FASTING – In these days, a legitimate spiritual endeavor twisted by marketers
There are many churches who participated in the fad known as The Daniel Fast authored by Mr Franklin or the Daniel Plan authored by Rick Warren. These are man-made so-called spiritual activities that are supposed to automatically draw you closer to God by eating things that are on a list and not eating things that are not on a list. If you partake of this fast, other benefits touted are: winning the battle over the flesh (hard to do when we are still flesh when the fast is done), losing weight, and healings from diabetes, allergies, arthritis and cancer. Another benefit from doing the Jentezen Franklin fast is said to be putting our spirit in charge of the other two parts of us, the soul and the body. It must be news to the Holy Spirit that we can put Him in charge of things. (source and source)
Fasting is in the Bible, but the way it is being taught in the Daniel Fasting plan and in Franklin’s book is off center. That is the genius of false teaching, take a true biblical doctrine or activity and twist it.
About fasting: it is good. I fast. Fasting is biblical. However the only New Testament explicit direction we are given is from Jesus’ sermon on the Mount, and in that, the only specifics we are given about fasting is as a voluntary activity and urged to do it in secret to reduce the risk of prideful boasting. Jentezen Franklin’s model calls for the opposite. Otherwise, Jesus said, the temptation to lean toward pride and hypocrisy is too great. We are told in Romans 14 that the kingdom of God is not what we eat or drink, but the Daniel Plan contains a long list of what we may eat or drink.
If a person engages in it for the wrong motivations, such as a weight loss plan, or as a healthy lifestyle, then it is not Godly but a fad of no worth!
So what IS fasting? Lexham Bible Dictionary says,
A ritual of abstaining from food and/or drink for a predetermined period; practiced in the Bible primarily as a means of mourning. Fasting frequently occurs in the Old Testament in response to suffering or disaster, in conjunction with other mourning rituals.
It is a spiritual practice, but the only required fast in the Old Testament required by Moses was for the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26–32). It is called simply “the fast” in Acts 27:9 since the Jews would have known what is being referred to. Though Jesus urged fasting privately there are legitimate times when public fasting was called for, as in the Ninevites’ fast from the King on down, or corporate fasting as per Ezra. Thus, public national fasts on account of sin or to supplicate divine favor were sometimes held. 1 Samuel 7:6; 2 Chronicles 20:3; Jeremiah 36:6–10; Nehemiah 9:1, says the Easton Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
Sometimes in the Bible great emotion caused a natural loss of appetite. Hannah’s distress over being barren which was constantly made worse via Penninah’s provoking, caused Hannah to ‘weep and not eat’. (1 Samuel 1:7). Ahab’s sulking caused him to lose his appetite and not eat. (1 Kings 21:4). These were not true fasts, though, because they were not a deliberate abstention from food for a spiritual purpose.
A true fast is a deliberate setting aside of a legitimate pleasure of food in order to engage in a spiritual endeavor, such as a demonstration of grief over a death, a spiritual grief over sin, or a supplication to God, for example.
“In the Bible, fasting was also practiced to show the seriousness of one’s religious endeavors and to remind each other that people do not live by bread alone (Deuteronomy 8:4)“. (In Holman treasury of key Bible words)
For example, in Acts 13:2-3, as the believers prepared to send Paul off on his first missionary journey, they fasted. Fasting for medical reasons or dietary reasons or health reasons might be fine, but it is not the same as a biblical spiritual fast.
“Fasting in and of itself is unknown in Scripture as an end in itself. All of the benefits of fasting in the Scripture are indirect, not direct. Fasting is never isolated to create some virtue in and of itself. You don’t just say well, I’m going to be spiritual, I will not eat. You are no more spiritual because you don’t eat than because you do eat.” (source John MacArthur)
“Fasting is to deny self, but it is not done in a vacuum. You don’t just say well, I’m going to deny myself. I’m going to say no to myself and stop eating for no good reason. There is a reason to humble yourself in that manner. There is a reason to deny yourself in that manner. There is a reason to inflict yourself in that manner and the reason is a consuming one. [F]asting never occurs in a vacuum. It never occurs biblically without a corollary. So, fasting is almost not something you choose to do, but something you cannot avoid.” (source)
What is the reason people would go on a Daniel Fast? Is it just to do it? Because it will make you grow spiritually? It won’t, if that is your sole reason. It’s not an activity that causes growth, it is an outward expression of an interior spiritual need or circumstance. Fasting combined with prayer is a mark of a personal commitment to God for a specific reason (missionary journey, selecting leaders, salvations, repentance for sin, grief…). It’s not a diet, a fad, or a prideful show unto others.
