The relentless pursuit of lent…

It is that time of year again. I think it begins 40 days before the holiday called Easter. Within a few facebook conversations, the topic has arisen. Here are my thoughts on Lent.

1. Lent as a Catholic religious observance is as useless and sinful as all other Catholic or false religious rites. This is based on Catholicism’s open denial of justification by grace through faith alone. If you are Catholic, you are free to celebrate Lent or any other religious ritual your religion allows. If you do not like that the Catholic church teaches a different form of justification than through faith alone, then your issue is with the Catholic church and it’s public confessions and not with me.

As for evangelicals –

2. The question I have is: Is Lent biblical? That is to ask, is there any biblical mandate for a season called Lent which we ought to follow. The answer is a resounding “No.” You will not find scripture to support Christians observing lent as a biblical mandate.

3. The next question I’d have is – is Lent allowable? It seems that there are a few things to be considered to determine this. If we can agree that Lent is solely a false religious practice, then I think a case can be made that no Christian should participate in a “lenten” activity. I can’t go so far as to prove that, but I tend to lean this way concerning lent.

But my current view tells me that we cannot be quite so dogmatic too quickly. Like Christmas and everything else in our world, there are pagan roots which abound. Let’s look at the heart issue surrounding lent.

If you are observing lent in order to do any of the following, you are likely in error:

  1. Be pleasing to God.
  2. Grow closer to God because you are observing lent.
  3. Earn salvation from God for forgiveness of sins.

My point is that there is nothing inherent in the work or deeds of observing lent (especially the man-made institution of it) which supplies the observer with grace or growth or knowledge of God. Did you get that? I’m saying that lent is not a magic formula for growing closer to God or being changed as a person. What I have noticed is that generally people do 1 or 2 things to observe lent:

1. Eat fish on Friday instead of meat.
2. Restrict/change their behavior in some way for the 40 days.

Let’s take a brief portion of scripture and review a little bit of why God has us do things like “fasting.”

Isaiah 58:4-7 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? 6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Replacing one type of food for another is really no sacrifice at all. The utter absurdity of this being pleasing to God even to a carnal mind ought to be evident, in my opinion. What about fasting from food entirely and donating money to the poor? I think that could be a good idea…but, if done with the expectation that because you are doing it for lent you are earning some favor with God, I believe you are in error.

As always, it is the heart attitude that matters. If you are doing it out of love for Christ and love for the oppressed and hungry, then it is likely a good thing! And indeed, YOU SHOULD BE DOING THAT YEAR ROUND. We all should be living year round in a way that pleases and honors God, giving Him glory in all things.

As far as point #2 – there seems to be 2 potential scenarios (generally speaking): people either seem to give up a sin for 40 days, or they give up something that isn’t sinful, but they know is potentially a problem or represents a real sacrifice.

Let me just say, you should be repenting of and turning from sin daily and a 40 day commitment is almost more insulting than the idea that you just continue in it. The presumption that somehow your 40 day commitment means anything to God is horribly idolatrous and you probably ought to examine yourself more deeply to see if you are even born-again. Born-again believers do not plan their sin in this way without great consequence. If God is allowing you to literally give up a sin for 40 days then pick it right back up, then you may consider that the Holy Spirit does not dwell within you.

Now on to the more reasonable purpose for observing lent: self-sacrifice of a particular thing for a short period. Again, I will divide this into two categories:

  1. Giving up something and focusing on Christ more for the period of days.
  2. Giving up something and focusing on the thing you can’t have and making a big deal out of it.

Alright, this already confusing blog post was too much even for me so I hope the last part is clear. If you truly want to give something up that is “legal (within your Christian liberty)” but you have decided to sacrifice it temporarily in order to spend more time in the Word or prayer or simply to discipline yourself, I think that is a good thing. In fact, you don’t need to wait until 40 days before the US calendar’s celebration of the resurrection of the Christ to do that! Starving our flesh and teaching ourselves discipline should be a daily practice. Things like forgoing seconds at dinner or desserts are good methods to train your flesh. I would just ask, “Why pick just the 40 days before Easter to do it?” And I would personally be concerned that it could lead others into other practices of Lent that I do not believe are to be followed.

Now, if you give up something and make a big deal out of it or focus on it in your heart the entire time, then you are just like the pharisees who plotted to kill Jesus. You are like a whitewashed tomb, and your heart needs to be changed. If you think that your outward appearance (even if representing real obedience to God’s commands) is more important than your heart attitude you are sorely mistaken. God will not be mocked. Consider Jesus’ words, a warning that our sacrifice for God is actually something that is to be between us and Him only! We are not to post on Facebook the various sacrifices we are making so that we can be seen by men

Matthew 6:16-18 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

The contents of your heart will come out in your actions and your words. Examine yourself in light of scripture. I personally want nothing to do with lent, but prefer to hope that by God’s grace I will live every day for His glory, magnifying and exalting the name of Christ, dying to self and training myself to do all that He’s commanded.

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