Op-Ed: A biblical response to the celebration of Lent

by Seth Udinski

Seth Udinski, FISM News 

Today in the Christian calendar, the season of Lent officially begins.

The observance of Lent runs from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. It is roughly a 40-day span to reflect the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness before He was tempted by the devil (Matthew 4).

The purpose of Lent has historically been for Christians to guide their hearts to a place of humility and brokenness over their sins. The 40-day season begins on “Ash Wednesday,” where believers are encouraged to put ashes on their foreheads in the tradition of the Old Testament Israelites, who often put on “sackcloth and ashes” when they cried out to God to redeem them.

In many Christian traditions, believers are also encouraged to fast from a particular enjoyment or pleasure for the 40-day period. Many will fast from a particular food or activity, such as sweets or social media use. Some traditions encourage believers to “rest” from their fast each Sunday during Lent, to observe a miniature celebration of the Resurrection.

So how should we observe this season as we approach the most magnificent of all celebrations – the death and Resurrection of our Lord?

First, I believe there is nothing inherently wrong with “giving something up” for the season of Lent. Some of us will fast from chocolate, others from television, and others from social media (I recall a time many years ago when I gruelingly fasted from video games during the Lent season. I made it, but it was difficult). I believe it can be a very virtuous practice to fast from something we enjoy, so long as our reason for it is to better rely on God’s provision for us.

If we do fast, let it be a reminder of Matthew 4:4:

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”

Furthermore, I believe we must avoid the trap of pharisaical rule-mongering if we choose to fast during Lent. Let us remember that our piety and attempts at holiness, while certainly pleasing to God if done from a pure heart, cannot and will not ever save us. Only the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary can save sinners from eternal perdition.

This leads me to my main point for Christians as we observe Lent. The observance of Lent is not about the outward traditions, but about the inward transformation of the heart.

Fasting from pleasures can be virtuous. Putting ash on one’s forehead can be virtuous. But these things mean nothing if our hearts do not come to a place of brokenness over our sin, which is so offensive to God that without a Redeemer to bear our sin for us, we could not even hope to enter His presence.

So, believer, instead of putting your emphasis on how “holy” you can be by fasting from a pleasure you really enjoy, get on your knees today and beg for God to show His grace on you and remove your sins as far as the east is from the west. For you, and I, and every other fallen sinner desperately need God’s grace.

While on your knees, give thanks to God for the grace He has shown you. Celebrate the fact that once you were dead in your trespasses, but God, who is rich in mercy, has made you alive in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2)

This season of Lent, ask that the Lord would reveal to you the two-fold wonder of your utter sinfulness and His magnificent grace, given to you for the sake of your Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.  – Psalm 51:10-12