Monthly Muslim-Christian Dialogue: Fasting

As we’re coming up to Ramadan, our monthly Muslim-Christian Dialogue focused on the concept of fasting in Christianity and Islam. Here is what I said:

What was fasting for in the Old Covenant?

•’On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads.’ (Nehemiah 9:1)

•’there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.’ (Esther 4:3)

•’I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.’ (Daniel 9:3)

•’”Even now”, declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning”.’ (Joel 2:12)

Fasting was typically linked to mourning. Usually it was linked to mourning over sin.

Did fasting lead to merit and righteousness?

‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired… in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure’. (Psalm 40:6f)

‘Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice’. (1Samuel 15:22)

‘man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’. (1Samuel 16:17)

‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise’. (Psalm 51:17)

God isn’t interested in outward conformity so much as the heart. Sacrifice and fasting of themselves had no value. It was real repentance that mattered.

Forgiven sin means no need to mourn

‘But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him’. (Hebrews 9:26b-28a)

‘“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin’. (Hebrews 10:16-18)

What did Jesus say about fasting?

‘Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast’. (Matthew 9:14f)

“behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age”. (Matthew 28:20b)

Jesus says as long as he is with us, we have no need to fast. He also tells us he is with us always. Now he has risen, and is forever with his people, mourning is finished. Jesus has dealt with the problem of sin so there is no longer any need to mourn and fast if we are forgiven.

Is there any requirement to fast?

The following is therefore true:

1. Fasting never earned righteousness.

2. Fasting was usually linked to mourning, normally over sin.

3. Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice means the entirety of our sin – past, present and future – has been forgiven and therefore requires no further offering.

4. We, therefore, have no cause to mourn over our sin as it has already been punished in Jesus and forgiven of us.

5. Jesus is now forever with us by his Spirit. We are to rejoice when he is with us and why we are commanded to ‘rejoice in the Lord always’ (Philippians 4:4)

6. Though some may choose to fast in order to focus on prayer, it is not required of Christians nor necessary for salvation.