Monday, March 20, 2017

According To The Bible, Should We Partake In The Season Of Lent?

What Are Your Views Regarding Lent According To The Bible?

Question : What are your views regarding lent according to the Bible? What is Lent? Why is it so widely practiced by “Christians” of this world? Is it because the Bible commands it? Did Christ or any of His apostles observe Lent? What about the first century Church? What does the Bible teach about Lent?

Answer : Greetings in Jesus wonderful name! The word ' lent' is a verb used without object. It means to give to someone something voluntarily or helpfully. Usually the object of the lending is seen to be God. But what does the Bible have to say? Whoever is kind to the poor to help them, they are lending to the Lord (Prov 19:17). So the real lent is done practically when the poor, needy, widows and orphans are helped during the days of lent (Jam 1:27).

I understand that 'lent' is something that is not observed by the secular world but religious believers do observe lent. Lent began as a way for Catholics to remind themselves of the value of repentance. Though it began with Catholics, some Protestant denominations do follow the practice of lent and its austerity seeing it spiritually as was seen as similar to how people in the Old Testament fasted and repented in sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:1-3; Jeremiah 6:26; Daniel 9:3). In short we can say it as a time of fasting and repentance in the spring, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending several weeks later on Easter. The Sunday's are not counted and therefore the fast is broken during this time of lent as it is seen as a mini-Easter of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Usually people who practice 'lent' “give something up for Lent”, say, to abandon a pleasurable habit as an act of devotion and self-discipline and it is a kind of “traditions of men” (Mark 7:7-9).

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “the real aim of Lent is, above all else, to prepare men for the celebration of the death and Resurrection of Christ…the better the preparation the more effective the celebration will be. One can effectively relive the mystery only with purified mind and heart. The purpose of Lent is to provide that purification by weaning men from sin and selfishness through self-denial and prayer, by creating in them the desire to do God’s will and to make His kingdom come by making it come first of all in their hearts.”

Many Catholics believe that giving something up for Lent is a way to attain God’s blessing.

From Ash Wednesday to Easter, many solemnly mark their foreheads with ash, “fasting” (or abstaining from certain foods or physical pleasures) for 40 days. This is done to supposedly imitate Jesus Christ’s 40-day fast in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-2). Some give up smoking. Others give up chewing gum. Still others give up over-eating or cursing. People vow to give up anything, as long as it prepares them for Easter. The great apostle Paul never told anyone to follow the Lord in His fasting which no one should or could without the specific direction of the Holy Spirit, but rather in the Character and purity of God with which He walked before others (1 Cor 11:1). He also describes it as a ever continuing work of God that God does in us who are His children, and that we should cooperate with God in fulfilling His purpose for us everyday of our lives (Rom 8:29-30).

But giving up something doesn't earn the favor of God, as the Bible clearly reveals that grace of God cannot be earned by our works, in fact, the Bible reveals further saying, to him who works, the wages are counted not as grace but as debt (Rom 4:4). Everything given by God through grace of our Lord Jesus Christ freely is “the gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17), it is a gift received from God through believing in Jesus as our Savior and Lord, and it always pleases God.

Fasting can be a good thing if we do it to repent of sinful habits which will please God without doubt. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with setting aside some time to focus on Jesus' death and resurrection, to avail its power to make a difference in our life, so that it can become a blessing to others. Bible tells us to repent of sins not just for the 46 days of Lent, but for the entire 365 days of our lives (Matt 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15; 6:12; Luke 13:5; Luke 17:4). God loves every one of His children to repent and turn towards Him to live a life of devotion and worship towards Him (Jer 25:5; Ezek 14:6; 18:30; Job 42:6). Most of the people as children of God, do not bow before physical idols but before spiritual idols of the heart like lust, covetousness, love of money, power, jealousies, selfish ambitions, anger, etc... God loves to see all the idols of the heart to be thrown out of one's life (Ezek 14:3; Col 3:5). When we repent, God loves to bless us with all His heavenly blessings through Jesus Christ because we are already entitled to it in Him (Eph 1:3).

