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Fasting: Deliver Me from this Body of Death
Scott Lyons

Why doesJesus say fasting is necessary for deliverance from some evils (along with prayer—Mark 9:29; cf. Matthew 17:20 footnote)? Does God delight in our being hungry, in our suffering and deprivation? Is God moved to action when he sees his people doing extraordinary works, proving that they really, really mean it or desire the thing for which they pray? Or does fasting, in some special way, tap into God’s compassion so that he relents, as political hunger fasts attempt to make unjust rulers relent? Of course, the answer to each of these questions is, No. Perhaps, then, it is that he knows that we are dust, and he knows that fasting is necessary in order to free us from some of the sin that binds us. So, just as grains of wheat must fall into the ground and die in order to produce its fruit, we too must die to ourselves before we can receive the gifts he offers, the fruit of this salvation. Death precedes resurrection. Abstaining from meat or dairy or all foods is not the end that God desires for us, but is rather a means to achieve the heart that he desires. True fasts are fasts from sin, fasts of the heart, and dying to our passions (or killing our passions) is a way to accomplish this. In some cases, it’s the only way.

And Jesus demands, in some sense, that his followers will fast. For he says, "Do wedding guests mourn while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast" (Matthew 9:15, my italics). Now some may say that "they will fast" is no command. True. But Christ is describing his followers, you and me, and he says that his followers will fast. And when Christ says that his followers will do something, there is purpose in it, and I would like to be found doing it. The assumption that Christians will fast is also implicit in the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, “When you fast. . . .” It’s as if fasting is such a part of religious life, of engaging our lives, that a command is not even necessary—it is already assumed. Fasting is what those who seek God do. Fasting, then, is a foregone conclusion. Most days are ordinary days, but some are for feasts, and others are for fasts. Fasting had always been a part of Jewish religious life and continues into all Christians’ lives as they are grafted into Israel.This is not taking up the law, but putting off the flesh.

One of the arguments against the necessity of fasting—resistance even to calling it a necessity—is the propensity we have to reserve the word necessity for those things we believe bring us to salvation. And I understand this resistance. But to spend our lives paring down the essentials of our faith is to miss the forest for the trees. Now it may have its purposes in some discussions. But our faith is fat and full, not undernourished. The necessity of fasting is also not about searching out ways we can save ourselves—only Christ can merit our salvation, only his work on the cross. But fasting fights the passions so that we might receive the fruit of our salvation. Fasting is necessary for our salvation in the sense of our becoming saved, our sanctification, our becoming like God—necessary only after understanding ourselves as within the body. It is necessary so that I might love my wife and my children as I ought, my neighbor, and even my enemy. It is hard not to belabor the point, but many misconceptions rise up at this point in the conversation, so much so that we abandon the good way that Christ has shown us all because he did not sit down and write up a to-do list for us: "In your arguments, here are the things that are important." But it is he who is important, and sharing in his life. Some of us would rather follow the to-do list. Some of us would consider it a trade-up to abandon the Spirit for the tutelage of the law. Some days, I would.

Meanwhile, as I work on this article on the spiritual discipline of fasting, I am constantly being interrupted by my slew of children. One asks me to show him Young Justice action figures on the computer, one wants me to play Mario Kart, another wants to show me some beautiful thing she has made, and others whine for this and that. Some just want to climb on me, or want me to hold them. My frustration grows, and I burn with anger rather than with God's love. That is the unfortunate reality, the daily life in my home, the hell in my heart. I am a sinner who needs to die that I might live—who needs to fast. And this not simply for myself; I need Life that I might pour him out on these little ones. 

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