Recently The Cripplegate published a thoughtful piece on why evangelicals should consider giving up Lent. Like everything on the Internet, it was praised or pummeled with opinions from every point along the spectrum. The post contained a helpful overview of (Catholic) church history pertaining to the development of Lent, followed by a self-diagnostic of sorts where we take a good look at our motivations for participating in Lent and step back to look at the way in which we’ve choosen to engage with it. In short, this author felt that the act of giving something up as a way of preparing for Easter is simply anachronistic. Far from a response that would be titled ‘here’s why I think he’s wrong’, I offer these thoughts to encourage what I think is a biblically faithful approach to the season leading up to Easter.
For many, Lent is so identified with Roman Catholicism that it’s difficult to imagine an evangelical observance of it. I often hear the question “what did you give up for Lent” met with the quip “Roman Catholicism”. But Lent (like Advent leading up to Christmas) is what we make it, and it is no more exclusively Roman Catholic than Easter itself. Personally, I’ve found great benefit in intentionally practicing something for the days leading up to Easter; and far from wearing the symbol of the ashen cross on my forehead all day on Ash Wednesday, there are many ways in which I can intentionally be reminded of why Christ came to die.
Coincidentally this Sunday just gone I listened to two sermons, both of which contained a discussion about sin. In the first sermon, I was encouraged to look around and see the state of the world and the fallen nature of man and respond with the thought “this is not the way things should be”. In the latter sermon, I was reminded that the wages of sin is death, and that Jesus bore the wrath of a holy God, being crushed in my place even while I was still his enemy. The former had a dangerously diluted, underdeveloped doctrine of sin; the latter an orthodox one. For me, Lent is a season of brokenness leading to repentance as I consider that (in Bonhoeffer’s words) “what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”
The biggest takeaway about Lent for me is remembering that it isn’t simply a practice of “putting off”. Unlike the Roman Catholic notions of fasting (or other forms of self-penance), I take this season as a time to be reminded of the crushing weight of sin, that I am nothing apart from God, and that through a costly, scandalous act of pure grace, Christ paid the full penalty of my sin. I’ve used different resources and practices to help orient my heart to repentance and gratitude as Easter approaches, and sometimes I find that my plate is full and I need to take something off in order to make room (hint: we’re not talking about food anymore) but whatever the vehicle it travels in, the outcome is not “self-made religion” but a deeper gratitude and a humbled love that sings of the glorious grace of God through Christ.