Yesterday’s sermon briefly discussed restitution and whether it’s an appropriate response to sin. This got me thinking about other responses to sin (besides the most obvious: repentance), and in particular, fasting. If you’d like a more detailed discussion of fasting please listen to these two sermons I preached:
For now I just want to discuss the two instances in Scripture of people fasting following sin…
The first situation involves – believe it or not – King Ahab, one of the wickedest men in the Old Testament. He learned he was going to be judged by God and “He tore his clothes…and fasted and lay in sackcloth, and went about mourning. [God said], ‘Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the calamity in his days.’” (1 Kin 21:27-29).
The second situation involves one of the wickedest groups of people in the Old Testament: the Ninevites. When they learned they were going to be judged it says, “[They] believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (Jon 3:5, 10).
In both situations the people’s actions clearly pleased God, but it’s important to know it wasn’t their fasting that moved God:
- In Ahab’s case it was his grieving and humility that delayed judgment.
- With the Ninevites it was their mourning and repentance that brought God’s forgiveness.
The real question is whether fasting is an appropriate response to sin for us, Church Age Believers? The answer is…maybe. While it seemed to be pleasing to God in the Old Testament, we don’t see it commanded, encouraged, or even modeled in the New Testament as an appropriate response to sin. The closest verse would be Jesus’ words about fasting when mourning: “The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days” (Luke 5:35). If mourning is an appropriate time to fast, and you happen to be mourning over your sin, then it could be appropriate to fast too. For many people if they’re really upset about what they did, they probably don’t feel like eating anyway.
Finally, I think it’s very important to point out this isn’t penance. You don’t fast to be forgiven. Forgiveness only comes from what Jesus has done, and not from anything we could do.