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Why Fast? Reason #5: To Repent

At times, it may feel like your prayers are bouncing off the gates of heaven. No matter how much you pray, it seems God is not listening. One possible reason for this situation is hidden sin in your life.

Sin is rooted in the desire to please oneself rather then to please heaven. God’s first command to Adam and Eve was to fast from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The first sin in the history of mankind was their refusal to fast from the forbidden fruit.  By eating, the first man and woman became slaves to their own desires. Sin entered the world when Eve “took and ate” (Genesis 3:6). Salvation came when Jesus said “Take, eat, this is my body” (Mark 14:22). When we fast, we deny our physical desires in order to have communion with God. Fasting is a symbol of our hope to reenter paradise.

God is perfect and it is impossible for Him to tolerate sin in any form. Because of our sinful condition, it is unacceptable for us to approach the throne room of God Almighty based on our own merits. Our best efforts are flawed, imperfect, and dirty in the sight of God. The only way for us to enter God’s presence is by having our imperfections covered by the blood of Jesus. Therefore, before we can intimately connect with God, we need to repent.

As long as we keep unconfessed sin hidden in our hearts, all fasting and prayer will be ineffective. Here are some verses which illustrate this truth.

* “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18).

“Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).

“We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will” (John 9:31).

During your fast, the Holy Spirit will prompt you to repent of various sins and sinful tendencies.

Sins of Commission and Omission

There are two types of sins that are worthy of repentance. The first type is a sin of deliberate disobedience (sins of commission). The second type is an unknown sin rooted in ignorance of God’s commands (sins of omission). Sins of commission are bad things you have done. Sins of omission are good things you have failed to do.

An example of a sin of commission would be seeing a speed limit sign and deliberately ignoring it by speeding. A sin of omission would be forgetting to renew your car’s inspection sticker. In the first example, you are deliberately committing a violation of a law. In the second, even though you are not breaking the law on purpose you are still breaking the law by forgetting to do what the government requires.

A sin of commission would be gossiping about a friend. A sin of omission would be to fail to speak up in defense of a friend when someone else is gossiping behind her back.

A sin of commission would be stealing from the offering plate at church. A sin of omission would be failing to pay your tithe as God commanded you to do.

Jesus commanded us to preach the Gospel so if we are not sharing the good news with people we come in contact with in our daily lives, we are committing a sin of omission. Even though we have done nothing overtly wrong, we are sinning by omitting an important component of our Christian walk. Failing to do what we should be doing is just as much of a sin as deliberately disobeying the Ten Commandments.

List of sins we should repent from:

According to one early church document, here are some areas God may lead you to repent in: personal failings, generational weakness, sinful tendencies, and deliberate sinful behavior by you.  fornication, uncleanness, wantonness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, jealousy, rivalry, hatred, anger, envy, bitterness, injustice, debauchery, gluttony, readiness to accuse, wrath, disputes, the love of money (which is the root of all evil), foolish talking, gossip, dissensions, ill-will, rage, falsehood, drunkenness, revelry, buffoonery, boisterous laughter, backbiting, insinuations, clamor, abuse, insolence of speech, malice, inventing of evil, talkativeness, babbling, threatenings, gnashing of teeth, jarring, blows, perversions of the right, laxness in judgment, haughtiness, arrogance, ostentation, pompousness, boasting of family, of beauty, of position, of wealth, quarrelsomeness, eagerness for victory, disloyalty, retaliation, overreaching (which is idolatry), love of display, vainglory, love of rule, assumption, pride (which is called death, and which “God fights against”).

Facts about repentance

  1. Repentance is a process. It is like peeling an onion. After you repent of one layer of sin, the Holy Spirit will reveal another layer and then another layer. Each layer is scrubbed away by applying the blood of Jesus. This deep cleansing process continues until you are left squeaky clean.
  2. Repentance is a glorious time of purification. At first it will be painful as the Holy Spirit delves into the deepest corners of your soul and asks you to repent of your human failings, but as you rip out the tentacles of sin, you will feel a tremendous freedom.
  3. Repentance is often accompanied by tears. Crying serves as a therapeutic cleansing of your soul.
  4. Repentance is not a process of condemnation, but of liberation. The Holy Spirit is not trying to make you feel bad for all the things you have done wrong, instead he desires to heal your scars. When a nurse cleans a wound, she carefully removes all foreign debris, pours on antiseptic to kill the germs, and carefully sews the injury shut. This process of cleaning may be painful, but it is essential for the long-term health of the patient. If you have a thorn in your foot, you want the thorn removed even if the process is painful. In the same way, you want sin pulled from your heart, because the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term discomfort of your flesh.  The good news is that once the spiritual pus is cleaned from your wound, you will be free from the pain of that sin. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Biblical examples of people who repented while fasting.          

  1. Fasting for Repentance on the Day of Atonement

The Day of Atonement (also known as Yom Kippur) was the most important day in the life of the Israelites. The word “atonement” means to cover over, to purge, to cleanse, and to make reconciliation. The Day of Atonement was a consecrated time of asking God for forgiveness. Only on this day was the High Priest allowed to enter the Holy of Holies. All the Israelites were commanded to fast as a sign of their repentance.

“The LORD said to Moses, “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves and fast, and present an offering made to the LORD by fire. Do no work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the LORD your God. Anyone who does not deny himself and fast on that day must be cut off from his people. I will destroy from among his people anyone who does any work on that day. You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. It is a Sabbath of rest for you, and you must deny yourselves and fast. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your Sabbath” (Leviticus 23:26-32).

Let us watch the Israelites as they solemnly celebrate the Day of Atonement. (Read Leviticus 16). Since the night before, the entire nation has been fasting. At the break of dawn, thousands gather around the Tabernacle as the High Priest prepares to atone for their sins for another year.

The High Priest begins the day by washing himself. Then he dresses in a plain white robe. Normally, he wears luxurious blue robes embroidered in beautiful colors, a jeweled breastplate, and a golden headpiece, but on this day, he puts on the simplest of clothing. When he is ready, the priest sacrifices a bull as a sin offering for his own sin. Before he can represent the nation, he must offer atonement for his own mistakes.

He carries some of the blood from the bull and enters the holiest place, where God dwells. He passes the Holy place (which contains the golden candlestick, the table of shewbread, and the altar of incense) and enters the Holy of Holies that only contains the Ark of the Covenant. This is a small chest with a lid made of solid gold. This lid is called “The Mercy Seat” or “Throne of Mercy.” Attached to the lid are golden statues of two cherubim (angels).

Hovering above the Mercy Seat is the tangible presence of the living God. The priest sprinkles the blood on the mercy seat seven times to make atonement for his sins. If God forgives him, he can walk out a clean man but if God refuses to accept his atonement he will drop dead where he stands (Remember the movie Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark?). Because of this a long rope is tied to his ankle so his dead body can be pulled from the tabernacle for burial.

After he finishes atoning for his own sins, the priest prepares to atone for the sins of the entire nation. Two goats are chosen to provide a sin offering for the people. The priest places his hands on the head of one of the goats (symbolically transferring the sins of the nation onto the goat) then he kills the goat. The blood is taken into the Holy Place and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat.

Underneath the Mercy Seat are the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses. These are the commandments the people have broken. God sees their sin and His justice demands punishment. The priest sprinkles the blood of a substitute, innocent sacrifice in order to cover the sins of the people. Now, God does not see their sin, instead He sees the blood of the sacrifice which was killed in their place. “On this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins” (Leviticus 16:30). The second goat is set free in the wilderness symbolizing another year of freedom from God’s wrath for the nation of Israel.

All of this was a foreshadow of Christ’s work on the cross. Every human being has sinned and God’s justice demands payment. Jesus served as a substitute, as an innocent sacrifice when he died on the cross. He became our High Priest when he sprinkled His own blood once and for all time on the Mercy Seat. Now, our Day of Atonement comes when we accept Jesus as our Savior.

How does this ancient day and its rituals relate to our lives today? We still sin and we still need our flaws covered by the blood of Jesus. On the Day of Atonement the people fasted as a symbol of their humbleness before God as they waited for their sins to be forgiven. Fasting serves as a powerful sign of our dependence upon Christ for the forgiveness of sins. So, if there is a sin in your life that you want to repent for, fasting helps prepare your heart for the process

I recommend a personal day of atonement. Set aside a day to fast specifically for the forgiveness of your sins. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any hidden sins in your heart. This can be a wonderful time of release and cleansing.

  1. Samuel led Israel in a day of repentance.“When they had assembled…they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the LORD.” And Samuel was leader…”(1 Samuel 7:6).
  1. Evil king Ahab adverted judgment because of his fasting.“When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day…”(1 Kings 21:27-29).
  1. The Ninevites repented because of Jonah’s preaching.

After Jonah preached to the evil city of Nineveh, the King of the Ninevites declared one of the greatest fasts in history. Not only did he command his people to fast, he also decreed that every animal (dogs, cats, sheep, horses, oxen) should fast (Jonah 3:7). The purpose of the fast was to repent of the city’s wickedness. From the least to the greatest in the city, everyone put on sackcloth and ashes and stopped eating in order to cry out in repentance for all of their sins. God heard their cries and forgave the entire city.

  1. Jeremiah encouraged people to repent while they were fasting(Jeremiah 36:6-10).
  1. The prophet Joel encouraged the sinful nation to fast and repent.“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning…Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. ”(Joel 2:12,15).
  1. Daniel fasted for the sins of his people.Daniel“turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. [Daniel] prayed to the Lord…God and confessed: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws…O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive!”…while [Daniel] was still in prayer, Gabriel…came to [him] in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. He…said… “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed” (Daniel 9:3-23). When we fast and repent, God listens, forgives, and answers our prayers!
  2. Ezra fasted because the people had been unfaithful.“…Ezra withdrew from before the house of God…he ate no food and drank no water, because he continued to mourn over the unfaithfulness of the exiles”(Ezra 10:6).
  1. Nehemiah confessed the sins of Israel while fasting.He says,“…I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said: “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses” (Nehemiah 1:4-7).