by the statement that “Men do not put new wine into old wineskins, otherwise the wineskins burst”. Wine expands as it continues to ferment. If the wineskin were old, the expansion would burst the wineskin and the wine would be lost.
Jesus clearly shows that the matter of fasting carried on by the Pharisees was an old wineskin. The new wine of the Kingdom of Christ would not last in such a container. We are to be full of the Spirit. That will disappear if we follow the old ways, including traditions, of the Old Testament era.
The new teaching of the grace of Christ cannot be contained in the old forms of the Law that had prescribed a public fast annually for the Jews – on their Day of Atonement. A new day has dawned. As Paul said in Romans 5:11, “we have now received the atonement”. Because Christ made atonement for us on the Cross, we do not need an annual Day of Atonement or to fast and mourn for our sins. We are not under the Law as given to the Jews. We already have received atonement for our sins, praise God.
The new cannot be mixed with the old legalism. Mankind loves legalism. Jesus taught that legalism has no part in the gospel of His grace. Romans 11:6 indicates this. It reads, “If by grace, then is it no more of works; if it be of works, then is it no more grace.”
Luke 18:12 mentions the Pharisee who boasted of his fasting twice in the week and of tithing, etc. His prayer was not received because of the pride of his heart.
THE MENTION OF FASTING ELSEWHERE
There is mention of fasting in the Book of Acts. Acts 10:30, King James Version, shows that Cornelius was fasting. The more correct translation shows that Cornelius actually said, New American Standard, “I was praying in my house”. God responded to the hunger of his heart for Him. He, a Gentile (from a heathen race), recognized the true God of Israel. He was not fasting, just praying. It was his inward recognition of the true God that counted. He was observing the Jewish ninth hour of prayer.
In verse 31, the answer from heaven was “Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembers your gifts to the poor.” Cornelius had a desire towards the true God. Oh, the grace and love of God to the heathen. God looks at the heart as He did with David when he was chosen to be king, 1 Samuel 16:7.
There is no mention in the original manuscripts that he fasted. In “The Bible From 26 Translations” which I own, the footnote of verse 30 says that, “The word ‘fasting’ is now recognized as not adequately supported by original manuscripts.” The New Oxford Revised Standard Version also omits “fasting”. Other translators state “I was praying” and this appears correct. Also, Wuest’s translation says, “I was observing the afternoon prayer hour.”
The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament reads, “I was praying” without any mention of fasting.
We now look at Acts 13:2, King James version, which reads “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted.” Other translations support this. We should note that this time of prayer and fasting did not result in the calling or sending out of the two missionaries. Barnabas and Saul had already been called, verse 2 and it was the Holy Ghost who commanded the church to “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them”. As the prophets and teachers ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost could speak through them. Fasting was an old Jewish custom. Saul, a newcomer there would follow the others.
This Jewish church in Antioch never left Judaism. See Galatians 2:11-15 where leaders, Peter and James were in error of perverting the gospel through Judaistic beliefs.
The false teachers who went down to Galatia troubled that church, Galatians 5:10; 4:9,11,29,31. They turned to “weak and beggarly elements”! The Judaizers were following Law, instead of the Spirit. This was a perversion of truth.
It is stated again In Acts 13:3 that they fasted and prayed. After further fasting and prayer the two most gifted were sent out for missionary service. They refrained from eating due to the importance of this first sending out of missionaries. Only in Acts 14:23,19 is there again a mention of fasting, relating to the appointing of elders or pastors.
If fasting was so important for the church, why are these two incidents the only ones in the whole of the New Testament, that mention believers fasted? Also, please note that it was the legalistic Jews who instigated this fasting. Paul, who was not legalistic, does not himself mention fasting in his writings. Paul does not give any command to fast, only ‘Pray without ceasing’.
In the epistles of Peter, John and Paul, there are many injunctions. However, not once are believers encouraged to fast. They are told to hold to many other things that are holy and true but never to follow fasting.
We note in these two places that the prayer and fasting involved the setting aside of men to certain ministries. However, we do not find anywhere else, that anyone was set aside to the ministry with fasting. Old Testament Prophets were called without their fasting.
In the New Testament we are commanded often to pray. Nowhere are we ever commanded to fast. Timothy was set aside for the ministry without fasting, as shown in 1 Timothy 4:14, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed upon you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery,” and in 2 Timothy 1:6 “the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands”.
