Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness weren’t about getting closer to God, either.
Every year more and more evangelicals seem to be observing Lent. We’ve recognized it as a time of profound reorientation. We all are, as the hymn “Come, Thou Fount” aptly puts it, “prone to wander.” We are frail, sinful people who need to often reconsider our priorities, motives, and commitments. And fasting, which has both historical and biblical precedent, is a great way to foster reorientation.
In Scripture, we see that fasting is a sign of sorrow over sin (Deut. 9:9, 18; 10:10; Ezra 10:6), a sign of repentance (1 Sam. 7:6), and an aid to prayer (Ezra 8:21–23; Acts 13:2–3). This discipline of abstinence, therefore, is often described as a way to grow closer to God. It prompts us to recognize our weakness and sinfulness, and it tangibly reminds us of our constant need for God’s grace and strength.
Lent is also a time to imitate Christ and participate in his life in concrete ways. Lent, after all, commemorates Christ’s 40-day fast in the wilderness. For many, it is a spiritual journey whereby we identify with Christ, hoping to become more like him.
All that is good, but many wonder if this hyperfocus on personal holiness is always healthy. Could it not turn into so much navel gazing? Perhaps we’ve lost sight of a vital aspect of Christ’s wilderness fast.
If we want to truly imitate Christ’s fast and participate in his life these 40 days, perhaps we should consider fasting for the sake of others.
Christ—True and Faithful Israel
It might seem odd that Jesus would fast. Fasting was often a sign of grief over sin and repentance. As Craig Blomberg explains, Jews usually fasted “to spend more time in prayer and develop greater spiritual …