What is Biblical Fasting?

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

Matthew 9:14 ESV

What is biblical fasting?

We see it from the Old Testament to the New Testament. In today’s verse, John the Baptist’s disciples had noticed something strange about Jesus and his disciples: they were filled with God’s power yet didn’t fast.

How on earth could that be? Weren’t Jesus and his disciples the perfect picture of spiritual disciplines?

Yes—at least Jesus was! However, he answers with a word picture that helps us understand fasting’s role in our lives.

Fasting was associated with mourning and contrition in the first century. It was a humble act.

This is why Jesus used the analogy of the Bridegroom in verse 15, saying:

“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.”

Jesus being on the scene was a call for celebration, not lamentation. He was the Messiah, the promised Savior of the world!

He continues in verses 16 and 17 (and this is where things get surprising):

“No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

Biblical Fasting is a New Way of Doing Things

Jesus isn’t saying that his disciples won’t fast anymore. Instead, he’s saying the old way of fasting is out—and a new way of fasting is in.

We don’t fast and pray for the Messiah to come, he’s already here!

I love how John Piper puts it: “Fasting is an intensification of prayer.”

Today, we fast to control our bodies. We abstain from something good to seek God’s presence. We show that our deepest hunger in the New Wineskin era isn’t food, comfort, or entertainment, it’s God himself.

So What can Biblical Fasting Accomplish?

The South Korean church was founded in 1884. Today, there are more than 20,000 churches there—and 29% of the population is Christian!

While God has done many wonders there, the South Korean church has been steeped in fasting-prayer. (Many fasting and praying in their mountain prayer houses.)

Today, fasting is about intensifying our prayer. Yes, it can be about confession of sin… about turning from the world’s system and recommitting ourselves to God’s Kingdom… but it is new wine unique to Jesus bringing the Kingdom of God near.

Do you regularly fast and pray? What are you missing out on if you don’t?

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