Jesus expects His disciples to fast (Mark 2:18-20). He does not want them to fast to be seen of men (Matthew 6:16). He does desire that they fast only to be seen of God (Matthew 6:17-18).
The Pharisees taught their disciples to fast twice a week (Luke 18:12)—every Monday and Thursday. Jesus teaches His disciples to abstain from food for spiritual reasons and purposes.
A study of the Scriptures uncovers the following occasions when people used to fast for spiritual reasons and benefits:
Fast when grieved by sin. On the annual Day of Atonement in the Old Testament, the Jews were instructed that they should afflict their souls (Leviticus 23:27); this probably included fasting. The prophet Joel called his contemporaries to repentance and fasting (Joel 2:12-13). In response to Jonah’s dire prediction of Nineveh’s doom, the people of Nineveh “believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth” (Jonah 3:5). Saul of Tarsus neither ate nor drank for three days while grieving the burden of his sinful, blasphemous past (Acts 9:8-9).
Fast when fearful. Esther and her kin fasted for three days and nights prior to her uninvited entrance into the king’s royal court and a possible death sentence (Esther 4:16ff). Ezra proclaimed fasting and prayer because of his fear of enemy attack while traveling without an armed escort from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:21-23). King Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah when he heard and feared the report of a great army invading his land from beyond the sea (2 Chronicles 20:1-4).
Fast when facing weighty, sobering decisions. The significant decision to send Saul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey came because of fasting (Acts 13:2). The appointment of elders in every church at the end of that journey included prayer with fasting (Acts 14:23).
As taught by Christ, the practice of genuine fasting can be of great spiritual benefit.