The two mentions of fasting, occur Acts 15. In that chapter, evidence of the influence of Judaism from the Jews is very apparent. They taught circumcision. The books of Galatians and Hebrews were written because of the Jewish endeavour to pervert the gospel by teaching Jewish traditions, as well as certain aspects of the Law. Paul warned them that they would lose their salvation and fall out of Christ. It is obvious that the Jewish custom of “fasting” is followed in Acts 13,14. Most Epistles show the Jews still wanted Law.
The remainder of Acts and all the epistles have no mention that Paul or the churches he founded fasted. This would have been according to the will of God. Obviously, some people would have followed forbidden ways. Romans, Galatians, Corinthians show love of old and legalistic forms. In Colossians Paul teaches as shown in chapter 2:20, they were dead with Christ to “childish lessons of outward things”. Other translations word it, “have parted company with worldly principles”, “have died with Christ and escaped from the world’s rudimentary notions” or “have died with Christ to material ways of looking at things”.
Another version clearly states it for what it is, “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations?”
According to Colossians 2:16 to 18 these are the worldly principles and elemental spirits of the universe, “matters of food and drink (in religion), annual or monthly festivals, (an holy day), false humility which addresses its worship to angels and self-humiliation.” Moffat’s translation reads, “Let no man lay down rules for you as he pleases, with regard to fasting and any cult of angels”. Yet another version puts it, “You are not to be disqualified by the decision of people who go in for self-mortification and angel-worship”. An ancient church in Africa still includes the worship of angels in its doctrines. Phillips translates it “by persuading you to make yourselves “humble”.
The latter part of Colossians 2:18 reads, “intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.” Various translations read, “dwelling in the things which he has seen, vainly puffed up”, “Such a man busies himself with his visions and without reason is rendered conceited by his merely human intellect”, “Taking his stand on the visions he has seen and idly puffed up with his unspiritual thoughts/ his is the ill-founded confidence that comes of human speculation”, “who brags of visions and, though empty, is inflated by his worldly mind.”
The natural man loves law and natural ways. He tends to refuse grace and the Spirit.
It is a weakness of mankind that the love of the esoteric can creep in to foster falseness and pride. “Esoteric” means “only for the initiated, not generally intelligible; private, confidential.” Some Colossians leant towards this in their endeavour to practise the Christian belief. It was a false gospel and engendered pride.
Why do many people fast? Reasons given are as follows. All reasons are countermanded by the above.
- To kill the flesh, (self-mortification).
- To be humble before God (false humility).
- As a regulation of the Bible and the Church (a laying down of rules).
- A certain day or days or periods of time (an holy day).
- To move God to act on their behalf and to answer their prayers (a worldly mind, conceited, idly puffed up with unspiritual thoughts, relying on law and not grace).
We are to “put off the old man”, Ephesians 4:22; and “reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin”, Romans 6:11. We are “to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord”, James 4:10; “not to submit to rules and regulations”, Colossians 2:20; “not to allow any one to take us to task on questions of eating or drinking, or in respect of an holy day” (features of Law and not grace); Colossians 2:16; “to be led by the Spirit of God”, Romans 8:14; and “walk in the Spirit, for these cravings of our earthly nature conflict with the Spirit and the Spirit with our earthly nature – they are two contrary principles”, Galatians 5:18. Another translation of Verse 18 says that “if you follow the guidance of the Spirit, you are not subject to law”.
Our human nature is very prone to follow law. It loves to do works of religion, to bring about our own salvation and to rely on ourselves and on what we do! Jewish believers clung to Law.
We need to follow God’s way, the way of faith and of the Spirit through reliance upon the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross and on His High Priestly work for us now in heaven. “Nothing of self but all of Thee”.
His grace abounds towards us. His promises are “Yea and Amen” in Christ Jesus, not in anything we do. Our works are to be the works of faith! It is the grace of God that brings salvation and answers to prayer.
He is waiting to hear and answer prayer. We believe. “And this is the boldness (confidence) we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.”
We have in the Person of the Holy Spirit, One who is within us, to help us in prayer. According to Scripture, if we pray in other tongues there is a greater exercise of His power in and through us.
This is in accordance with Romans 8:26, which says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, that very Spirit intercedes”. He intercedes through us as we pray in the Spirit. We do not like to admit that we are “weak”. However, without Christ, we can do nothing.