Faddish fasting gurus promote fasting for the wrong reasons, twisting a legitimate spiritual discipline into a money-making endeavor- for themselves. There is no spiritual benefit to the people in these plans. (e.g. The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren, the Daniel Fast by Jentezen Franklin etc)
Here is an excerpt on the Daniel Fast and fasting in the New Testament from Don Green:
“What’s sad is the effect these self-appointed authorities have on those who follow them. They bind consciences with false guilt. Setting themselves up as judges of what goes into your mouth, they oppose our Lord Jesus Christ, who declared all foods clean and said that nothing should be rejected if it is received with gratitude (Mark 7:19; 1 Timothy 4:1-5). The New Testament leaves the details of fasting to the discretion of the believer and even de-emphasizes fasting in the progress of revelation. When Jesus taught against hypocrisy in Matthew 6:1-18, he taught us to give, pray, and fast privately. If you do, your Father who sees in secret will reward you.“
Jesus taught explicitly to “pray this way”, but He did not say “fast this way”. The specifics are left to the believer as to when or why or how. Jesus doesn’t advise how often to fast, but only cautions “when you fast” to do it in secret.
Fasting is a private activity usually and traditionally associated with grief, repentance, or for a specific purpose that Jesus Himself relegates to a private matter between a believer and God, vertically. The Daniel Fast promoters and Franklin have made it an activity on some name it-claim it spiritual check-off list, a horizontal display of public piety laden with potentials for hypocrisy and pride, exactly what Jesus said not to do.
Be careful not to fall into a snare of the devil as fads come and go. A merchandizing worthless shepherd will take a good sounding biblical activity and twist it just enough to make it man-centered and not God-centered. If there is a lot of merchandise associated with the activity, it’s a clue that at root it’s probably not edifying for your soul. (2 Peter 2:3)
A short series of essays on the proper approach to fasting can be found below. There are other resources on proper fasting below as well. I recommend fasting when you feel it’s necessary. It’s a fruitful activity and yields benefits spiritually to the faster, as well as likely kingdom benefits we will see on the Day!
The Heart of Christian Fasting, Part 1. The Old Testament.
The Heart of Christian Fasting, Part 2: Sermon on the Mount
The Heart of Christian Fasting, Part 3: The New Testament (it is this part he deals with the Daniel Fast)
The Heart of Christian Fasting, Part 4: Fasting Today
If someone wants to listen to or read a good sermon series on fasting, again I direct them to the Grace to You website and the series entitled Fasting Without Hypocrisy, Part 1
The Doctrine of Fasting and Prayer, and Humiliation for Sin by Arthur Hildersham (Author). Reformation Heritage Books (2017), 168 pages. Hildersham was an English Reformer, born as a Royal, raised as a zealous Papist, educated at Cambridge, converted to Protestantism. His father yanked him from college and prepared to send him to Rome to be ‘reclaimed’. Arthur refused, and was disinherited. He remained a Protestant all his life and was dearly beloved by his people.
Understanding the Discipline of Fasting (Biblical Foundations for the Christian… by Paul David Washer. The book blurb says, “The oft-forgotten discipline of fasting is a devotion of great usefulness that unfortunately has had a severe lack of information written about it and has garnered an abundance of misunderstandings and misinformation regarding it. In “Understanding the Discipline of Fasting,” the fourth of his Biblical Foundations for the Christian Faith series, Paul Washer repeatedly points the student to the Scriptures to expose these erroneous ideas and to help the people of God understand the proper place of fasting in the Christian life. Also included in these pages is an abridged and modernized work from the Scottish theologian Thomas Boston on fasting and humiliation”.
A Memorial Concerning Personal and Family Fasting and Humiliation, by Thomas Boston, a scanned online pdf.
*Author’s Note: This blog was updated from a blog written in 2013.