What do a ripped shirt, a goat-skin bottle, and a wedding have in common? These are all images Jesus used to explain being a new creature. Some of John the Baptizer’s followers came to Jesus and asked Him why His disciples did not fast like they did or like the Pharisees did. Jesus’ answer reveals a deeper understanding about the kingdom (see Matthew 9:14-17).
First, why would anyone want to fast? Fasting, which is going without eating for a day or more, is what people have done out of repentance or in response to some tragedy. Religious people had made fasting into a ritual that somehow proved how spiritual they were. Today, very few people fast because they do not understand the purpose of it.
Jesus did. He fasted 40 days. He was not some austere ascetic, however. He went to a lot of feasts and celebrations. He hung out with the crowds. However, many times He pulled himself away from the table. He would go to a secluded place to pray and get away from everything. Once, when Jesus’ disciples came back with a combo meal from the drive thru in Samaria, He was so involved in ministry that He turned them down, saying, “I have food to eat that you don’t know anything about.”
Jesus’ first illustration about fasting was a wedding. He said the friends of the bridegroom were celebrating with him at the wedding feast. In other words, His disciples were having such a good time with Him there that it was like a party. When the bridegroom leaves, however, then they will miss him and mourn. No one was telling them to be happy and no one was making them bemoan the bridegroom’s absence. Likewise, when Jesus left, His disciples would naturally fast—not because it was a religious habit but because it was an urge that came from within just as sadness comes naturally when your close friend goes away. This change in their nature would not be just because of His absence, but would come because they would change from an old nature to a new nature—after Jesus left He sent His Spirit to dwell in us.
Patched up religion
Religious people never really change, they just use Christianity like duct tape. Jesus said it does not work like this. He said patching a ripped shirt with a piece of new cloth does not work because the new cloth with shrink and tear away more from the old cloth. What was He talking about? The stupidity of forcing fasting and other spiritual disciplines on an unbeliever. A person who is not baptized in Jesus’ name or filled with His Spirit does not have the new nature. We put on the new nature by dying with Him in baptism (Romans 6:2-12) and rising to newness of life with the gift of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1-15). The new creature then has new desires, which include giving, praying, and fasting (Matthew 6).
Jesus is not duct tape to hold together people with broken and torn lives. He did not come to remodel Adam. He came to throw away the old and create a new creature (II Corinthians 5:17). We cannot keep living by the old lusts and call ourselves Christians. We have new lusts (see Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7; Galatians 5:16-24; Colossians 3:1-14). Many people have become new creatures in Christ, but are still ignorant about who they are (Ephesians 4:21-32). We need teaching to help understand our new urges. The old self used to have an urge to flirt, steal, or cuss, now the new self has the urge to help, give, or encourage. We choose to act on these urges. God does not do righteousness for us, but through us. His desire, His will power works in us, but we move our muscles to fulfill these desires.
Jesus used an illustration that everyone was familiar with in His day. Back then, people used leather skins, such as a goat hide (the whole thing), to carry wine and other liquids. After a while, that old wineskin would be stretched out and spring a few leaks. If you were a wine merchant, you would not put your fresh wine in used bottles and put them on the market. You would put a new product in a new container.
That might be like a computer builder today. If a computer geek had invented a super powerful processor and motherboard, he would not take an old IBM laptop case with scuffs and scratches to install his new product in. Not only would it not look good on the market, the old ports and power supply on that machine would not keep up with the possibilities of the new, internal computing abilities. If you have a better processor, you put it in a better case.
Jesus was not going to put His state-of-the-art values into salvage containers. The human race is a scrap product. No human is going to last eternally, we have been outmoded. Jesus did not come to beef up the ram and add another hard drive to an obsolete product; He brought a whole new product to the shelf: new case, new hardware, and new software. When we put on Christ we put off Adam and his doom. By faith we take on new bodies; we will see the physical reality of this when Jesus comes back for us.
Part of our new productivity suite is the need to defrag from time to time with fasting. Jesus did not say “if you fast” as if it were an optional thing you could take or leave, He said, “When you fast…” and gave clear instructions for how it should be done (Matthew 6:16-18). Same with the need to run scan disk (prayer), export files (giving), and much more. These are part of your new operating system.
Why fast and pray?
Does prayer and fasting bring revival? A powerful church where the Spirit moves has people who fast and pray. However, Pentecostals tend to say that fasting and prayer is what brings the power. I wonder, however, if fasting and prayer are not just another evidence of the Spirit at work, not the cause. In other words, people who are in tune with God will fast and pray, win souls, and work miracles. Because they are in tune with their “new creature” nature they fast, pray, and believe God to do the impossible. I emphasize this because I have seen too many people use fasting and prayer as ploys to make things happen with God. When He did not dance to their tune, they got burned out and gave up on prayer and fasting—in fact, too many gave up on God Himself thinking He had let them down.
While I have followed the discipline of fasting and prayer for a long time, I am finding a better reason to do it than I have previously. Rather than do these things to “get my way” or make God do what I want, I can do these things just because it is who I am in Christ. The Bible says little about why we fast. I could tell you stories about miracles from fasting, the health benefits from fasting, greater insights to the Bible from fasting, and much more. However, the way Jesus explained it is simple enough for me—it is part of who you are a new creature. Knowing who you are changes what you do.
We need to fast because it is part of our new nature—both the container and the product inside. We need to pray because it is our new identity. We need to expect God to move mountains also, because we are His children. Listen to the Spirit, He is drawing you into solitude with Him. He is calling you away from the table. Fast, pray, and give as He leads you and discover the wild side of life as a new creature.