Dear church members:
Here are five reasons why I don’t think we should participate in Lent. I wrote this several years ago and resurrected it with some updates.
After posting it the first time one reader accused me of being against Roman Catholics. I trust those who read this will see I’m for the truth that Jesus guarantees will set any man free from their bondage to sin, be they religious or secular, Jew or Gentile*. I encourage readers to search the Scriptures and see that the grace that justifies also sanctifies*. I trust they will see it requires no addition of special seasons or days – things that give the appearance of wisdom but are of no value***. (*John 8:31-38; Gal. 3:1; 5:1 ** Titus 2:11-14; ***Col. 2:16-23).
Below are five things about Lent I believe distract or deny the sufficiency of Christ.
First, Lent isn’t in the Bible. You are a member of a local church that believes the Bible to be the final and fully sufficient source of authority for all matters of faith and practice (II Tim. 3:16,17). I can find no example, exhortation or command to observe a period of time like what Lent has come to be. There is no ‘holy season’ believers are expected to participate in, no 40 days of ‘purification’ (See link below for an excellent article on the history of Lent).
Some might say, “The church has added lots of special days and seasons that aren’t in the Bible – Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day. So, what’s wrong with observing Lent?”
My response: Pastors and leaders in a local church do not elevate in people’s minds the authority and sufficiency of Scripture by encouraging people to participate in one more non-called-for tradition. As to days and seasons that are civic in nature, a local church may, if it chooses, respectfully acknowledge dads, moms, veterans, etc. We can celebrate the birth of Christ and His resurrection; they are obviously events that bring great joy to believers. We are to enjoy the freedom we have in Christ as to how much attention to give to those days or seasons (See Romans 14). But when it comes to religious traditions of men that are presented as aiding our standing before God, I don’t think we should be joining in.
Second, Lent teaches us to do something publicly that should be practiced privately. I’m referring to what Jesus teaches 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 also teaches we do not always know our motives (Jer. 17:9). Our twisted capacity for pride and self- deceit seems to really enjoy itself when it comes to religious ceremonies (consider the withering words Jesus said to folks who made certain others saw how serious they were about being religious – Luke 11:37-54).
Third, Lent encourages us to ignore the source of sin A local newspaper asked about 10 people what they were giving up for Lent. The majority referenced pop, sweets, etc. One was planning to give up booze. One person said they were going to try and do more for others.
Reading their responses, I found Jesus’ words coming to mind. He said it’s not what goes into a man that defiles him, it’s what’s already inside. “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 plays with our natural bent to deny what God says, that our sin problem lies within us. A steady diet of chocolate bon bons and Bud Light certainly should be given up, but their absence doesn’t change who we are. Our problem is our hearts. The Gospel reveals there is nothing good within us, in our flesh (Romans 1-3; 7:18; Eph. 2:1-4).
What do I say to the person thinking, “Lent isn’t only 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. It is not a man-made ceremony or holy season that produces God-honoring good works; it’s saving grace!
Fourth, Lent encourages dependence on seasons and days, not on Christ The Apostle Paul makes blazingly clear we are not to allow anyone 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 they 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 seasons or swabbing ashes on our foreheads. Temptation is resisted with the knowledge of who Jesus Christ is right now, what He accomplished once-for-all for believers on the cross, and what He will do for His own in the future.
To the immature, sinning church at Corinth, Paul did not give them a ceremony or a season to help them. He took them to the most final and sufficient reality there is, what Christ had already done for them: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6). He said they were to glorify God in their bodies because they were a purchased people, joined to Christ and their body was a temple of the Holy Spirit. Again, no ceremonies, no 40-day program; rather, clear knowledge about Christ that demanded an immediate response.
Paul tells the believers in Rome 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 (Rom. 8:1-17). Self-made religion gives us seasonal pea shooters to fight deadly sin in comparison to what Scripture gives us in Christ. In Him we have real, eternal protection and aide, available to us every moment. See Eph. 6:13-17; Hebrews 12:1,2; II Pet. 1:2-4; I Pet. 1:17-2:3; Rom. 6:12-19.
Fifth, Lent has deep roots and association with those who deny the sufficiency of Christ’s work The Apostle Peter states that divine power has ‘granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him who called us… (II Peter 1:2-11). We have been graced with knowledge. We don’t escape the corruption of this world by observing holy seasons. Rather, rooted in the knowledge of who Christ is and the promises He has secured on our behalf, we respond accordingly (5-11) and confirm our election by doing so (10).
I believe Lent detracts us from what is revealed about Christ. It heightens a season; it draws attention to our efforts, our systems. It leads us away from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (II Cor. 11:3; Gal. 1:6; 3:1-5).
Lent paves over the essential differences between those who teach salvation is achieved by faith plus our self-produced efforts, and the good news of Jesus Christ revealed in Scripture. Lent is part of the package that denies it is Christ alone who keeps us from stumbling and will make us stand in the presence of God’s glory blameless with great joy (Jude 24, 25; Rom. 3:28).
It is so encouraging to know that many of you are students of the Scriptures and are desiring to live daily in the obedience that saving grace produces (Titus 2:11-13; Col. 3:1-11). What a humbling yet solid reality that the Scriptures alone really can bring us to saving faith in Christ and make us adequate, equipped for every good work (II Tim. 3:16,17).
In His mighty grasp,
Here’s the link on the history of Lent