Why do Christians fast?
It's a simple question with multiple potential answers. In short, it depends.
Below are six common reasons.
But first, a couple of observations:
- Christians are not specifically commanded to fast. Jesus did teach the Jews about their method of fasting (see Matt. 6:16-18) and mentioned that His followers would fast once He was no longer with them (see Matt. 9:14-15). Yet, the post-ascension New Testament writings do not instruct Christians to fast. As a result, Christian opinions on fasting vary.
- Fasting is generally assumed to refer to abstinence from food. However, fasting may generally be applied to the abstinence of anything. In 1 Cor. 7:5, for example, the apostle Paul encourages married couples to not withhold (i.e., fast) from sexual intimacy except for a mutually-agreed-upon temporary period of devotion to prayer.
Reason #1: Christians sometimes fast when they feel ill or emotionally disturbed.
Let's get this obvious one out of the way up front.
Everybody does this, right?
There are times when a person simply doesn't feel well, so they don't eat.
Likewise, there are times when we are extremely upset over something and our urge to eat temporarily diminishes.
Reason #2: Some Christians fast in observance of special days.
Some Christians choose to observe special days for religious reasons, such as Lent. Fasting is commonly associated with some of these holidays.
This practice isn't universal, however.
Other Christians prefer to treat every day alike.
The Bible discusses this freedom in Romans 14:
5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
(Rom. 14:5-8 NIV)
Reason #3: Christians sometimes fast when they are remorseful for sin.
Have you ever been so upset over something you did (or failed to do) that you didn't want to eat?
This is how Saul of Tarsus was.
He had been a devout Jew, a Pharisee, and had been actively persecuting and even having Christians killed.
Then, on one trip from Jerusalem to Damascus, Jesus appeared to him on the road in a blinding light. After convicting Saul, who later became the apostle Paul, of his sin, Jesus told Saul to go to Damascus where he'd be told what he needed to do.
For three days, Saul ate and drank nothing.
Finally, a Christian named Ananias was sent to restore Saul's sight and to tell him what he needed to do to receive forgiveness for his sins.
(You can read about this in Acts 9:1-20; 22:1-20; 26:9-20.)
Sometimes, when a Christian realizes they've sinned against GOD, they choose to fast as a sign of their repentance.
Reason #4: Christians sometimes fast as an urgent plea for GOD to respond to their prayer.
When facing a major choice or decision, Christians sometimes set aside a time to fast and pray fervently for wisdom from GOD that they might make the right choice.
In the Old Testament, there was a man named Ezra who, about 458 B.C., was preparing to lead a second wave of Israelite captives from Babylonia to their homeland in Jerusalem.
As preparations were being made, Ezra proclaimed a fast for safe passage:
21 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. 22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.
(Ezra 8:21-23 NIV)
GOD heard their prayer and they arrived safely.
Similarly, around the same timeframe, Queen Esther proclaimed a three-day fast for all the Jews in Persia who were facing imminent extinction if her attempt to persuade the king went unsuccessful (see Est. 4:1-16). Again, the outcome was favorable.
Like Ezra and Esther 2,500 years ago, Christians today believe GOD has the power to answer prayer. And when it's urgent, they sometimes choose to combine that prayer with fasting.
Reason #5: Christians sometimes fast in order to master fleshly desires.
The body's urges are extremely powerful.
None perhaps more strong than the urge to eat when hungry.
Core to Christian principles is the belief that our mind must rule over our fleshly desires, bringing our will in subjection to Jesus' will.
As a result, some Christians choose to fast in order to demonstrate to, prove to, or reassure themselves of their ability to master even the body's strongest urges.
When executed in accordance with Jesus' teachings, the Christian fasts privately without outward show, so that it is known only to GOD.
Reason #6: Sometimes Christians fast for health benefits.
Fasting can consist of abstinence from all food and drink or just food. I know Christians who periodically fast just from food in order to purge and cleanse their body.
Got a question about Christian beliefs or practices? Leave a comment below.