Fasting and Religious Leaven
by Patricia Backora
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If you wish to “go back to your Jewish roots” as a Christian, you must fast, that’s part of the package. Paul warned the church about devious men who wanted to pollute the Gospel of Grace with religious rituals of the Old Jewish Law.
Those who depend on religious works to help them keep right with God often don’t know any better. Nothing we do or say enhances the value of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. If anything, reliance on your own works can make you fall from grace (Gal.5:4).
Some Christians feel like freeloaders if they let Jesus pay for their salvation all by Himself. When believers don’t feel Christ’s torture on the cross is enough to keep them on good terms with God, they’ll fast to “share in Christ’s sufferings” to make up the difference. That’s a religious crutch which lets Christians at least pay the tip so they’ll feel better about themselves when Christ settles their sin bill. Some boast about how humble fasting makes them, even as they brag about doing it. But it’s even more humbling to know someone else took the rap for your sins. It’s humbling to say “Jesus paid it all, and I can’t even chip in two cents to help Him keep me out of hell.”
Old Testament saints lived under an inferior covenant, where they approached a Holy God feeling very unworthy and fearful of His wrath. God says we can come BOLDLY before His Throne of Grace, with no mention of fasting being necessary to prepare you for the trip (Heb.4:16). Fasting appears NOWHERE in this deeply spiritual epistle.
Long ago I thought a faster’s prayers were worth more than the prayers of those who came to prayer meeting after a good meal. Before long I lost the joy of my freedom in Christ. Many glum-looking Christians think they aren’t serving the Lord unless they’re constantly suffering something to keep Him happy.
People swear by fasting as being good for your health, God’s way of getting slim. If that’s your true motivation, might as well just call it a diet instead of a fast.
Some Christians think food is prayer poison. But Jesus said it’s what comes OUT of your mouth that defiles you spiritually, not what goes into it (Matt.15:110.
One preacher wrote that if you want an answer to prayer, you should be happy to sacrifice to help bring it about. Is extra sacrifice really necessary to please God?
Heb.11:5-6: By faith (not fasting) Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
6 But without faith (not fasting) it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Hebrews 10:10: By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:
12 But this man, after he had offered ONE SACRIFICE FOR SINS FOR EVER, sat down on the right hand of God
You can’t approach God’s Throne on the merits of fasting. Just because you drive past Dunkin’ Donuts without stopping, do you seriously think God equates that so-called sacrifice with the torment His Son suffered on Calvary? Does that uneaten doughnut purchase a single favor from God?
Failure to rightly divide the Word of Truth brings Christians under unnecessary religious bondages. When Jesus commented on the Pharisees’ tithing practices, He was addressing JEWS UNDER THE LAW, not Gentiles. And when He preached on fasting, He was addressing JEWS UNDER THE LAW. Christ did not come to teach the Gentiles how to correctly keep Jewish traditions (including fasting). In fact, Christ rebuffed one desperate Gentile woman who pleaded for Him to heal her daughter. Jesus did heal the child because of the woman’s faith. But He said that He hadn’t even been sent to anybody but the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Matt.15:24).
If Jesus’ teaching on fasting binds fasting on non-Jewish believers under the post-cross New Covenant, then we must also obey His instructions on other Jewish customs.
Matt.8:4: And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.
Jesus commanded the healed leper to go to the priest for ceremonial cleansing. This wasn’t a quickie procedure. The complicated, drawn-out ritual involved several days of washings, shavings, pigeon offerings, etc. If we must follow this example whenever we’re healed, there’ a problem. There’s no Levitical priesthood around, and Christians aren’t supposed to offer animal sacrifices.
In Paul’s day, the infrastructure for keeping that particular command of Christ was still in place, even though the New Covenant had just come into effect. The Temple was still standing, and the Levitical priesthood was still functioning in Jerusalem. Apparently it took Paul awhile to realize that Christ no longer expected His people to follow Mosaic rituals He had fulfilled in Himself.
Paul told Christians to follow his own example (I Cor.4:16; 11:1). In Acts chapter 21 Paul got a visit from some legalistic Jewish Christians who clung to the Old Law. They insisted he join them in making an Old Testament-style vow. These Judaizers were real kill-joys who went around making sure nobody stayed free in Christ for very long if they ever did get free. They wanted reassurance that Paul still kept the Law of Moses and all its rituals. To keep the peace, Paul shaved his head and offered an animal sacrifice in the Temple, even after his own conversion. Is that an example we Gentiles should follow today?
Acts 21:23: Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them;
24 Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law. . . .
Verse 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.
Peace gained by compromising God’s truth isn’t worth the price. Not long after that, Paul was captured and spent years in prison. Legalism always brings bondage.
Interestingly, verse 25 of that same chapter reads: AS TOUCHING THE GENTILES WHICH BELIEVE, WE HAVE WRITTEN AND CONCLUDED THAT THEY OBSERVE NO SUCH THING, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.* * * *Paul, who offered up an animal sacrifice in the Temple, exempted Gentile believers from Jewish customs. That would include religious fasting.
