John 6:26-27 provides a major reason why we fast on the Day of Atonement. Some of the same people Jesus had fed the day before through a mighty miracle make up the audience in this episode. He tells them that they were seeking God for entirely wrong reasons. They wanted to use God for their own ends—not to serve Him, but to be served by Him. This sounds like modern socialist thinking, the welfare mentality.
What is the basis of our relationship with God? Is it solidly founded on belief—or on what we can get from Him?
Why is disbelief so serious? Refusing to believe God is to be guilty of slandering His righteous character. It assumes He does not know what He is talking about. It assaults His integrity and love. It is quite similar to an immature and inexperienced whippersnapper telling a much older and wiser person who has been "around the block" a few times that he is wrong. Disbelieving God, though, is far more serious because sin is involved in rejecting the loving counsel of the Eternal Creator who does not lie.
Genesis 3 shows with stark simplicity that Adam and Eve did not believe God's Word. They thought they knew better. In the pride of their limited understanding, they declared their independence from God and exercised their free moral agency to sin against His government, bringing on the need for atonement. Mankind, like its parents, simply thinks it knows better.
Only when we do not think so much of ourselves, feel helpless, weak, and backed into a corner will we listen with the intensity required to truly believe, repent, submit, and become at one. So often God has to resort to stern measures before we will allow our minds to change. He would rather have us submit willingly and change ourselves. Thus, in His wisdom He has ordained fasting as a part of Atonement because it induces a weakness we can physically feel, not just intellectually agree with.
Fasting is a self-imposed trial that should help us both know and feel what we are in comparison to God. Its purpose is not to impress God with how disciplined we are (though it is a good exercise in discipline), but it is to remind us how much we need the things He so freely and generously supplies.
God has life inherent; He is self-sustaining. But when we, even for a relatively short time, are denied the food He supplies, our weakness and dependence quickly become apparent. Food gives us physical strength and satisfaction. If we deny the body the food it needs, we become weak and die.
Food is a type of God's Word. Likewise, if our spirit is denied this manna from heaven, we become spiritually weak and would eventually die spiritually. If in our pride we reject God's food, even though we may have a form of godliness as shown by performing the formalities of worship, our weakness will become apparent through sin—the strength of God's Word is missing. Remember, His Word is spirit, and it is life (John 6:63).
Fasting can help bring us face to face with what we really are: very mortal beings who need all the help we can get. Because fasting usually intensifies the feelings of self-concern, it reminds us that we are still flesh and how much of our time is consumed caring for ourselves. This is indeed humbling.
Being humble is a choice! Peter brings this out in I Peter 5:6: "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God." James 4:10 agrees: "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord." Even as we can choose to fast, we can choose to allow our minds to change and submit to God to become one with Him. Hardening our hearts, or exercising our pride, is a choice too (see Hebrews 3:8, 15).
Brethren, at-one-ment is proceeding! It is occurring on a one-at-a-time basis as individuals come to believe and repent of sin. It is an ongoing process of refinement in each person's life as he continues to repent and grow in holiness.
The means of reconciliation that lead to at-one-ment are the death of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the life of Jesus Christ as He lives as our High Priest. Our part in fighting our pride by choosing to submit to God's Word cannot be left out of the process. We fast to feel and demonstrate our dependence upon God that we might continue to grow into His image.
The time is coming when there will be no cause of disagreement and thus no separation from God. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all [God's] holy mountain" (Isaiah 11:9). What an awesome future to prepare for!
John W. Ritenbaugh