Today is Ash Wednesday the first day of Lent. Lent is a season of forty days of self-denial in preparation for the celebrations of Holy Week most significantly Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Lent is familiar to many as a Catholic tradition, though the Lutheran and Episcopalian churches have traditionally observed Lent as well. Recent years have seen other denominations take up the practice. Now Lent is a religious season observed by many Christians from a wide range of backgrounds.
The observance of Lent is taught as a time of self-denial through fasting and other forms of self-discipline to increase the spiritual discipline of the Christian. During Lent the individual is purified in mind and heart. For some Lent is a season of repentance and sorrow over sin. The Lenten observances are practiced to prepare the worshiper to better celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Lent is not found in the Bible. Though the Bible does contain examples of forty day fasts (Jesus in the wilderness, Moses on Mt. Sinai) those fasts served very different functions than the season of Lent. No fast in the Bible is presented as the model for all Christians to follow. Jesus assumes that all Christians will fast, but the New Testament contains no command for believers to fast. The New Testament does not command any specific season for fasting. Nor does the Bible forbid the Christian to observe holy days and special religious seasons. Scripture never commands ritual observances but it does give very strong warnings about rituals, holy days and similar observances.
Lent is not necessary as a spiritual discipline. The spiritual disciplines found in the Bible, some call them the means of grace, are things to be practiced on a regular basis. The spiritual disciplines are prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, good works and participation in the ordinances (sacraments). Spiritual disciplines practiced only six weeks out of the year are of little value. Think of an athlete who only trains six weeks out of the year. He’s not going be much of an athlete. Lent should not be observed if it is seen as the primary means by which the individual becomes spiritually strong or receives special spiritual blessing from God.
Lent is powerless as a means to purify the heart. The Bible specifically teaches that actions do not defile the heart, nor can they purify the heart. Behavior comes from the heart. (Mark 7:15,18-23) Impure behavior reflects an impure heart. Yet, right behavior from an impure heart will not purify the heart. (Matthew 23:14) Only the blood of Jesus purifies the heart from sin. Lent may be a good time to reflect on the suffering of Jesus for your sin, but if it is relied on as a means of purifying the heart it should not be observed.
Some observe Lent as a form of penance. Penance believes that enduring bodily suffering or paying a penalty will show true sorrow for sin. When penanced is performed sin can then be forgiven. God’s forgiveness is never given in response to an act of contrition. God’s Word is very, very clear on this topic. Forgiveness is only the gift of God given freely to those who will ask it of Him. Any effort to earn or purchase forgiveness rejects God’s forgiveness. (Galatians 2:21) He will only forgive those who trust Jesus alone for full pardon and eternal salvation. If Lent is done for the forgiveness of sin it should be repented of and the penitent should turn to Jesus for forgiveness.
Lent is not forbidden in the Bible. It can be carefully observed in a way that promotes the gospel, glorifies God and draws believer closer to Christ. Let the words of Romans 14:5 guide your thinking regarding Lent. “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Keep Lent or do not keep Lent, but do so to the Lord.