Fasting, Mortality and Repentance

March 16, 2022 | Dustin+ Messer

As we consider Lent, I thought it’d be worthwhile to answer a question that comes up this time of year: Why do we fast? Christians fast for two primary reasons: to recall our mortality and to flee from sin and repent. While these two reasons can be distinguished, they can’t be separated. Sin and death are joined at the hip, as are repentance and dependence on God.

Adam and Eve had a choice: depend on God (his strength, his wisdom) or depend on their flesh (their strength, their wisdom). In eating the fruit, they chose the flesh and, consequently, death (Gen. 2:17). They took the first step on a road that would lead them east of Eden and, eventually, back to where they started: dust (Gen. 3:19). This is their curse. Satan exits Eden along with mankind, but his curse is different. He will crawl on his belly and eat dust (Gen. 3:14).

This is where we find ourselves today: exiled from the garden, sinning, dying, and being chased by a serpent hungry for his next meal. This is why Satan flees those who resist him (James 4:7). When we, like Adam, put our hope in flesh, we experience a spiritual death. This may be a stretch, but it’s as if we shed spiritual skin cells when we sin. The more we sin, the more of this dust we create—and the better-fed the serpent becomes. The less we sin, the less we shed—and the likelier the serpent will move on to an easier meal.

This is the connection between fasting, our mortality and repentance. Food is necessary for life. When we go without it, we deplete ourselves of energy, of life. In choosing to go without food, we’re choosing the way of the cross. Counterintuitively, in choosing physical death, we experience spiritual life. We learn to depend not on our strength, but God’s. Like the prophet Ezekiel, we make our meal the very Word of God (Ezek. 3:3). As we repent of trusting in the flesh, we better learn to experience the power of the Spirit.

Fasting for a season reminds us of our mortality and sin. If we trust in our decaying flesh, we will fall right into the Devil’s trap. But if we repent of our sins—if we choose the incorporeal over the corporeal, the eternal over the temporal, the Spirit over the flesh—we won’t be eaten by Satan; we’ll be filled by the Spirit. While the dust-eater comes only to steal and kill and destroy, Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly!

The Rev. Dr. Dustin Messer serves as a priest at All Saints Dallas in downtown Dallas, TX. Additionally, Dustin is a regular contributor to The Gospel Coalition and teaches in the department of religious and theological studies at The King's College in New York, NY. A graduate of Boyce College and Covenant Theological Seminary, Dustin earned a doctorate in ethics at La Salle University and went on to complete a fellowship at the Center for the Study of Statesmanship at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. Along with his work in local parish ministry, Dustin has served in positions of leadership for a number renewal organizations within the broader Anglican church, including the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) and the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion (EFAC). Dustin is married to his college sweetheart, Whitney, and they have one daughter, Pennilyn Grace.