Some time ago I was asked by a church member about the value and importance of lent. On Wednesday of this week, I received the following from a pastor of a sister SBC church: “Today is the first day of Lent, a day to repent and then obediently follow Jesus as He leads you…” Also this past week, I had a professing believer agree wholeheartedly with me that justification is by faith alone in Christ alone and say, “That’s why I received the ashes on my forehead from the Roman Catholic priest. Lent is for everybody.” This all raises a very practical question: Should we take part in lent? Consider the following:
Lent is not in the Bible. The Bible is our final and sufficient authority for all matters of faith and practice. Do the homework if you like, but you won’t find any example or command to observe Lent. There is no holy season in which New Testament Christians are told to prepare for the Passover via 40 days of purification rituals.
Someone may say, “But Christmas day isn’t in the Bible. Nor Mother’s day, Father’s day, Valentine’s day, or Groundhog Day (popular where folks eat them). So what’s wrong with observing Lent?”
My response is that you don’t elevate in people’s minds the authority and sufficiency of Christ as revealed in Scripture by adding one more non-called-for tradition. As to other man-made days and seasons, a local church may choose to use such days to honor Moms and Dads and veterans, but let each individual be convinced as to how much attention they give to those days or seasons (See Romans 14). Lent is different. It’s a tradition of man being taught as though it has authority; a tradition claimed to have sanctifying value. That just isn’t true. No pastor or church for whom Scripture is the authority should jump on the bandwagon. Rather we need to be teaching the flock what the Bible actually says and doesn’t say.
Lent teaches people to do something publicly that Jesus said should be practiced privately. I’m referring to what Jesus says about fasting in Matthew 7:16-19. We are to fast privately not publicly. Certainly the Bible does not suggest there is no value in fasting or setting aside a time for examination and correction. But Scripture teaches we do not know our motives (Jer. 17:9). And that deceit comes into play when it comes to public religious ceremonies (consider the withering words Jesus said to folks who sought to show others how religious they were – Luke 11:37-54).
Personally, I don’t know my heart well enough to announce to the world my piety for the next 40 days. Would I be doing it for the glory of men? Would I be doing it to pat myself on the back for having got rid of a sin all by myself? Since Lent is a man-made system, would not the credit for its success go to the people who administer it?
Lent encourages us to ignore the source of sin In Thursday’s Pueblo Chieftain about 10 people were asked what they were giving up for Lent. The majority said soda pop, sweets, etc. One said booze. Others said they would try and do more for others. The implication is, if I can give up ‘bad stuff’ for 40 days, I’ll be a better person.
Yet Jesus said, it’s not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out. “The things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. Out of the heart proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy slander, pride and foolishness” (Mark 7:14-23). Lent encourages one to think, “I’m basically good, but I admit Bon Bons and Bud Light are bad. So for Lent at least, I’ll give them up, and let the real me shine.”
What about those who say, “Lent isn’t just about giving something up, it’s also about doing something good.” Check out Ephesians 2:8-10 (especially verse 10). And meditate on Titus 2:11-14. Hint, it is not a man-made ceremony or holy season that prompts us to do good; it’s God’s saving grace!
Lent encourages dependence on seasons and days, not on Christ The Apostle Paul makes very clear we are not to allow anyone to act as our judge regarding food or drink or festivals or new moons or a Sabbath day (Col. 2:16). He goes on to say those who encourage religious observances not commanded by Christ are defrauding us of our prize because they are not holding fast to the head, who is Jesus Christ. These religious ceremonies have the appearance of wisdom but are a self-made religion and are of no value against fleshly indulgence (2:8-23).
Fighting against the sins that so easily entangle isn’t done with man-made ceremonies and seasons or swabbing ashes on your forehead. Indwelling sin is resisted by the knowledge of Christ, who He is, what He accomplished for us on the cross, what He will do for us in the future. Sin is resisted and fought by knowledge of the truth. You have been bought with the precious blood of Christ and are to glorify God in your body. You do not own yourself; we are slaves of righteousness in allegiance to our King. It is by the Spirit (the indwelling knowledge of Christ) we are to be putting to death the deeds of the body and thus confirm we are children of God (Heb. 12:1,2; II Pet. 1:2-4; I Pet. 1:17-2:3; Rom. 6:12-19; Rom. 8:1-17).
Lent is a tradition associated with those who deny the sufficiency of Christ’s work The Apostle Peter makes abundantly clear the Lord’s divine power has ‘granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him who called us… He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises by which we become partakers of the divine nature having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (II Peter 1:2-11). That’s a mouthful, but notice we have been graced with knowledge of God. We have been given precious and magnificent promises. We don’t escape the corruption of sin through holy days, seasons, or man-made ceremonies. We become partakers of the divine nature by knowledge, and the precious promises we have in Christ!
Lent largely ignores such truths revealed about Christ and His work and draws attention instead to man’s efforts. It leads us away from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (II Cor. 11:3; Gal. 1:6).
Lent also clouds the true gospel. There are those who teach that salvation is by faith plus self-produced efforts (like those associated with lent). This is a false gospel. The true gospel is that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Lent is part of a theology that denies the truth that Christ alone keeps us from stumbling and makes us stand in the presence of God’s glory blameless with great joy (Jude 24, 25).
It is so encouraging to me to know that many of you are avid students of Scripture. So many of you are demonstrating by your obedience to Christ that you love Him and that He really is sufficient! May we as a church family continue to be hearers and doers of what is true and Christ-exalting, and demonstrate to the world around us that Christ really is our Lord. May He be Lord over all we believe and practice.
For the glory of Christ,