Fasting, abstaining, saying no…these often carry negative connotations in our culture today. But abstaining played a more positive role in Scripture.

In the Old Testament, abstinence and/or fasting were encouraged and practiced for many reasons:

  • abstaining from work on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:17)
  • to mark someone as set aside (holy), by God, for a special role (Judges 13-16)
  • to make a specific request to God (Ezra 8:21-23)
  • to express sorrow for sins (Ezra 10:6)

From these examples and others in Scripture, we see that, yes, abstaining meant giving something up, but the goal of that abstinence included holiness (being set apart), prayer, service, faith, and celebration. These are all very positive and good things. In the New Testament, we see Jesus on earth as a human, showing us how to live God’s intended lifestyle. Simplicity and abstinence were part of His life, and should be an intentional practice in ours.

Christ practiced abstinence…

  • as an act of holiness – fasting from food, water, and company (Matthew 4:1-2)
  • as an act of prayer – giving up precious time of sleep and fellowship (Mark 1:35-37)
  • as an act of service – denying himself out of compassion; living without a place to call home (Matthew 12:15, Matthew 8:20)
  • as an act of faith – willful and painful sacrifice, trusting that it was necessary (Luke 22:42)

Jesus was also clear that there were times not to fast – “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:14-15).

Here the emphasis is on Jesus’ presence, with fasting as a symbol of mourning when the cause for celebration was gone. Since Pentecost, Christians have the Holy Spirit living in them, giving them cause to celebrate God’s presence every moment of every day.

Abstinence gives us cause to celebrate because we are obeying Him and becoming more like Him.

Want to learn more about the spiritual practice of fasting? We want to help you! Simplicity and Sacrifice: Embracing More with Less is available to download for free, as our gift to you this Christmas.

Part one of a series on Simplicity and Sacrifice – Next Post

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