Some say since Daniel fasted we have to fast too. But Daniel also kept kosher food laws and prayed three times a day facing Jerusalem. What Christian does these things today?
What about two fasts the apostles held? They are found in Acts 13:2-3 and Acts 14:23. These JEWISH disciples, who had always fasted as part of their religion, were transitioning from the Old Covenant to the New. Paul’s freedom manifesto, the book of Galatians, hadn’t even been written yet. No mention of religious fasting after Acts, only periods of hunger Paul suffered due to poverty. The most reliable Greek manuscripts do not even contain the word “fasting” in I Cor.7:5, where husbands and wives are not to defraud each other unless they agree to do so during fasting and prayer. That’s the only possible mention of fasting after Acts, and it’s not even a command to do it.
Acts 15:7: And when there had been much disputing (argument), Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.
8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;
9 And put no difference between us and them, PURIFYING THEIR HEARTS BY FAITH* * * * * (not fasting).
10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
11 BUT WE BELIEVE THAT THROUGH THE GRACE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST WE SHALL BE SAVED, EVEN AS THEY.. . . .
Verse 19 Wherefore my sentence is, that WE TROUBLE NOT THEM, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
Verse 28 FOR IT SEEMED GOOD TO THE HOLY GHOST, AND TO US, TO LAY UPON YOU NO GREATER BURDEN THAN THESE NECESSARY THINGS;
29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
I find it significant that the Holy Spirit REPEATS this information at least three times, to emphasize that Gentile believers are NOT under Jewish Laws and customs. So why do Christian leaders contradict the Holy Ghost Who said NO SUCH THING (Jewish religious traditions) should be practiced by Gentile converts, and NO GREATER BURDEN than those four necessary things is to be laid upon them? Being expected to torment your own body (or tithe) IS a greater burden than those four necessary things. Because fasting didn’t make the Holy Spirit’s short list of NECESSARY things, fasting must be UN-necessary. Otherwise, He would have had the apostles teach converted Gentiles about it, who may never have practiced it before coming to Christ. This apostolic conference would have been the perfect time and place to bind fasting on Gentile believers.
Throughout Paul’s ministry the Judaizers (“Christian” enforcers of Jewish laws and traditions) were a thorn in his side. Paul circumcised Timothy to keep them happy. But he later stood his ground and refused to also circumcise Titus.
Galatians 2:3: But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:
4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily (in a sneaky way) to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:
5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
Galatians 6:12: As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.
13 For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.* * * *There’s fleshly satisfaction in keeping religious rituals.
14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.* * * *Your spiritual life becomes a tangled mess when you dilute the grace of God with works.
2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.* * * *Religious works can cause a believer to stop relying on Christ.
3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.* * * *Observe one Jewish law or ritual, you’re obligated to keep them all.
4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.* * * *Reliance upon religious works of any kind to keep keep God happy can make you fall out of the grace of God and imperil salvation.
5 For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.* * * *Nowhere does Paul ever recommend fasting as a way to melt the heart of God. NOWHERE!
If fasting’s so vital, why didn’t the apostles warn believers not to neglect a practice which prioritizes your prayers on God’s “to do” list? Where in scripture does Paul teach on fasting and its merits? Did Paul ever say that you have to starve your body to prove how hungry you are for Jesus? How many miracles does this apostle attribute to fasting? Not one! And that goes for all the writings of Peter, John, James, and Jude. Never do they prescribe fasting as a way to recharge your prayer batteries or zap demons. Satan is more frightened of a heart full of faith than an empty stomach. One preacher racked up 100 fasting days in one particular year, but he didn’t see satan tuck tail and run.
No apostle ever tells you to fast to spank yourself for sin. If fasting’s so all-fired important, why are the epistles so silent on it? Fasting, like tithing, has been imposed on God’s people without authorization from the apostles, builders of Christ’s church. How can fasting bring you closer to Jesus, if He already dwells in your heart by faith (Eph.3:17)? Even pagans starve their body to contact the spirit realm. Fasting to weaken the body’s grip on the soul so you can soar up into the heavenlies is a pagan doctrine. The apostles NEVER taught this!
Col.2:20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;
22 Which all are to perish with the using;) AFTER THE COMMANDMENTS AND DOCTRINES OF MEN?
23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
Only the Word of God, RIGHTLY DIVIDED and applicable to New Covenant believers, is binding on us today. Religious fasting to rack up points with God is a deception of satan, although it may sometimes be necessary to postpone a meal to get urgent praying done.
Immediately after asking the confused Colossians why they’re still observing carnal ordinances (touch not, TASTE NOT, handle not) Paul asks them why they are conforming to the commandments and doctrines of men. Commandments not to touch or taste food came not from God, but men, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. Some say since many early Christians fasted, we have to fast too. But many early believers came from Jewish homes and had always fasted. Anyway, an example is not a command.
