Is Fasting a Part of the Age of Grace?
Fasting was a yearly obligation of the Law on the Great Day of Atonement. It was obligatory and a sign of mourning for sins one had committed.
By the time of Christ, the Pharisees, by their traditions, had added considerably to the Law of fasting. They fasted weekly in order to show how spiritual they were (52 times more than the Law required!).
When considering Jesus' words in the Gospels on this subject, we need to keep in mind that at that time he was a man under the Law speaking to a people under the Law. And, when he spoke here in Matthew of fasting as being like someone trying to put "new wine into old bottles" he was pointing to the New Covenant which he would shortly institute with his own blood on the cross. After that, the new wine of the Age of Grace would not be appropriate to being housed in the old bottle of the Law.
Now, as to specific scriptures in the New Testament that mention fasting, there are several things that we need to keep in mind.
First, beginning with Acts, remember that Acts is a transitional book recording the struggles of Saints adjusting from Law to Grace. It is a history which faithfully tells us what happened and who said what. It is not a doctrinal book.
We should take special care in building a doctrine on the book of Acts. We should ground our doctrine in the doctrinal books not the historical books. It is important to note that fasting is never discussed or prescribed for believers in the doctrinal books of the New Testament.
I Corinthians 7:5 is often quoted as proof that fasting is prescribed for saints during this Age of Grace. That passage says that abstinence from sex in marriage is only acceptable for a short period of time for purposes of prayer. Although your translation may also add “fasting” there … in the original Greek text the word "fasting" is absent. It was added later by some well meaning person who was zealous for fasting but, apparently, not too concerned about tampering with the Word of God.
When other passages in the New Testament mention fasting, keep in mind that the word "fasting" often has a broader meaning such as merely "having no food" or "having no water" (2 Cor 6:5; 11:27).
Finally, let me say that I have no problem with people who incorporate fasting as a spiritual exercise in their own walk with Christ. Same goes for tithing. We are not to judge one another. Each of us will give an account to our Master and no one else. I only have a problem when a brother or sister insists that their particular practice or walk should be made obligatory for everyone else in the body of Christ.
The reason I personally do not practice fasting is because of Jesus' words here in Matthew. He told the Pharisees that his disciples could not fast as long as the Bridegroom was with them. The days are coming, he said, when they will fast when the Bridegroom is taken from them.
I see the days he was referring to as the period of time when he was in the grave and, subsequently, off and on as he came and went until he gave believers his Spirit as recorded in Acts 2. During those days, the Bridegroom was truly not with them and thus it was an appropriate time for mourning and fasting.
But, when our Lord came to dwell in each believer by his Spirit (1 Cor 12:13; Eph 1:13-14), the day mourning and fasting were forever over. Can one fast when the Bridegroom is both with them and in them. I think not.
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