Last month I posted on fasting in Islam in light of the beginning of the month of Ramadan when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset for 30 days. In my experience I have found that some Muslims don’t know that Christians fast as well. And unfortunately I know that there are many Christians who don’t fast. But that isn’t the way it should be. Just as Muslims are commanded to fast, so also Christians are called to fast.
When Jesus Christ taught his disciples about fasting he said, “When you fast . . .” (Matthew 6:16), not “If you fast. . .” Just as the Lord expected his followers to give alms and to pray, he also expected that they would fast.
But the purpose of biblical fasting is different than the purpose of Islamic fasting. For Muslims fasting during Ramadan is how one earns merit from God and receives forgiveness of sins. Christians don’t fast in order to earn salvation or forgiveness of sins. God has already accomplished that through Jesus Christ and there is nothing we can add (“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” [Ephesians 2:8-9]). Instead we fast in order to display the depth of our desire for God. Fasting is like an exclamation point on our prayers, saying, “God we want you and need you more than any earthly thing.” It is a way of weaning ourselves from the pleasures of the world so that our pleasure will be solely fixed on God.
One significant difference is that there is much more freedom to do different kinds of fasts. For example, one could fast as Muslims fast in Ramadan (no food or drink from sunrise to sunset) or one could abstain from food for 24 hours or for multiple days or even weeks. Sometimes it is also helpful to our souls to fast from things other than food. For example it can be good to fast from electronic media (TV, internet, ipod, etc.) in order to refocus our hearts on God. But however we fast the point is that Christians also are called to fast as one of the means we grow in our love for our Lord.