Drawing by Patrick Murphy http://inspiredsketch.blogspot.com/
As mentioned, people were to practice self-denial or fast throughout the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:32). This appointed fast is discussed in Isaiah 58. Through Isaiah, God communicates the spirit of the fast on the Day of Atonement:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6, 7).
These verses show that God values a self-giving lifestyle much more than ritual self-deprivation. God wants us to live from the heart, not the stomach. This is why Jesus said, “If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The Christ lifestyle is one lived unto the cross. This is true fasting.
Second Corinthians 5:15 says, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” Any Israelite who took to heart the depth of their sins and the extravagant mercy offered through the sin offering might have lost their appetite. For them, fasting might have been a natural response of repentance, besides being commanded by God. In the same way, we respond to Christ’s sin offering by “fasting,” by living for Him and not ourselves. This isn’t a rule God commands us to follow. It is the natural response of a heart changed by the love of Christ who gave Himself for us.
As the verses from Isaiah 58 suggest, a sacrificial lifestyle can take many forms. We may accept a leadership position for which we feel ill-prepared and unqualified. We may apologize first, even though another person is at fault. God may give us an opportunity to share Christ in a setting where it isn’t comfortable. Ministry to the homeless or opening our homes to travelers may be ways we give ourselves. Regardless of how it looks, if we are being transformed by Christ’s sacrifice, we will respond when God asks us to offer ourselves.
Denying self and taking up the cross daily is the difference between vital spirituality and hollow religion: “For, as I have often told you before…many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame” (Php. 3:18, 19). The enemies of the cross to which Paul is referring are not those who are godless, immoral, drunks or murderers. He is talking about people who keep the law, who are moral and worship God, yet refuse the “fasting” of the cross (Php. 3:3-7). God’s end goal isn’t that we conform to religious behavior. His goal isn’t that we gather in special buildings, sing songs to Him, tithe, and have potlucks (though we may do all of these). God’s eternal desire is that we are conformed to Christ’s sacrifice and live as sacrifices ourselves (Rom. 12:1).
—Excerpted from my booklet “Christ in the Feasts“