Summary: Fasting is appropriate in the believer's life when mourning over sin or seeking clear direction from God.

Abstaining For God

Matthew 6:16-18


A. Story of a financially depressed American couple in Switzerland.

1. Involved in program of study that lasted three years.

2. No grants or scholarships to fall back on if they ran out of money.

3. Learned of an Asian student in the theological study facing greater financial difficulty.

4. He was on the verge of abandoning his studies and leaving Switzerland.

5. Began to gather support from American community and contributed themselves.

6. How? Their answer, “We’ll just fast one day a week.”

B. Mahatma Ghandi was famous for fasting.

1. Fasted to get a raise for Indian textile workers.

2. Fasted in the fight for Indian independence from Britain.

3. His were fasts unto death.

4. Amazing how this unimportant man could bring owners and governments to their knees when it appeared he would die.

C. Most of us probably have enough for our needs.

1. Many could not even relate to the above story.

2. Financial considerations are not under consideration when fasting is spoken of in the Bible.

3. The Bible speaks of fasting on many occasions.

D. For many Christians fasting seems unnecessary.

1. We can identify with the giving and praying.

2. Means to abstain from eating food for a period of time.

3. The purpose is to attain some spiritual result.

E. Fasting is spoken of in the Old and New Testaments.

1. Jesus did it and probably assumed his followers would.

2. Jesus’ instructions, “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting…But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others, but by your Father who is in secret.”

F. Jesus corrects the meaning on fasting (like he did with many other things).

1. Many practiced it in a hypocritical way (for bragging purposes).

2. Many just wanted to be seen and praised by others.

3. Fasting is not commanded.

4. The only time it was required in the OT was on the Day of Atonement.


A. Many believers in the OT fasted.

1. Moses, Samson, Samuel, David, Elijah.

2. Not commanded except on the Day of Atonement, which was once a year.

3. All Israel was to abstain on that day.

B. Fasting in the Old was different than in the New Testament.

1. In the Old it was for mourning and repenting of sin.

2. Took place by the whole nation on the Day of Atonement.

3. Practice spread to fasting when a national disaster took place or for other reasons.

C. The story of Jonah.

1. God told him to go to Nineveh and preach against its wickedness.

2. Ninevites’ reaction, “The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth." (Jonah 3:5)

3. A national disaster was about to take place.

D. The death of Saul and Jonathan.

1. First king of Israel and was in battle with the Philistines.

2. Saul and his sons were killed on Mt. Gilboa.

3. Men from Jabesh Gilead retrieved their bodies, “Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted seven days.” (I Samuel 31:13)

E. John the Baptist.

1. Prepared the way for Christ and fasted.

2. His disciples came to Jesus to ask why Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast.

3. Fasting implied sorrow and Jesus’ disciples were not sad-they had him.

F. Fasting had been perverted by the time of Jesus.

1. Had become a ritual to gain praise from others.

2. Practice to try and gain God’s approval.

3. Many religious leaders fasted on second and fifth days (claimed these were the days Moses made his trips to get the Ten Commandments).

4. Also the major days of the Jewish market (gave them a larger audience to see their fasting).

5. Put on old clothes, mess their hair up, use makeup and cover themselves with dirt and ashes.

G. Such fasting was a sham and mockery.

1. They received praise from no one but the onlookers.

2. Ceremonial fasting means nothing to God.

3. John Calvin said, “Many for want of knowing its usefulness undervalue its necessity. And some reject it all together as superfluous, while on the other hand, where the proper use of fasting is not well understood, it easily degenerates into superstition.”

4. Fasting was only significant when it involved mourning over sin.

H. Pagan beliefs and today.

1. Pagans believed demons could enter a person through food.

2. If under attack, abstain from food.

3. Yoga of eastern religions practice it claiming it to be a time when they see mystical visions and gain insight.

4. Some do it today for dietary reasons.

5. In the Old Testament, it was always over sorrow for sin.


A. Meaning changed.

1. Early Christians fasted but not over sin in their lives.

2. Done to set aside normal daily distractions to get clear direction from God.

3. A person waited for God to reveal his will.

B. The gospel coming to Gentiles by Cornelius through Peter’s ministry.

1. Based on a vision from God, Peter went to Cornelius’ house.

2. While fasting, the word of God came to Cornelius and told him to send for Peter.

C. Beginning of Paul’s missionary journeys were connected with fasting.

1. While the church at Antioch fasted, the Spirit gave them instructions to set apart Paul and Barnabas.

2. “And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” (Acts 13:3)

D. In the New Testament.

1. Fasting was a personal exercise between a person and God.

2. We feel God’s presence and he reveals his will.


A. Christians are not commanded to fast.

1. Neither are they forbidden.

2. It can be appropriate if God leads us to.

B. Instances when fasting may be appropriate.

1. In times of sorrow (like David when he learned his child was ill).

2. In times of danger (Israel did it when threatened by enemies).

3. When we need to confess and mourn over our sins.

4. When searching for God’s will.

5. When about to begin an important task or new ministry (Jesus fasted 40 days before he was tempted and began his public ministry).

6. When making plans and need God’s direction.

C. Fasting must be linked to prayer and a sincere heart.

D. We can fast from some things.

1. From things that may crowd our life and take away God’s time.

2. This lends time for prayer and Bible study where God can speak to us.

3. One wrote, “Fasting is not confined to abstinence from eating and drinking. Fasting really means voluntary abstinence for a time from various necessities of life, such as food, drink, sleep, rest, association with people and so forth…Fasting in the Christian sense does not involve looking upon the necessities of life, which we have mentioned, as unclean and unholy…Fasting implies merely that our souls at certain times need to concentrate more strongly on the one thing needful than at other times, and for that reason we renounce for the time being those things which in themselves, may be both permissible and profitable.”


A. Fasting should include mourning over sin but also a desire to see God’s direction more clearly. Then there are those other things we might choose to fast from.

B. David Wilkerson whose story is told in The Cross and the Switchblade.

1. It was fasting from entertainment that led him to see God’s will.

2. Pastor of a small church in Pennsylvania.

3. Church was growing but he was restless.

4. While watching the Late Show, he thought about how he might better spend his time in prayer.

5. Decided to put an add in the paper to sell the television.

6. Asked God to let a buyer appear right away if this was his will.

7. Twenty-five minutes after paper was out, a buyer called.

8. In fifteen minutes, he had sold his television.

9. God led him to work with teenage gang members in New York City.