Jesus makes it clear the Book of Revelation is written only TO THE CHURCHES. In fact, He repeats “TO THE CHURCHES” seven times so they’ll get the point (Rev.2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). During His earthly ministry Jesus ministered to Jews who still did religious things like tithing, fasting and animal sacrifice. He wasn’t binding these practices on the church, which didn’t even exist yet. But the Holy Spirit addresses Revelation to the church and no other group.
Jesus sternly rebukes several churches in Revelation chapters 1-3. For laziness , fornication, adultery, idolatry, lukewarmness, you name it, they’ve done it. But NOT ONE REBUKE FOR FAILURE TO FAST! Jesus commands backsliders to “be zealous and repent”. In the Old Testament, God sometimes commands backsliders to rend their hearts with sorrow and fast. But Jesus does not command these believers to go without food, just repent.
Some maintain that because our Heavenly Bridegroom is not visibly with us, we must fast, based on Christ’s own words.
Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?
15 And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.
Jesus immediately links fasting with mourning. He never associates it with rejoicing. Drummed-up depression is out of sync with the joy of the Holy Spirit. The disciples mourned after Jesus was killed. But after Jesus’ Resurrection His disciples REJOICED, even after He ascended back to the Father (Luke 24:52). They didn’t fast and cry when He went home. At Pentecost, Christ came in His fullness of His Spirit to dwell in the hearts of His people. He is with us always (Matt.28:20). Fasting “because the Bridegroom is not with us” is denying what Jesus said about ALWAYS being with us.
When Jesus returns to rule Planet Earth, He will have many glorified saints stationed on the other side of the globe carrying out various assignments for Him. Then, as now, Christ will be constantly with them in Spirit. But it will be impossible for Jesus to physically be everywhere at once with everybody at the same time. So the argument that we must fast because the Bridegroom isn’t physically with us doesn’t hold water. If we have to fast just because Christ isn’t physically by our side, that would also apply to this Millennial scenario: If Simon Peter were ministering in San Francisco while Jesus was in Jerusalem, he would have to fast because at that moment in time his Heavenly Bridegroom wasn’t physically in California!
Paul said it was possible to be present somewhere in spirit while being physically absent:
Col.2:4 And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.
5 For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I WITH YOU IN THE SPIRIT, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ.
Paul even tried, convicted, and sentenced one Christian criminal when He was physically absent from the “courtroom”:
I Cor.5:3:For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,
4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Paul didn’t say he wasn’t with them, just because his body was far away. His spirit was there. How can this be so? The Spirit of God within us is not limited to time and space, as our bodies are. At conversion, we actually become one spirit with Christ the Lord (I Cor.6:17). That Mind of Christ within us knows all things, even if our natural intellect falls short (I John 2:20). Sometimes Spirit-filled believers pray in the Spirit for unknown people and situations in far-off lands, as the omnipresent Holy Spirit detects their needs. If we are actually spiritually united with Christ the Lord, how then can we say He is not with us? Old Testament saints were not spiritually united with Christ during their mortal lifetimes. In fear and desperation they fasted to reach out to a God far away in heaven. Our experience of God is different from theirs.
Why is it that legalists give lip service to founding all church doctrine on “grace through faith alone”, but then they burden the people of God with “spiritual disciplines” never taught in any New Testament epistle? To bind fasting on New Covenant Christians, you must do the same as you do with tithing: Import it from the Old Covenant or the Gospels. Oddly enough, the Gospels (the earthly ministry of Jesus) transpired during the closing days of the Old Covenant, when Jews lived under the Law and non-Jews were the odd men out. Why do I believe Jesus lived during the Old Testament? Because the New Covenant didn’t take effect until after Jesus died on the Cross and rose again.
Scripture places Jesus’ earthly ministry under the Dispensation of Law, the Old Testament:
Galatians 4:4: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, MADE UNDER THE LAW,
5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
In 2 Cor.6:5 and 11:27 Paul lists his “fastings” (periods of hunger due to poverty) among many other miserable trials he suffered: shipwreck, beatings, character assassination, thirst, an unbearable workload, etc. Paul did not impose these sufferings on himself as a spiritual exercise. He went hungry because other Christians were either too poor or too stingy to take care of him. The Philippians were extremely poor. But the Corinthians failed to minister to Paul’s needs when they could easily have done so.
I Cor.4:8: Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.
9 For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.
10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.
11 Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace;
In this passage Paul contrasts the wealth of the Corinthians with the miserable conditions he and his co-workers suffer. These affluent, selfish Corinthians were just like the materialistic “King’s kids” of the modern Prosperity Movement. Every man for himself!
Fasting to punish the body resembles various Roman Catholic penances practiced by those who try to earn heaven through personal suffering. It’s akin to whipping yourself in a monastery or crawling on gravel up the mountain as you count rosary beads.
Purge out the old leaven of religious legalism. When yeast is first mixed into bread dough, it’s barely detectable. But yeast blows bread dough up to three times its original size. Just like human hearts puff up with pride when they think God is impressed with their religious works.
I Cor.5:7: Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
Jesus is the ONLY sacrifice we need! Christ died on the Cross long before you even thought of being born. In John 19:30 Jesus Himself said: IT IS FINISHED!
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