Why God’s People Should Fast -- By: Joel Rishel

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 11:4 (Fall 2002)
Article: Why God’s People Should Fast
Author: Joel Rishel


Why God’s People Should Fast

Joel Rishel

Many people fast today for a variety of health and psychological reasons. Some even fast for religious reasons, which can be defined as deliberately abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. I contend that God desires his people to fast and I want to explain why.

Is Fasting Meant For Today?

First, it is necessary to demonstrate that fasting is biblical and meant for today. Many Christians may be surprised to hear that we ought to fast. They would claim that it is simply a phenomenon of the Old Testament, and that today we are to be joyful in Christ, not sad and mournful. Such an attitude neglects the biblical emphasis that Christianity does require a broken heartedness and despair over human sinfulness.

Tertullian defended the practice of fasting in the third century A.D., protesting against the psychics of his day. These people denied fasting on the basis of the “Christian liberty” principle in Galatians 5 and 1 Corinthians 8:8. Tertullian traced the principle of fasting back to Adam who was commanded not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thus making it an everlasting ordinance of God’s creation.1 1 St. Isaac the Syrian agreed: “As the first commandment imposed upon our nature in the beginning was against the tasting of

the food, and in this point the head of our race fell, therefore those who strive for the fear of God begin the building where the first injury originated.”2

Whether or not fasting can be traced back to Adam as a creation ordinance may be debated. But it was certainly given as part of the Mosaic Law for the Day of Atonement—the only prescribed day of fasting.

This shall be a statute forever for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who sojourns among you. For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It is a sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever (Leviticus 16:29–31).

By comparing this passage with Leviticus 23:27–32 and Numbers 29:7, it can be observed that “afflicting your souls” was a reference to fasting. In add...

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