By Lucas Stoltz
What is Lent?
Simply put, Lent is a period of fasting, self-control, and self-denial traditionally observed by Catholics and some Protestant denominations (Anglican, Methodist). It begins with Ash Wednesday (a really weird practice of rubbing ashes on one’s forehead in the sign of a cross, which in its defence; the Bible does record accounts of people in the OT using dust and ashes as symbols of repentance and/or mourning (2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3); and so the modern tradition of rubbing a cross on a person’s forehead supposedly identifies that person with Jesus Christ) and ends with Easter Sunday.
The length of Lent fast was established in the 4th century as 46 days (40 days, not counting Sundays). And during Lent, participants eat sparingly or give up a particular food or habit. In many cases giving up smoking, television, eating candy or telling lies (I’m sure that only lasts the first few minutes). But it is a six week focus of self-discipline.
And so it began as a way for Catholics to remind themselves of the value of repentance, which seems sincere. Many Catholics believe that giving something up for Lent is a way to attain God’s blessing. Which in right understanding means to work for grace… The Bible teaches that grace cannot be earned; grace is “the gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17).
Responding to Lent Biblically:
Sure, the Bible does teach us a lot about fasting. And for clarity, it does not teach about doing a “Daniel-fast” or whatever other fast… Jesus taught that fasting should be done discreetly: “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.” (Matthew 6:16-18).
So in response to Ash Wednesday, Jesus’ command to “wash your face” seems to conflict with the practice of rubbing ashes on one’s face. I’m sure the original intent was for encouragement, but it has become a man-made tradition.
Fasting can be a good thing, and God is pleased when we repent of sinfulness. And there’s nothing wrong with setting aside some time to focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection, I would love to encourage you to do that! However, we should be repenting of our sin every day of the year, and not just for the 46 days of Lent.
If you as a Christian believer wish to observe Lent, you are free to do so. But Galatians 5:1 gives us the following exhortation; “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” And a religious system of selected works can be a yoke of slavery for it is legalism. Christ frees us from a system of works!
The intent of Lent was to focus on repenting of sin and consecrating oneself to God. Therefore, Lent should not be a time of boasting of your sacrifice or trying to earn God’s favour or increasing His love. God’s love for us could not be any greater than it already is, and because of that – He doesn’t call us to an isolated 46 day discipline boasting of our works through fasting, but He calls us to work out that love by loving others.
See 1 John 3:16, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” And finally, 1 John 4:9-10, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Therefore, instead of making this ‘church calendar event’ such a big deal, we have chosen to make Christ a bigger deal as we’ll still be focusing on the events that led up to His death, burial and resurrection, celebrating what He accomplished through the ultimate sacrifice!
For more helpful resources, check out:
QotQuestions.Org – “What is the meaning of Lent?” & “What is Ash Wednesday?”
John Piper, David Platt, & Francis Chan – A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer