Every year as Lent approaches, I encounter mixed opinions in the Christian world regarding this season on the church calendar. Here are a few simple thoughts on why I embrace Lent as a season of anticipating the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and honour him by making space to examine myself as the one in whose place he died.
Lent Reminds Me of Who I Am
John Calvin wrote that true wisdom consists in two things: knowledge of God and knowledge of self. For Calvin, there could be no knowledge of self without first knowing God. Like the rhythm of a regular Sabbath, or unplugging from technology once or twice a year, Lent is an invaluable period in my calendar where time is deliberately carved out to consider that the same God who made me is also the God who came and saved me. My identity is found in Christ, without whom I am a wretched, evil sinner condemned to a just and eternal punishment for my offences to this holy God. During Lent, I drop something of lesser importance, in order to dwell on truths that are of the greatest importance.
Lent isn’t Purely a Catholic (read Not-For-Christians) Practice
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. After all, he didn’t die purely for the Roman Catholics.
Lent Gives my Family a Framework to Consider the Cross
Also like Advent, Lent allows for Easter to be more than Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. By pausing on the journey towards Easter through reading a Lenten devotional that walks the Passion road towards Calvary, my family and I are reminded of the journey that Jesus walked; the determination that he had, the love that he displayed towards humanity in his every word and deed. It reminds us that before the creation of the world, our loving Father had a plan to rescue us and restore us to relationship with himself. Devotions for Lent are easy to come by, and these brief daily glimpses of gospel celebrate how God’s love and wrath came together for our good and his glory.
Finally, Remember that Lent isn’t a Show
As with everything in the Christian life, the purpose of Lent is to grow into a more mature disciple of Jesus Christ, becoming like him in mind and action. So, when it comes to taking up the practice of sacrificing something (whether it be a particular meal each day, social media, or something else of value that takes much of your time), any practice than creates more space than usual for personal reflection is a good thing. However, the popular counter-argument is this: many Catholics believe that giving something up for Lent is a way to attain God’s blessing. But the Bible teaches that grace cannot be earned; grace is “the gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17). Also, 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, when it comes to giving up something, there’s no need to announce it. “Hey everyone, I’m giving up Facebook for Lent”—do that, and you’ve already received your reward in the recognition of man.
Where to from here?
My hope for Lent 2018 is that it would be a time of prayerful introspection; examining the heart, revealing and uprooting sin, and soberly remembering that the only thing that I contributed to my salvation was the sin that made it necessary. Lent is a time of contemplating what it means to be human, who we are in light of God’s saving grace, and how those things lead us inevitably to consider the cross. I pray it would be a gospel-soaked stock take of my life, to help me see what things can be set aside in order to make more room for “thy kingdom come, thy will be done”.
Finally, the attitude behind Lent should in no way be reserved for this short season leading up to Easter; the Christian life is characterised by thinking and acting upon this process continually. But I (and I suspect I’m not alone) appreciate the discipline of a season for focused prayer and penitence, and so I’ll be practicing Lent, and I know I’ll be better for it.