Lent began last Wednesday, summoning all Catholics to 40 days of abstinence leading up to Easter Sunday. In recent years, some evangelicals have also started observing the season, making me want to bang my head against the nearest wall.
In the present day, Catholic dogma teaches that Lenten sacrifice, which supposedly leads to repentance and deeper spiritual contemplation, is an act of obligation. Over the centuries, the particulars of the fast have changed, but the fact remains that during the 40 days (Sundays are excluded), one must abstain from some food or pleasure out of devotion to God.
In a blog post I wrote a year ago, I made the point that Christians should practice self-denial throughout the year rather than just during the six weeks preceding Easter. And the self-denial that Jesus requires of Christians is far more costly than giving up chocolate or Twitter for 40 days! I’ve already made my case in that post and this one, so its unnecessary to repeat my arguments today.
But in a conversation this morning, I realized that my objection to Lent boils down to the same problem I have with Roman Catholicism in general: it rejects the sufficiency of Christ’s finished work on the cross. For all the talk of Lent enhancing our devotion to Him and drawing us to deeper repentance, we can’t escape its emphasis on human good works. As usual, the attention shifts from what Christ did for us to what we credit ourselves as doing to earn His favor.
The whole mess reminds me of the Galatian church in the First Century. The apostle Paul had preached the Gospel to them, but as soon as he left their region, false teachers swooped in and taught them that they needed to observe Jewish rituals in order to truly be saved. This adoption of legalism enraged Paul.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? ~~Galatians 3:1-6 (ESV)
Lent promises to draw people closer to Christ, but in reality it distracts from Him. Evangelicals, of all people, should recognize Lent as an unbiblical practice that completely negates the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. It repeats the same basic error of the Galatian church.
Sisters, I beg you to think seriously about participating in Lenten observances. Does doing so really honor the Lord Jesus Christ? Or does it make you feel spiritually proud, as if you’re doing something to curry His favor? Above all, remember that you come to Him only because He shed His blood on the cross.