We should excel in learning to operate and pray in the Holy Spirit of God.
In 2 Corinthians 11:27 Paul lists some of the things he suffered for Christ. In the King James Version, it reads, “In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”
The New American Standard reads “through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposed.” The list of sufferings in verses 23 to 27, shows dangers, sufferings, hardships, etc. It does not include any spiritual or religious acts but only natural misfortunes and happenings.
Beck translates it “often sleepless, hungry and thirsty, often starving, cold and naked.” Barclay says, “I have often gone without sleep. I have been hungry and thirsty. I have often had to go without food. I have known cold and exposure.”
Wuest, a converted Jew and a Hebrew and Greek Scholar who taught at Moody Bible Institute, translates it: “In sleepless nights often, in hunger and thirst, in need of food often, in cold and in lack of sufficient clothing.” The sense of the whole passage makes us agree with these translations.
The only other Scripture in the King James Version that mentions “fasting” is 1 Corinthians 7:5 relating to husbands and wives where it includes “that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer.” My Bible From 26 Translations has a footnote that reads, ““Fasting” is now recognised as not adequately supported by original manuscripts”.
Therefore, we can also discount the mention here in the King James version, that they were to fast and pray. They were instructed to pray. What wonderful means God has given us as believers in the realm of prayer, through the Holy Spirit.
WE ARE TO PRAY, BELIEVING HIS PROMISES
Here are some of those promises. James 5:16 says “When a just man prays fervently there is great virtue in his prayer”, James 1:16 “Let him ask in faith, with confidence, never doubting”, 1 John 3:22 “And He gives us all our requests because we practise obedience to His commandments”, Hebrews 11:6 “without faith it is impossible to please Him”, Hebrews 10:22 ““Let us draw near with true hearts fully trusting Him to receive us”. Jesus said in John 14:13 “I will do anything you ask in My Name.” He instructs us in Mark 11:23 that whoever “believes it is done, he shall have it.”
We are taught in Romans 8:26, “the Spirit also takes hold with us in our weakness. We do not even know how to pray as we should but the Spirit pleads for us with inexpressible yearnings.” Ephesians 5:18 “Stop getting drunk on wine but be getting filled in Spirit/ ever be filled with the Spirit.” Ephesians 6:18 commands us to “Give yourselves wholly to prayer and entreaty; pray at all times in the Spirit.” Praying in the Spirit always involves praying in other tongues. This is power-packed praying, when done consistently. Thus we enter areas of new anointings of the Holy Ghost.
It is prayer, with fervency, in faith and love and forgiveness, according to the will of God, in the powerful Name of Jesus, by the Spirit and in the Spirit, that prevails with God. “Praying always” and no mention of having to fast, is the command of God’s Word.
Fasting involves “going without” food. For every man or woman of God there will come seasons of “going without”. This will be to seek God, whether in prayer or in His Word.
It may involve “going without” visiting for a time, receiving friends, socialising, reading books, watching television, studying, ordinary work, pleasures, a holiday season, certain activities, playing or singing of music, listening to music, sports, travel, even sex for a short time but only if both marriage partners agree and “going without” anything that would hinder any time or even prolonged time or period of seeking God.
In the midst of this seeking God, it might be incumbent on the person to do without food or certain foods or even usual drinks. The person may cease from cooking or other work for a while and thus be relieved from the time spent on this, in order to spend time with God in prayer.
Seeking God is just that, to be occupied with God Himself. It involves ceasing from all other activities so as to be in prayer and His Word. Thus the seeker will devote his whole time to “praying” or “reading the Word”. Prayer is the vital occupation, which may exclude the ordinary for that time. This must be done in faith because without faith it is impossible to please God. We believe that He rewards us as we pray and seek His face.
Again the command comes to us, “Pray on every occasion in the power of the Spirit.” When we are filled with the Spirit, on that basis, rivers of living water flow out from within us to bring blessing and refreshing to the parched land of our own lives. Then we bless the people and churches with whom we mingle. It is the work of the Holy Spirit and not our work of fasting that produces results.
Being filled with the Spirit means we pray often in other tongues. Praying in tongues continually is a powerful way by which the Spirit can move through us. Intercessions are most profitable when we intercede in other tongues.
