Why we fast
Question: “Why don’t Christians fast like Muslims do? Do followers of Isa/Jesus fast? Why don’t Christians fast during Ramadan?”
Answer: Both Muslims and Christians fast, but their purposes for fasting differ. A Muslim is obligated to fast during Ramadan to keep one of the five pillars. Christians usually fast for one of the following reasons:
- humble oneself before God (Daniel 9:3; 10:12)
- request God’s help (2 Sam. 12:16; Esther 4:16; Ezra 8:23)
- seek God’s will (Acts 13:2-3)
- turn from sin (Jonah 3:5-10; 1 Kings 21:25-29)
- worship God without distractions (Luke 2:36-38).
Most Christians choose not to fast during Ramadan. They fast to seek God – not to earn salvation from sin. They trust that only the perfect, Lord Jesus Christ secured salvation for them. While Jesus recommended fasting, he specified neither when nor how long to fast. Christians follow his example:
At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, before His great miracles and teaching, he fasted forty days! Afterwards, the devil tested Jesus while he was weak with hunger: “And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. . . . Again, the Devil took Him up into a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.”’ Then the Devil left him. And behold, angels came and ministered to Him” (Matthew 4:2, 8-11).
Although Satan tempted Jesus to sin, Jesus remained perfect, unlike all other human beings in history. He alone can intercede before God for us to enter paradise.
Jesus warned against insincere fasting
Although Jesus encouraged fasting, he discouraged those who would try to use fasting to boast before men, manipulate God, or earn forgiveness through fasting:
- Don’t fast to look religious before men
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).
- Don’t fast with greedy motives
“They say, ‘Why have we fasted, and You do not see? Why have we afflicted our soul, and You take no knowledge?’
“Behold, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and crush all your laborers. Behold, you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness; you shall not fast as you do today, to make your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast and a day pleasing to Jehovah? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed ones go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to break your bread to the hungry, and that you should bring home the wandering poor? When will you see the naked and cover him; and you will not hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:3-7).
- Don’t fast to earn forgiveness of sin
While fasting helps one repent of sin, it cannot merit forgiveness of sin: “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:11-14).
“For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
The main difference between the fasts of Muslims and Christians is that third point. The Bible, Christians’ Holy Book, teaches that we cannot earn paradise through good works such as fasting. Our sin renders our best offerings unworthy.
But God gave the world a gift of salvation. The gift is Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, taking the punishment for sin. By raising Jesus from the dead, God showed that He accepted Christ’s sacrifice.
How do you receive the gift? You must turn from sin and trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection to save you – not your own good works. Then, you may live the rest of your life pleasing God through good works: “But now, being made free from sin, and having become slaves to God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:22-23).