Now that we have established some scriptural reason for fasting under the New Covenant, we should also consider some unscriptural reasons for fasting.
Some people fast hoping that it will increase the chance of God answering their prayer requests. Jesus, however, told us that the primary means to answered prayer is faith, not fasting (see Matt. 21:22). Fasting is not a means to “twist God’s arm,” or a way of saying to Him, “You better answer my prayer or I will starve myself to death!” That is not a biblical fast—that is a hunger strike! Remember that David fasted and prayed for several days for his sick baby by Bathsheba to live, but the baby died because God was disciplining David. Fasting didn’t change his situation. David was not praying in faith because he had no promise on which to stand. In fact, he was praying and fasting contrary to God’s will, as evidenced by the outcome.
Fasting is not a prerequisite to having a revival. There is no example of anyone in the New Testament fasting for a revival. Rather, the apostles simply obeyed Jesus by preaching the gospel. If a city was unresponsive, they obeyed Jesus again, sweeping the dust off of their feet and journeying to the next city (see Luke 9:5; Acts 13:49-51). They didn’t stay around and fast, trying to “break spiritual strongholds,” waiting for a revival. This being said, however, I must add that fasting coupled with prayer can certainly benefit those who minister the gospel, making them more effective agents of revival. Many of the spiritual giants of whom we can read in church history were men and women who made a habit of prayer and fasting.
Fasting is not a means of “putting the flesh under,” as the desire to eat is a legitimate and non-sinful desire, unlike the obvious “desires of the flesh” listed in Galatians 5:19-21. On the other hand, fasting is an exercise in self-control, and the same virtue is needed to walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh.
Fasting for the purpose of proving one’s spirituality or advertising one’s devotion to God is a waste of time and an indication of hypocrisy. This was the reason why the Pharisees fasted, and Jesus condemned them for it (see Matt. 6:16; 23:5).
Some people fast to get victory over Satan. But that is unscriptural. Scripture promises that if we resist Satan by faith in God’s Word, then he will flee from us (see Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8-9). Fasting is not necessary.
But did not Jesus say that some demons can only be cast out by means of “prayer and fasting”?
That statement was made in reference to getting someone delivered from a certain kind of demon that possessed him, not in reference to a believer who needed to gain victory over Satan’s personal attacks against him, something to which all believers are subject.
But does not Jesus’ statement indicate that we can gain a greater authority over demons by fasting?
Remember that when Jesus’ heard a report that His disciples had failed to deliver a certain boy from a demon, the first thing He did was lament their lack of faith (see Matt. 17:17). When His disciples asked Him why they had failed, He replied that it was because of the littleness of their faith (see Matt. 17:20). He may also have added as a footnote, “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21). I say He may have added those words as a footnote because there is some evidence that particular statement may not have actually been included in Matthew’s original Gospel. A note in the margin of my Bible (the New American Standard Version, a highly-respected English version) indicates that many of the original manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel do not contain this particular statement, which means it is possible that Jesus never said, “This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” English speakers have the benefit of having scores of different Bible translations in their language, whereas many Bible translations in other languages were translated, not from the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, but from the King James Version of the Bible, a translation that is now over four-hundred years old.
In Mark’s account of the same incident, Jesus is recorded as saying, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29), and it is noted in the margin of the New American Standard Bible that many manuscripts add “and fasting” to the end of the verse.
If Jesus actually did say those words, we would still be wrong to conclude that fasting is necessary for one to successfully cast out all demons. If Jesus gives someone authority over demons, as He did His twelve disciples (see Matt. 10:1), then he has it, and fasting can’t increase one’s authority. Fasting, of course, could give one more time to pray, thereby increasing spiritual sensitivity and perhaps his faith in his God-given authority.
Also keep in mind that if Jesus did actually make the statement under consideration, it was only in reference to one kind of demon. Although Jesus’ disciples once failed to cast out one particular kind of demon, they successfully cast out many other demons (see Luke 10:17).
All of this is to say that we don’t need to fast to gain personal victory over Satan’s attacks against us.