This kind of praying will accomplish exceedingly much more than any fasting. It is the Holy Spirit Who flows as rivers of living water. It is the Holy Spirit who will bless people through us. It is the Spirit of God who will move through us. It is the Holy Spirit who will intercede through us. “Not by might, nor by power but by My Spirit,” says the Lord.
It is not by fasting but by the Spirit of the Lord. His flowing out from within us is through our praying in other tongues. It is not manifestations of laughter, dancing, slain or visions that produce a flowing out.
Some manifestations may be the result of His working or they may well be from carnal and/or demonic causes. Prayer in the Spirit causes the river to flow.
Fasting is accompanied by mourning according to the Scriptures and to the words of Jesus. If afflicted we are to pray, not fast, according to James 5:13. In Matthew 9:15 Jesus posed the question, “Can the bridegroom’s friends mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them but the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, they will certainly fast then.” They would mourn at His being taken away to the Cross and then they would fast. “Taken away” in the Greek is a “violent” action.
Jesus Christ is with us. For us, He has not been taken away. The Cross is past. Now He has come to us, in fulfilment of His words in John 14:18, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you”.
“Am coming” is Present Continuous Tense in the Greek. It means a continuous event in our lives. He keeps on coming to us. Primarily, He came to His disciples on the Day of Pentecost. He has never left us, as He says in Matthew 28:20, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Amen.”
Let us obey Colossians that says, “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ”.
Following those things is indicated in the same chapter as being “of no value, they simply pamper the flesh” and “in actual practice they do honour, not to God but to man’s own pride”. Quite often believers will fast for a certain period, with little prayer and while continuing with their daily work. Would it not appear that such a fast is merely something of works and that tends to please the flesh? Doubtless, such believers are doing it in sincerity of heart but there is a far better way to commune with God than that. Why not try it?
In our relationship with God, it “does not matter if we eat food or if we do not eat food”. The kingdom of God is “not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost”. Whitfield, the greatest preacher England has ever produced, while longing for God, started as an ascetic, a mystic and placed the whole of religion in self-denial. He says, “I always chose the worst sort of food. I fasted twice a week. My apparel was mean”, ways of self-denial. Bishop Ryle in the 19th century, writes, “Out of all this darkness he was gradually delivered”. He learnt “the true liberty of Christ’s gospel. He never turned again to asceticism, legalism, mysticism”. He died aged 56 and Ryle says, “Never perhaps was there a man of whom it could be so truly said that he spent and was spent for Christ”. His preaching touched the whole of England, Scotland and Wales. His influence was great in America. He preached the pure gospel. Many thousands turned to Christ. He was the first of the Reformers of the 18th century that changed England. Should we not learn from him?
A WORD FOR US
Let us look at Evangelical Church and Pentecostal history. Over the past few hundred years it is obvious fasting was not considered an important issue. When one reads the biographies and auto-biographies of the fathers of the various revivals that occurred in England, Wales, Scotland and the United States of America one has to admit that there is no mention of fasting. If there are many such mentions I myself am not aware of any.
It was these revivals that eventually gave birth to the Pentecostal outpouring at the beginning of the century. The emphasis was upon prayer and the Holy Spirit, with holiness and the preaching of the gospel. These revivals resulted in thousands of missionaries going out into all the world to bring the heathen to Christ.
Such names come to mind as John Knox, Whitfield, Wesley, Nettleton, Finney, Beecher, Jonathan Edwards, Moody, Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Jonson, Morrison, Carey, Evan Roberts, Anabaptists, the Pilgrims, Puritans, Presbyterians, Mrs. Woodworth Etta, Azusa Street, John G. Lake, the Jeffreys, Smith Wigglesworth, Aimee Semple MacPherson, Bosworth, Oral Roberts, T.L. Osborne.
There are thousands of books about these men of God, or by them. I have found little mention of fasting in them. One can only conclude that the wonderful revivals beginning in the 17th century and going through to the 20th century, i.e. over four hundred years, occurred without any emphasis on fasting.
Thus the witness of history is generally that the spiritual way of life does not include fasting. However, if there are seasons of prolonged prayer and worship or tarrying and we do not wish to cease, if the meal time arrives, we may continue in prayer without eating.
The last messages of Jesus Christ to His church are found in the book of Revelation. In Revelation 2 and 3 He points out the then prevailing condition of the seven churches of Asia Minor. They, numbering seven meaning perfection, are the perfect example of His visible church in every day and age.
