What are you giving up for Lent? In the last several years around this season of the year, this question has come up numerous times? The first time I was asked the question I was completely off guard because I had never even thought about observing Lent or why I would have any desire to do so. I realize that the idea of Lent is tied to the fasting of Jesus for forty days as he gave up food and drink for that lengthy period to focus completely on God or to prepare for the ministry he was entering. We aren’t really told in the Bible what his reason was for taking this time for fasting. We are only told by God that the Spirit drove him into the deserted area to be tempted by the devil for forty days in which he fasted. It really seems to me that the emphasis wasn’t so much on his fasting as it was the temptations of the devil he was facing. Mark notes he wasn’t just tempted with the three biggies at the end of the forty days, but also during the forty days. The text also points out it wasn’t a choice of Jesus to go from his baptism to the deserted area for his testing, but He was driven by the Spirit into this deserted area.
Now I also realize it is tied to other fast from the Old Testament such as Moses fasting for forty days in receiving the Law. The other connections seem to be the Jewish festival of Passover that was fulfilled when Jesus was offered as the Passover lamb and became our Passover from sin. While I certainly am interested in the Passover because it was proclaiming th message of freedom that God offered Israel from Egyptian Bondage and foretold the offering of Jesus on the cross as our Passover Lamb, I also understand that I wasn’t ever in Egyptian Bondage to be freed and that Passover has now been fulfilled. I instead celebrate the Lord’s Supper or Communion each week to remember Jeuss paying the price for my spiritual freedom from sin.
There are truly lots of things I need to give up for the Lord and strive to do so on a regular basis. In Colossians 3 Paul said I needed to lay aside the old garments of sin in my life and listed a bunch of these sins all the way from moral faiures to dishonesty or wrong use of the tongue. He also challenged me to put on new garments of right living to be right with him. The writer of Hebrews challenged every follower of Christ to “Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us to run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”
If it helps you to call it Lent and have an annual season to give up some action for a period of time for the Lord, then I’m happy for you to do so. But don’t confuse giving up something that is neither right nor wrong with what God has challenged us to do. If a thing is wrong we don’t just need to give it up for a season, but give it up period. If something is questionable and I see no wrong in it but it causes a brother or sister to stumble I need to give it up out of love for the person and devotion to God. If it is a season of grief or pain and fasting is appropriate to help you deal with the hurt then fantastic. If fasting from some good thing in your life helps you to draw closer to God, then it is certainly a good thing and I would encourage it.
But I would point out that Lent and the celebration of the whole season leading up to Passover or to Easter isn’t something ever described in the Bible. Thank God Jesus died and was raised again. I want to celebrate that fact every time I can. Remembering it one time a year may help us to have a set time to preach on the topic. But the only celebration ever taught in the New Testament with regard to Jesus death and resurrection is the Lord’s Supper. It really makes more sense to me to Present my body as a living sacrifice to Jesus as my reasonable service or spiritual worship every day than to pick a season to give up something for him. The life He challenges us to live isn’t seasonal, but daily. His celebrations for the Christian life aren’t annual but every Lord’s Day when the church gathers to worship the Lord and Savior who paid the price of sin for us. I think, for me, I will just follow the plan of the New Covenant without judging the actions of those who practice Lent and respectfully ask that those who choose to practice Lent, show the same respect for my determination to not do so.