Is fasting legalistic?

Fasting series – part five

Today there are many ministers who purport that those who fast and the churches that declare days of fasting are being legalistic. Is that the case? Is fasting legalistic? I remember years ago listening to a pastor who built his message around not fasting because in his view it was legalistic to fast and that we are under grace. He went so far as to tell everyone present not to fast. This was very foolish as Jesus taught on fasting and the apostle Paul was also a man given to fasting. 

Now I am sure there are believers who are very legalistic and have made fasting and other subjects legalistic and matters of salvation. There are denominations who have made wearing make-up, dress codes and styles of music legalistic and if you violate their so-called ethics then you would not enter into heaven as far as they are concerned. We find in the Gospels that the Pharisees had made fasting and tithing legalistic.

Whenever man is involved, they make those things which are supposed to be matters of the heart to become matters of law because they deem that man will not do these things by themselves.

We can't make fasting legalistic

Enforcing something does not change the heart of man but only creates fanatics. We tend to swing from one side of the pendulum to the other side but God loves balance. It is no use trying to scare people into tithing if their heart is not in it. Whatever is not of faith is sin, according to the apostle Paul. In the same manner, we can't beat into people the idea of fasting. It has to be a revelation of the heart and when it is then it becomes a matter of faith. We can't make fasting legalistic.

As I just mentioned, the Pharisees made everything legalistic. But Jesus had some things to say about that:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

Matthew 23:23-28

And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness.Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you. But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

Luke 11:39-42

When something is a revelation of the heart it then becomes a matter of faith

The Pharisees were all about image, boasting in legalities, uniformity without faith and love. While they applied biblical principles it was not a matter of love but of merit, so they could boast before God; this type of behavior is futile. Paul emphatically revealed this fact, 'Not of works, lest any man should boast…' (Ephesians 2:9). Jesus told them, 'These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone' (Luke 11:42). In other words you ought to tithe and fast but do so from the position of love, mercy and faith.

Fasting is only legalistic if it is imposed upon as a matter of salvation and sanctification to cleanse you from certain habits or sins. Only Jesus and the Holy Spirit can save and sanctify you. This is done by the blood of His Cross and the Word residing in you. While fasting may help in subduing your body, it is only through the finished work of Christ – the washing of the Word and the present work of the Holy Spirit – that perpetual sanctification can take place. Therefore when we fast we are asking God for a closer walk with Him, for help, grace and mercy in a situation!

101 Explosive Benefits of Fasting

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