11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
As we continue the discussion of the scrutinies leading up to lent, if you do not know what they are they were introduced in the preceding post. You can look back at that at your own leisure. Continuing on with the scrutinies leading up to the celebration of Easter and the conclusion of Lent we find greater opportunities for self-examination as we seek to deepen our walk with Christ. With prayer standing as the first pillar of lent, the second is close, and this is fasting. Sadly, fasting is often a lost spiritual discipline in the present day and age, which is regrettable considering the modern disposition towards excess that is often a cultural imperative. There is something socially programmed in us to the point that, if we do not have far and above what we need, we must be malcontent and moody. Because of the lack of the practice in our culture, most believers are often at a loss as to what the purpose and use of fasting is.
The greatest question surrounding fasting is perhaps, “what sort of spiritual value does the physical practice have?” This is an important question, because all through Scriptures God makes it evident that it is not outward action that matters, it is the state of the heart. This truth being self-evident, the question then becomes, “how does fasting affect inward change?” It is an important question, because two people can fast. Both can show equal devotion, and yet, if one has only withheld himself from something without any spiritual effect his fast has been profitless where the others induces spiritual growth. What is the spiritual effect of fasting the? In speaking on the subject, church father Tertullian speaks of fasting saying…
It is really irksome to engage with such(Speaking of the gluttonous): one is really ashamed to wrangle about subjects the very defense of which is offensive to modesty. For how am I to protect chastity and sobriety without taxing their adversaries? (Tertullian 208 AD)
What father Tertullian is saying is that if we are called to deny the things of this world and live soberly, fasting is the most natural reaction to this call. Why? Because we are denying the most basic physical needs… or we are at least displacing them in our lives, and focusing our efforts and our energies on the pursuit of godliness. If gluttony means being completely preoccupied with the physical, then fasting is to force ourselves to be completely preoccupied with the spiritual.
Since fasting is the discipline of focusing on the spiritual, it is of no use if we simply abstain. For, the deprivation of one’s body for no cause is an irresponsible and disturbing masochism. If the purpose of the fast is to restructure our life and train our body to value the spiritual above the physical, then a true fast must supplant the physical sustenance with a spiritual sustenance. In other words, we must replace food for our bodies with food for the soul. This most often comes in the form of a greater devotion to the reading of Scripture and meditating on it, fervent prayer, and personal reflection and examination on these. Practically this means providing time to study and meditate on the Scriptures and prioritizing prayer. It may also mean journaling in order to aid us in self-reflection. The point is that we train our bodies, and in so doing, also train our minds to value the spiritual instead of being constantly preoccupied with the physical. The physical is not the most important. In fact, our bodies are essentially just a passing phase. As the Apostle Paul describes them in 2 Corinthians 5:1-2, they are merely a tent. What is of true value are the things that go unseen. Unseen that is, unless we seek after them in our lives.
 Tertullian, “On Fasting in Opposition to the Psychics,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. S. Thelwall, vol. 4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 102.