Fasting Under The New Covenant


empty plate

Fasting is a great spiritual discipline, but there is a lot of misunderstanding in regards to the purpose of fasting. Especially the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament purpose of fasting (testament is just another word for covenant).

In this article we are going to be covering fasting under the New Covenant, along with explaining the differences between the two Covenants in regards to fasting.

What is Fasting?

First, before we go any further, we have to first answer this question: What is fasting?

According to Merriam-Webster, fasting is simply abstaining from food for a period of time, or abstaining from certain kinds of food.

Now I know that there are some people, some even pastors, that say you can fast from more things than just food. Such as social media, tv shows, video games, etc. But this simply isn’t the case. It isn’t the true definition in our English dictionaries, but more importantly, it isn’t the true definition the Bible gives.

There is benefit, however, to limiting things that distract us from God and His purposes, but we should be limiting those things already. That isn’t called a fast, that’s called self-control.

Fasting Under Different Covenants

“Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.  No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved” (Matthew 9:15-17).

Jesus was asked by the disciples of John the Baptist why His followers do not fast. In a nutshell His response was “you don’t mix something old with something new.” Essentially, Jesus was saying that we shouldn’t mix the Old Covenant way of fasting with the New Covenant.

Now in this passage, the “new” does not refer to the time Jesus was alive because the disciples weren’t fasting when He was alive, because Jesus was with them in the flesh. But the “new” refers to the New Covenant after Jesus was “taken away from them, ” meaning when He died and rose again.

We are now under that “new” that Jesus was talking about, the New Covenant.

Jesus Expects Believers to Fast

“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:16-18).

“And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:15).

Judging by the scriptures above, Jesus expects Christians to fast. He uses language such as: “when you fast”, not “if you fast.” Also, in the second passage He doesn’t say “maybe they will fast,” rather He says, “then they will fast.” It’s important to catch those differences, so we can fully grasp His intentions.

We also see that Paul expects Christians to fast as well. Granted, he never gives specific command, but he does give commands such as “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Paul also makes it clear that he fasted regularly.

“In weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:27-28).

So, if we want to imitate Christ as we are so often commanded to, we need to “fast often” as Paul did.

Old Covenant Fasting

There are many passages of men and women of God in the Old Testament fasting and praying to see an answer from God come to pass. Sometimes today we use those examples in our own life, thinking we have to fast and pray long and hard enough to get God to move somehow.

But this is the old way of fasting. You see, fasting in the Old Testament was always to get God to do something. To receive more of God’s power, to experience more of God’s presence, to see more answers to prayer, etc.

Under The New Covenant we have all those things already. We are under a Covenant with God established on better promises (Hebrews 8:6). He has given you and me His Spirit to experience His power, presence, and voice. He promised that He’ll never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). And He has given us the Name of Jesus so we can exercise His authority for answers to prayer (John 14:13). I could go on, but I think you get the point.

The Old Testament was a covenant of works. The New Testament is a Covenant of faith! Those under the Law had to earn righteousness, we have received it by faith.

So, if it’s all about faith, what’s the purpose of fasting?

New Covenant Fasting

The purpose of fasting under the New Covenant is to keep the flesh under, and live in the Spirit.

We are exhorted throughout the New Testament to walk in the Spirit and not to fulfill the desires of the flesh (Romans 8:5-7, Galatians 5:16-17). The main way we do this is by setting our mind on the things of the Spirit and not on the flesh as Romans 8:5 says. (Related article: How to Walk in the Spirit).

But another way is through fasting. When we fast we are denying the flesh to grow spiritually. The purpose is not to get God to do something for us, but to remove what is in the way for God to work through us.

God is Spirit (John 4:24), and He has given all His promises by the Spirit (Ephesians 1:3). If we want to walk in those promises to the full extent we need to walk in the realm where they’re accessed, and fasting helps us live there.

Purpose of Fasting in Both Covenants

There is a purpose of fasting that we see in both Covenants.

Fasting is often referred to as “humbling yourself” or “afflicting your souls”. Here are some scriptures for example.

“Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord” (Leviticus 23:27).

“When I wept and humbled my soul with fasting, it became my reproach” (Psalm 69:10).

Abstaining from food is a tool in which we use to humble ourselves. I belief the apostle Paul used this for developing humility as well.

“In weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:27-28).

“And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

In the passage above Paul is saying that God’s power rests on those who are made weak. You see, if you are a christian, and you have been baptized in God’s Spirit, then you have God’s power on the inside of you. But that power has not been made perfect in your life. That comes through weakness, or humility.

Now, obviously 2 Corinthians 12 is talking about Paul’s thorn, which is persecution, but the principle is still the same. Weakness attracts God’s strength. We see this same principle worded differently in other places. For example, James 4:6 says,

“God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”

In short, New Covenant fasting is abstaining from food in order to humble ourselves, and deny our flesh, to walk deeper in God’s Spirit and power.

I hope this article assisted you in your walk with the Lord. If you enjoyed this article, please consider giving a donation of any amount by going to the support page. The support I receive from you enables The Biblical Foundation to reach more people with the teachings of the Word of God.

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