So What is Lent?
HISTORICALLY - Tomorrow begins the Christian observance of Lent, a practice of the church since the 4th century - if not before. It is described as a period of 40 days which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent observance provides a season of reflection and preparation. By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christian’s may replicate Jesus Christ's sacrifice and His withdrawal into the desert for 40 days. Lent also provides a means for Christian’s to remind themselves of the value of repentance. The austerity of the Lenten season is seen as similar to how people in the Old Testament fasted and repented in sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:1-3; Jeremiah 6:26; Daniel 9:3), however, over the centuries Lenten observances have developed a more "sacramental" value - and, therein, lies its blessing and challenge.
CHALLENGES - Unlike some Christians, who may believe that giving something up for Lent is a way to attain God’s blessing, evangelicals understand that grace cannot be earned; that grace is “the gift of righteousness” and a “provision of God” given us in Christ (Romans 5:17). We also remember that when on earth Jesus taught that fasting should be done discreetly: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:16-18). So that Jesus’ command to “wash your face” ‘can’ (If we are not careful with our motive) actually pose or appear in conflict with the practice of rubbing ashes on one’s face on Ash Wednesday.
SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO? - Though not His command, I believe Jesus would encourage us in any activity that draws us closer to Him and to the reality of our hope in the gospel. As well, any worship that presents us the opportunity to give a witness of our faith in Christ is a plus. However, we must be careful not to assign a ‘tradition of men’ a value it does not have and has not been given by scripture. Ash Wednesday does not save us. Observing Lent does not make us more Christian than we are by His grace and through our faith in Him alone. And, we can add, the same is true for a litany of other things the church may or may not do. So may I suggest that as a ‘believer priest’ (1 Peter 2:5-9) you simply ask God what He would have you do regarding Lent Observance. Is there something you might give up in this season of refection, which in your sacrifice, will not puff you up but draw you closer to Him? Not to be seen of men, but in order that you might ‘grow in grace and in your knowledge (understanding) of our LORD.’ If so, what is that? Is it abstaining from social media, from food, or from certain types of foods? Bottom line? If a Lenten observance can be used to help you in your faith, then by all means - DO IT! For whatever we do, both in word or in deed, if it brings Glory to God, is commendable.
In Him, always -