Monday, March 9, 2015

The Foolishness of Lent

            Sacrifice is at the heart of Christianity.

            Christ sacrificed HIS life to save mankind of sins, provided mankind believe in HIM. So Christ’s sacrifice should motivate our sacrifice; not just once or twice but throughout our life.

            The Bible mandates the Christian to not live for himself but to be crucified with Christ and live for Christ alone, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2: 20, NIV).

            Lent, however, is at the heart of Catholicism.

            Catholic tradition advocates lent observance (fasting/self-denial/sacrifice of food or certain bad habits and attitudes for a 40 day period preceding Easter). Since Protestantism succeeded Catholicism, some protestant denominations retained the practice of observing lent. Interestingly, the Bible does not mandate or mention lent observance. 

            This then is the good, bad and ugly of lent.

            Sacrifice is at the heart of lent’s goodness.

            Make no mistake, lent could be good. The goodness of lent observance is the practice of self-denial. Since Bible mandates self-denial, relinquishing food or bad habits or bad attitudes should be commended within a certain context.

            False teaching is at the heart of lent’s badness.  

            It’s deplorable when lent observance creates a false dichotomy in Christianity vis-à-vis good and bad Christians. To teach that those observing lent are good Christians and those not observing are bad Christians is a rank false teaching.

            Would a Christian’s fast during lent erase his sins of omission and commission? No. Christians’ good deeds cannot erase bad deeds, for only God can forgive our sins, provided we repent and believe in Christ.

            Of what good is fasting if we continue to disobey God while we fast?

            Of what good is quitting a vice (alcohol, cigarettes, anger, lying etc.) if we intend to continue that very vice after lent? Isn’t it hypocritical of us to quit a vice during lent, but our mind is set on continuing that very vice after lent?

            Temporary self-denial during lent does not make a man good when he intends to continue to pursue that which he quit, after lent. Permanent self-denial is good, temporary self-denial is not. A temporary self-denial, unless intended towards permanency, is useless.

            Lent observance is not intended to receive material blessings from God. The Lord Jesus said, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6: 33, NIV).

            Lent observance does not mandate God’s blessing upon a Christian’s life, since Christianity does not predicate salvation or blessings on good works (cf. Romans 5: 17). Therefore, God will certainly draw us closer to HIM when we strive to receive HIM and HIS righteousness into our lives, not temporarily, but permanently, even lent notwithstanding.

            Christians cannot become good in God’s sight when they fast for wrong reasons even during lent. Conversely, Christians who do not fast during lent, but seek God always, do not become bad Christians.

            Therefore, lent is rendered foolish when we observe lent either mindlessly or to gain God’s blessing or religious superiority over fellow Christians.

            Ritualism is at the heart of lent’s ugliness.

            Rituals are Satan’s deceptions to move us away from God, for we tend to focus more on the rituals than God.

            Ritualistic lent observance where the body observes lent but the mind is disconnected from Christ yields nothing whatsoever to the Christian. To ritually fast during lent without spending quality time with the Lord Jesus is to render lent observance foolish and worthless.

            Similarly, ritualistic church attendance does not spiritually benefit a Christian. Christians are not meant to ritually attend church every week, instead they carry Christ-crucified in them (cf. Galatians 2: 20) to worship HIM in spirit and in truth in the community of believers.

            Ritualistic prayers in the morning and night do not get us any closer to God if our life between those prayers is as deplorable as that of the ungodly. Ritualistic bible reading will not draw us any closer to God if we do not love God with all our heart, soul and mind.

            So, if we observe lent as a ritual (as a duty), then our lent observance would be false and hypocritical. Lent would then be rendered foolish.

            How then could we make lent glorify God?    

            Observing lent doesn’t make you a better Christian any more than going to McDonalds makes you a delicious hamburger. Christianity is not about achieving greatness; Christianity is about worshipping God and serving others while being humble and sacrificial.

            A Christian is good when he believes and remains in the Lord Jesus. Lent is merely a means to a Christian’s growth in holiness by virtue of his dedicated devotion to the Lord. Observing lent would benefit the Christian if his sacrifices are solely intended for him to remain and grow stronger in Christ.

            So the only ritual that blesses a Christian is his devoted and constant (24x7) fellowship with Christ. When a Christian is devoted to Christ, he will see the world through God, and his blessings (not material blessings) will be immense.

            What’s the purpose behind self-denial or fasting? Isn’t it to spend more time with God?

            Lent would glorify God when we spend more time with HIM in praying (speaking and listening to God), reading and studying the Bible, doing deeds that would glorify God. Significantly, lent should accelerate our lifetime growth in Christ.      

            Observing lent would be a blessing to the Christian if he/she uses this opportunity to permanently remove bad habits or attitudes. To reiterate, we would be utter hypocrites to quit a bad habit during lent and then pursue it vigorously after lent. We abuse God’s grace while we practice this hypocrisy.

            The greatest worship of the living God is to live a sacrificial life continually, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12: 1, NIV).

            So it’s up to us. We could either render lent foolish or meaningful. Remaining in Christ should be our only priority whether we observe lent or not. Observing lent does not matter. Christ matters, for HE is the heart of our life. Christ is our life. Amen.  

1 comment:

Philip Ittyerah said...

Every Christian accepts that Yeshua has made a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice on the Cross, and no more sacrifices are necessary for edification! The best gift is to follow the two commandments expressed by Yeshua - Love God and Love fellow humans. Any deed done in pursuance of these two commandments is sufficient. Yeshua came at a time when we were rendered hopeless by the priestly class, thrown out of our heavenly inheritance! But Yeshua showed us a Way - realization of the wrong we had committed, repentance for the same and a determination to not repeat the same, and thanking God for His forgiveness of our deed by washing us by His precious blood, and restoration of our heavenly inheritance!