The Law and Gospel of Fasting

I’m wondering how many of you are planning to fast during Lent. Of course it isn’t a required Lenten practice. I’m going to fast, although I haven’t quite figured out what form it will take just yet. For the record, as I’m sure you already know from my previous messages, I believe the practice of fasting is good. It’s an outward honing of the senses that attempts to keep one foot in the Law of God and the other in His Gospel.

Considering the Law angle to fasting, if I had to select one word in this moment to describe it, I’d choose “imprisonment.” Fasting is a form of imprisonment. It takes us into a place where certain inclinations are purposely inhibited and it denies access to what would normally be enjoyed in Christian freedom.

Richard Wright wrote in his book The Outsider, “Men simply copied the realities of their hearts when they built prisons.” He’s right. According to the sin-nature, the human heart is a prison of thoughts, words, and deeds—things we wish we could wipe clean from our slates by our own efforts, but in the end, we just can’t. We see them through the bars and we know our guilt. We know that the wage for Sin, which is imprisonment to Death, is a just and appropriate punishment for our crimes.

I suppose that in a way, fasting takes us inside the prison, but it doesn’t do so with us as convicts being led in shackles and destined for a cell. We’re guests of the warden, and we’re reminded of what we narrowly escaped by the death and resurrection of Jesus. We’re reminded of the immense value behind the redeeming act of the innocent Son of God who exchanged His freedom for ours, who became Sin for us so that we would be free (2 Corinthians 5:21).

From this Law perspective, the Gospel is by no means robbed of its luster and given a penny price tag, but rather it’s seen as it should be seen. It’s an act that we didn’t deserve, and this side of the prison bars, it’s nothing less than priceless.

But this is the very point where we meet with the bright beaming Gospel that shines in the midst of the act of fasting. While we didn’t deserve the rescue, moved by an indescribable love, God gave it to us anyway. Ultimately, Christians fast as a way to keep their spiritual wits attuned to the immensity of the sacrifice Christ made by His suffering and death for the salvation of the world. That’s definitely Gospel. That’s the good news of Christ’s work to save us.

Whether or not you decide to fast is completely up to you. If you’re undecided on it, I say go ahead and give it a shot. Just remember that as you do, you’re not doing anything to win God’s favor. You’re doing it because you already have His favor by virtue of faith in Jesus Christ. With that, you’re fasting because you don’t want to become spiritually lazy. You’re fasting because you’re intent on never losing sight of the enormity of the events leading to and being accomplished on the Lord’s cross. You’re intent on recalling as Saint Paul recalls:

“But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Whatever you decide to do, I pray it will be of benefit to you. Know that I’ll be traveling alongside you in the practice for the next six weeks, and I’ll be trusting that God will both prepare and enlighten our hearts for meeting the holiest of days—the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter) and then Easter Sunday—with the integrity of those who know with joy the price of salvation and are glad to live in and proclaim that same joy to others.