The Bible never commands us to fast by going without food. Traditionally, fasting has been understood as denying oneself food for religious purposes. It was practiced by God’s people (Israel) and pagan religions as a means of showing submission and humility in an attempt to draw closer to the Divine. Fasting by abstaining from food has taken many forms. For example, the Catholic Church once required its followers to abstain from eating meat on Fridays, though this practice was discontinued late in the 20th century. Other religions limit it to specific foods, and in some situations no food at all, for a given period of time. Although this practice has been around for centuries, and was practiced by the Old and New Testament people, there is no command from God in the Bible to fast this way.
Isaiah 58 is a great example of man’s view of fasting, by abstaining from food and other fleshly acts of piety, as opposed to God’s view of true fasting. The prophet Isaiah tells God’s people that their actions are not fooling God. In verse 3 the people complain, “‘Why have we fasted, they say, and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed? In verse 5, God answers their question with a question. “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself?” Then in verse 6, God declares what a true fast is. “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”
Jesus never taught his disciples to fast during his ministry (Matt 9:14). He understood what a true fast is and declared as much when he started his ministry in Luke 4:18 (NIV): “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,” This statement sounds remarkably like what God describes as a true fast in Isaiah 58:6.
The lesson is that no outward pious show of self-denial impresses God. When we deny ourselves by giving service to those oppressed and imprisoned by sin, we are truly fasting according to God’s will.
Further study on this subject can be found by following the links below.