Why Fast Today?
As we saw earlier, Jesus clearly assumed that his followers would fast, though he gave no details about how long or how frequently. This means that it is up to the individual to discern the type, timing and length of their fast.
The reasons that we might fast today are similar to those of believers in past generations: to subdue the flesh and humble ourselves before God and draw near to Him (Ps. 69:10; 35:13); as part of a life of worship and devotion to God (Luke 2:37); to express sorrow and repentance for our sins and ask God’s help in breaking their power in our life; for power to resist demonic temptation and attack (Matt. 4:1–11); for the Holy Spirit’s vision, guidance, and empowerment in ministry (Acts 13:1–4); to seek deliverance for the oppressed (Isa. 58:6); for the revival of God’s church (2 Chron. 7:14); for protection of the nation in times of great difficulty or danger (2 Chron. 20:1–4); for national repentance and mercy when God’s judgment of sin is at hand (Jonah 3).
It is important to note that church leaders through the centuries up to the present (both Catholic and Protestant) have testified to the great value of fasting in subduing the flesh and helping one become more open and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s operations, guidance, and strengthening.
Dangers to Avoid in Fasting
Common spiritual dangers in fasting include developing spiritual pride, which makes us think we are better or more spiritual than those who don’t fast; formalism, which turns fasting into a routine devoid of its true meaning and purpose; and hypocrisy, in which we try to impress others with our fasting – a perennial problem that Jesus especially warned about (Matt. 6:16–18).
Legalism is another common danger in fasting and involves regarding it as a means of earning a better standing before God (and thus better access to His blessings). This happens when we come to see fasting as something we do for God that obligates Him to do something for us. It is a quid pro quo mentality in which our fasting funds a heavenly debit card that we can draw upon in some transactional way.
John Wesley cautions:
Let us beware of fancying that we merit anything of God by our fasting. We cannot be too often warned of this; inasmuch as a desire to establish our own righteousness, to procure salvation of debt and not of grace is too deeply rooted in all our hearts. Fasting is only a way which God hath ordained, wherein we wait for His unmerited mercy; and wherein without any desert of ours, He hath promised freely to give us His blessing.4
John Calvin says much the same thing.
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