The Need for the Discipline of Fasting—Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 - 1945)
Born in Breslau, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a son of a famous German psychiatrist. As a Lutheran pastor and theologian during WWII, Bonhoeffer saw the authority of the Church begin to crumble under the Nazi regime. He boldly countered these attacks by both publicly repudiating the Nazi agenda and by calling Christians to serve Christ more faithfully. His reward for the former was death; he was executed in the spring of 1945 for his association with a failed assassination attempt of Adolf Hitler. Yet, his admonitions to Christians are still widely read today. In his most famous work, The Cost of Discipleship (1937), he comments on Jesus’ strong commendation about fasting to His disciples in Matthew 6:16-18.
Jesus takes it for granted that his disciples will observe the pious custom of fasting. Strict exercise of self-control is an essential feature of the Christian’s life. Such customs have only one purpose—to make the disciples more ready and cheerful to accomplish those things which God would have done. Fasting helps to discipline the self-indulgent and slothful will which is so reluctant to serve the Lord, and it helps to humiliate and chasten the flesh . . . if we give free rein to the desires of the flesh (taking care of course to keep within the limits of what seems permissible to the world), we shall find it hard to train for the service of Christ. When the flesh is satisfied it is hard to pray with cheerfulness or to devote oneself to a life of service which calls for much self-renunciation.
So the Christian needs to observe a strict exterior discipline. But we are not to imagine that that alone will crush the will of the flesh, or that there is any way of mortifying our old man other than by faith in Jesus. The real difference in the believer who follows Christ and has mortified his will and died after the old man in Christ, is that he is more clearly aware than other men of the rebelliousness and perennial pride of the flesh . . . and [he] knows that his arrogance must be eradicated.1
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 169-170.