What should I do about Lent?
The street corners are lined with signs advertising fish fries and many of the restaurants in town have all added a fish dinner to their menus. What is going on? Why the sudden interest in seafood? Is it because the price of beef or chicken has skyrocketed? Probably not.
Every year, 40 days before the celebration of Easter, there is another religious season that is observed by some - the season of Lent. As you may know, during Lent many people refrain from partaking in some food or activity that they enjoy, as an expression of their faith.
Is that all there is to Lent? Is Lent just a time of year when people fast from eating red meat for 40 days? There is actually much more to the concept. The Lenten season is meant to be a time of intentional focus and meditation on the sacrifice that Christ made on the Cross. Lent is meant to be a time when the Christian mourns over sin and acknowledges the reality of that.
Growing up, I always associated Lent with the Roman Catholic Church. They were the ones having the fish fries and observing Ash Wednesday. I have never been a member of the Roman Catholic Church, so I assumed that we just don’t do that kind of thing. So, is Lent just something that those who are ecclesiastically connected with the Pope observe? The short answer is no. It is a question with which I have recently wrestled. But before I share a few brief thoughts, let me give you a snapshot of the context that brought up this question in my mind.
In December 2019, my family and I moved to the city of Alliance in North East Ohio. I had been called to be the Pastor at WellSpring Bible Church. Once we arrived, it was time to adjust. As you probably know, with any move comes a certain amount of cultural adjustment. After having lived overseas for close to a decade, one of the cultural adjustments we encountered was that there seemed to be an increased amount of blurring going on between the religious celebrational and denominational lines than we had previously experienced.
We noticed a trend that people are no longer holding a loyalty to one denomination. Whether this is a good or bad thing is a whole different discussion. Overall, it seems like in the past when people changed churches, they typically changed within their selected denomination. Now, it seems like when people change churches, they are also changing denominations. Again, whether this is positive or negative is not being expressed here. But the observation does reveal the need for churches to make sure that they are clearly defining their core values, doctrinal beliefs, and practices.
Easter will soon be upon us and we find ourselves in the middle of the season of Lent. Some Christians embrace Lent and other Christians reject the observance of Lent. This year I decided to look into where I fell on the embracing-verses-rejecting spectrum. Here is the question with which I wrestled: Should an evangelical, born-again Christian observe Lent? My answer is...it depends. It depends on the why and how the individual is observing it.
While I can see the arguments from both sides, the primary thing to consider is the purpose of observing Lent. Hopefully the purpose is to refocus your soul on Christ and deeply reflect and meditate on all He has done to provide you with reconciliation, forgiveness, and salvation. If that is a general summary of the purpose, then I don't see a reason why every Christian wouldn’t want to be involved. My hang up is this: Shouldn’t reflecting on Christ, mourning over sin, sacrificing for Him, worshipping Him, and reflecting on all He has done for us, be something we do all year long? In a sense, we do this as a local church on a monthly basis as we observe the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.
Personally, I do not practice the traditional observance of Lent. I also do not lead my local church in the observance of Lent. Why? Because my position is based on the fact that Lent is not commanded in the Bible. As Christians, the Bible needs to be our starting point for any discussion, not church history, tradition, or personal preferences. So that is where I started in my thinking about Lent. I have not found a passage where Jesus has commanded His church to observe a 40-day period of fasting leading up to Easter. That does not mean that the observance of Lent is right or wrong…and therefore those who observe a particular season that is not commanded in Scripture, are either right or wrong. It just means that Lent is not commanded in the text of Scripture.
As the pastor of my church, I try to be as Biblical as possible. Since Lent is neither prescribed nor commanded in Scripture, I am not compelled to prescribe or persuade the members of my local church to observe it. At the same time, Lent is not condemned in Scripture either. So, I am not condemning the observance of Lent. If a member of my church were to be convinced that they need to personally observe Lent in some way, I am not going to try and persuade them otherwise. Observing a season of fasting and mourning over sin is healthy and can be very profitable for your soul.
I would actually urge every Believer to set aside time throughout the entire year to deeply reflect on all that Christ has done to purchase you from the slave market of sin. Meditate on the horribleness of sin and mourn over how wicked and wretched sin is in the sight of God. It is a spiritually healthy discipline to fast and pray. As Believers, we should be practicing these disciplines regularly throughout the entire year.
I am actually in the middle of going through Paul Tripp’s new Lenten Devotional, Journey to the Cross. It has been so good for my soul to mourn over my sin and rejoice in my relationship with Christ. I have rejoiced at the beauty of Christ and I have wept over the horrible wickedness of my sins. I have been enthralled by the Truth that because of Christ’s sacrifice I can be numbered among God’s chosen children. My heart has been broken by the reality that it was my sin that placed Jesus on the Cross. Jesus died to pay the price for my lust, my rebelliousness, my theft, my anger, my hatred, and all of my sins. Reflecting on these truths are too beneficial and too soul enriching to be reserved for just one time a year. I would challenge you to take these Truths and meditate on them all year long, too.
If observing Lent helps you to refocus your soul on Christ. Then, by all means, observe away. Just make sure you’re observing the reason behind the season. The concept of Lent is so much richer than just fasting from certain types of foods for 40 days.
I do not plan on encouraging or discouraging someone from personally observing Lent. However, I will challenge anyone wrestling with the topic to make sure to be regularly practicing the Spiritual disciplines that will intentionally refocus your soul on Jesus and drive you to Him.
This discussion goes quite a bit deeper than this short post will allow. These are just a few of the thoughts I worked through as I reflected on Lent. I hope your interest has been piqued and you will search the Scriptures yourself to come to your own conclusion.