Authentic faith demonstrates true generosity, and it depends upon God through prayer. One other example that Jesus gives us in these verses is fasting, showing us that authentic faith deprives the self for spiritual growth. Self-deprivation flies in the face of today’s mindset of self-exaltation. Fasting is the the ultimate spiritual discipline that is practiced in our lives for the purpose of denying the self.
We know much about feasting, but not so much about fasting! Yet here in this passage, Jesus assumes fasting as a regular part of the disciple’s spiritual life. A good working definition for ‘fasting’ is that it involves abstaining from food for measured periods of time in order to heighten my hunger for God and for the things of God. Fasting is the willful deprivation of one’s basic needs with a spiritual goal in mind. It is forgoing basic necessities such as food for a season of greater focus on God and greater clarity from God.
Fasting is depriving the self. This is counter to everything the world around us says. We naturally want to indulge the self in whatever the self desires. Jesus said that being His disciple demands that we deny self. In other words, I am to no longer live for me. The world around us, fallen nature within us, and the enemy against us constantly tempt us to say ‘yes’ to the self. Because we value freedom here in western culture, the autonomy of the self has been elevated to god-like status. This is why consumerism and self-indulgence abounds in our generation, even at the expense of others around us. The discipline of fasting is one way in which we put self to death through the power of the Spirit.
The point Jesus is making in the Sermon on the Mount is that giving, praying, and fasting—these must all be born from the proper heart motive. They are not practiced to earn acceptance with God, but because we’ve been accepted by God through faith in Christ. They are our spiritual resources!
For more, read Isaiah 58:3-7