He commends some but generally warns and reprimands them. He calls upon them to repent and do the things done at first, to be overcomers, to repent of the idolatrous things, to repent of immorality and following Satan’s so-called deep secrets, to hold on to what they had from Him.
He commanded them to repent of being dead and to strengthen what remained and was about to die. Their deeds were not complete in the sight of God.
He called on them to remember that received and heard, to obey it and repent, to wake up, lest He come as a thief, to hold on to what some of them had, lest someone else take their crown.
One church being lukewarm, He was about to spew out of His mouth, despite its wealth and prosperity. He found the believers wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. He counselled them to buy of Him gold (spiritual) refined in the fire and then they would be rich with purity. Those He loved, He rebuked and disciplined. He said, “Be earnest and repent, that He was standing at the door and knocking. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.
The overcomers were promised many things and all were commanded, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Those messages are for the church of Jesus Christ of all ages. They are for us today. Nowhere did Jesus Christ call upon those seven churches to fast. Neither were they reprimanded for not fasting. In His mind, fasting was irrelevant and unimportant. Everything else He said, was all-important.
Brothers and sisters, read again those two chapters and let them fill your hearts. Note the absence of fasting in these the last particularised messages of Jesus Christ to His church. Examine yourself personally and your church, in the light of those two chapters.
The prominent message is this – Revelation 1:7, “Look, He is coming with the clouds and every eye will see Him”.
Philippians commands us to “rejoice” as against the mourning and affliction of fasting. This is found in Philippians 3:1, “rejoice in the Lord”, Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always (at all times), AGAIN I say, Rejoice” and 3:3 “For we are the who worship by the Spirit of God and rejoice in Christ Jesus”. James 5:13 tells us if “afflicted”, (or “suffering”), pray, to “rejoice evermore” (not mourn), 1 Thessalonians 5:16.
“The prayer of faith shall save the sick”- not that of fasting. The Word of God and the Spirit produce faith. It is not fasting that gives faith. “Without faith (not fasting), it is impossible to please God”.
In relation to prayer and intercession, Romans 8:26,27 shows clearly that it is prayer in the Spirit and not prayer and fasting, that gets through to God in many particular instances. Prayer in the Spirit consists mostly of praying in other tongues. This calls for obedience and faith and not dislike, unbelief or rebellion. It also produces faith to get answers from God. There must be a surrender to pray in other tongues, or in the Spirit of God.
Finally, there is only one way into the presence of God and one Person through whom He will answer our prayers. Hebrews 10:29-22, “Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is His flesh and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (the Word and Spirit)”. Also, Hebrews 9:24, “For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us”.
The above verses are the basis of any prayers we may offer to God, in Jesus’ Name. Heaven’s door has been opened. Praise will not open heaven’s door, as an English chorus says. Prayer does not open heaven’s door. Fasting does not open heaven’s door. We praise because the door has already been opened and we enter in by the Spirit to offer praise due to God. We pray because heaven’s door is wide open through the blood of Jesus. There, in the holy place, is our great High Priest, ready to intercede on our behalf.
One can only say that fasting is works, praise offered to open heaven’s door is works and our own praying to open heaven’s door is works. They are in that way, religious works. Religious works are rebellion against God’s way and are displeasing to Him. We believers all need to submit to God’s way and that is the way of faith and total reliance upon Him. We are not to rely on our praise, our prayers, our fastings (that this book shows clearly are unscriptural) or praying in tongues. We do those right things because the way has been opened and because the blood has cleansed us from sin. We do those things because the Cross is the centre of our faith and not any works of our own.
We approach the throne of grace, “in Christ”. Our standing is in Him and not in our prayers, our praise, our worship, any anointing, feeling or our speaking in other tongues. In relation to prayer, we pray in other tongues because we admit we cannot pray as we ought and need the Holy Spirit to intercede through us.
Hebrews 11:6 declares that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him”. Faith is the ingredient needed in our hearts and it is faith in Christ, faith in what He accomplished for us on the Cross and in His resurrection. It is faith that heaven’s door has been opened by His precious blood and that we have a free entrance, whether for cleansing from sin, for the laying of our petitions before God, for communion or for prayer in the Spirit with praise and worship.
As the Wesleyan hymn says, “With confidence I now draw nigh, Before the throne my Surety stands, My name is written in His hands”.
Summed up, it all means “Nothing of self but all of You, Lord”.