God doesn’t owe us anything for fasting.

I’ve pointed out fasting is a great way to focus our attention on God so we can pray better, hear him better, and develop our self-control.

But no, I don’t guarantee you’ll grow in all these ways when you fast.

All things being equal, you probably will. But as you know, there are lots of ways people can bollix our own growth. If we’re fasting, yet the rest of our lives are just as sinful as ever, why should we expect anything to change whatsoever? And yet Christians do: “I’m fasting! That should count for something.”

The Hebrews did it too, y’know. They’d fast, then make prayer requests ’cause they believed fasting would show the LORD they were serious, and it’d move him a little faster. It’s why Jehoshaphat told Jerusalem to fast so God might rescue them from invaders, 2Ch 20.3 and why Esther asked the Persian Jews to fast before she petitioned the king. Es 4.16 Since God apparently acted on the petitioners’ behalf in these stories, Christians get the idea fasting makes God move. They’ll claim this is “the biblical principle of fasting”: If you fast, God’ll answer prayer, and give you revelations.

But no it’s not a “biblical principle.” The idea’s based on works righteousness, the idea God we can earn God’s favor through good deeds and acts of devotion. So if we’re good, God supposedly owes us one; if we’re super good God owes us a lot. And supposedly religious acts and rituals can cancel out any evil deeds: If I’m stealing from my workplace’s cash drawer, saying a few hundred Hail Marys will work it off. What’s the going exchange rate, a buck per hail?

There is no biblical principle of fasting. Because in the bible, the LORD never commanded anyone to fast. Ever. The bible contains no teachings about what fasting does, why it’s important, and how often we oughta do it. The one teaching it does have on fasting is when Jesus tells us to not be hypocrites about it, and do it privately instead of publicly. Mt 6.16-18 The rest of Christianity’s teachings on fasting come from tradition: From fellow Christians’ experiences with fasting, and how it benefited them; and how it personally benefited us when we tried it.

But anyone who claims fasting unlocks God’s promises, and now he owes us stuff: They didn’t get that from bible. They got it from a corrupt Christian tradition, if anything. It’s not so. God owes us nothing. His kingdom runs on grace, not quid pro quo. He grants us grace and prayer requests and revelations because he loves us, not because we racked up enough heavenly frequent flyer miles to get a trip to Belize.

He tends to grant these things to active followers, not because we’re actively following, but because what good would they be in the hands of people who aren’t actively following? Such people will just squander his gifts, and be of little to no help to his kingdom. It’s not merit; it’s pragmatism.

So when we fast, is God obligated to do more for us than usual? Not at all. He tends to, but that’s only because Christians who fast, tend to love Jesus and follow him otherwise.

Fasting while you’re sinning.

Lots of Christians fast, but not really because they’re seeking God and his kingdom. They’re seeking wealth. They were told if they want a prosperous new year, start the year by fasting! If they want visions for a prosperous new year, deny themselves for a week or so; do a Daniel fast. (Supposedly it’ll also clean out your liver and kidneys. Based on what evidence, I dunno. I doubt any researchers are doing clinical studies on Daniel fasts.)

Likewise around Lent you get a lot of Christians who give up something till Easter. But they’re not always doing it for Jesus. They’re doing it because everybody else in their church is fasting, or because Mom is on their case about how they oughta give up something this year… so it’s peer pressure and legalism, and not so much love of God. Or they’ll give up a vice they oughta give up anyway: “This year I’m giving up hard liquor for Lent!” (Which is why they suddenly start buying so many four-liter jugs of wine: Seems they don’t realize chronic drunkenness is the real problem.)

In any event, fasting for ulterior motives means we’re gonna do it wrong. We’re gonna think of fasting as if it’s a heavenly punchcard, where you fast enough days and you earn a free sin. Instead of redirecting our focus towards heavenly things, fasting simply becomes a little personal devotion we’re doing on the side, and we never ever notice all the violations of God’s commands and love which we commit every day. And even when we do: Hey, we’re fasting! Shouldn’t that cancel some of the badness out?—just a little?

For too many Christians, fasting clearly doesn’t make us any holier. We don’t grow any different from the rest of the world; we look exactly like them, only hungrier. As demonstrated in Isaiah, when the LORD himself told Isaiah to rebuke the Israelis for fasting without transforming.

Isaiah 58.1-4 KWL
1 “Shout really loud. Don’t hold back. Your voice should be loud as a shofar.
Tell my rebellious people about the sins of Jacob’s house.
2 Day after day they seek me, ‘delighted’ to know my way—
as if they’re a righteous nation, who judges rightly and hasn’t abandoned their God,
asking me for righteous judgment, ‘delighting’ in God’s closeness.
3 But they ask, ‘Why do we fast and you don’t see us? Why do we oppress our souls and you don’t seem to know it?’
Look, on your fast day you seek pleasure. You oppress your employees.
4 Look, you argue and fight as you fast, punching with a wicked fist.
Don’t fast like you do today, and expect your voice to be heard on high!”

Same as Isaiah’s day, we have Christians who make a big deal of fasting on a regular basis, yet they think giving their employees Sundays off makes up for not paying them any more than they legally have to. Who will still pick fights on the internet. Who will still lie and break promises and cheat as usual… but think they’re doing pretty good ’cause they fast. Hey, look at all the Christians who don’t fast: They’re doing better than them, right?

And like the Israelis, sometimes they wanna know why God isn’t paying out. Well, the response the LORD gave through Isaiah, applies to us too. If we’re not really following God any, throwing a fast on top of our irreligion isn’t gonna get us anywhere. It’s just more hypocrisy.

Fasting doesn’t make up for anything. Jesus makes up for everything. 1Jn 2.2 Our good deeds, fasting included, don’t atone for jack squat. God doesn’t work on karma. So if we presume, “I’m fasting; that should count for something,” no it doesn’t. God is no more obligated.

But when we’re making a true effort, and fasting is part of that effort, God recognizes us as true followers. We’re something he can work with. Strive to be that.