Can a Christian observe lent? If a Christian wishes to observe Lent, he is free to do so.

Why is it so widely practiced by “Christians” of this world? Is it because the Bible commands it?

It is practiced widely in the Christian circle because people always want a tradition to follow which gives them a lot of satisfaction in their spiritual life. But if we see and consider the spiritual value of it, in itself it doesn't carry any value except it is a way of self-denial which can help us to discipline ourselves. Keeping Lent days not because we want something from God, but rather keeping it because we want to give out something more to God because of our love towards God by reading the Word of God and praying with deep repentance towards Him, will make our anchor go deeper in God which will help us to get stronger ourselves in what He wants us to do further in our life, which is the key to keeping lent effective in our spiritual life (Rom 12:1-2).

Did Christ or any of His apostles observe Lent?

No because it was something that started with the tradition of Christians in the second century dimly and regularized after the legalization of Christianity in A.D. 313. In A.D. 360, the Council of Laodicea officially commanded Lent to be observed. The purpose overall through out the Church is to make them hear God's word more frequently and devote more time to prayer.

What about the first century Church? What does the Bible teach about Lent? Since the earliest times of the Church, there is evidence of some kind of Lenten preparation for Easter, but it is not in the Bible except the general admonition of Jesus to the Church about fasting. Jesus said that after He leaves the earth during the ascension, then the Church will fast to be close in relationship to Him (Matt 9:15; Mark 2:19). Then Jesus spoke that certain devils do respond to our authority in Christ only when we fast and pray to God which will make our flesh to starve, and instead empower our spirit to rise up in faith to lead us in to victory by the Spirit of God (Matt 17:21; 4:1; Luke 4:13-14). This can be applied for all believers at all times and not just the lent season. Also Jesus taught that fasting should be done discreetly and privately in secret, and that believers should not disfigure their faces to look sombre when they do, instead put oil on their head and wash their face, so that it will not be seen by others as though they are fasting, so that it will only be seen by our Father in heaven, who is unseen and will be rewarded openly by Him (Matthew 6:16-18). This is in direct opposition to the public announcement of certain days of fasting and the applying of ashes on the forehead of people who will line up in church to get a ash smudge on the first day of Lent called as 'Ash Wednesday', which they say is to make one realize or remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. They say it focuses on the fact that life is not permanent, we have to prepare for death, the ashes represent a deeper conversion to the Lord. But Biblically, it is all tradition of humans and has no spiritual value to it.

My concern is that the tradition of humans should not nullify the very purpose of the lent for which it is first regularized which is to spend more time in communion with the Lord through Word of God and prayer (Mark 7:13). No amount of fasting, abstaining from physical pleasures or any other form of self-denial can purify us except faith in the blood of Christ (Heb. 9:11-14, 22; 13:12; Acts 15:9), through His truth and prayer (John 17:17; I Tim. 4:5). We cannot just desire to do God’s will and do it by our strength. To act with spiritual strength God needs to infuse us with His very own strength and make us do His will, which is a gifted working of God that God does in us to do His good pleasure as we seek Him diligently daily day after day (Php 2:13). The Kingdom of God is already within us (Luke 17:21) and the effect of the Kingdom of God is righteousness [i.e. right way of living by God's righteousness], peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit is God's executive of our spiritual lives who supplies all the effect of the Kingdom of God within us now (Rom 14:17). So prayer doesn't bring the Kingdom of God as it is already within the children of God, but it does bring all the good effects of the Kingdom of God. So lent days can act as a boost to our spiritual lives, if we use the season to read more of the Word of God and devote ourselves to intimate prayer in communion with God.

God did not design fasting as a tool for penance, “beating yourself up” or developing will power (Isa. 58:5-7). We fast to draw close to God to become like Him and not to get anything for us from God (Jer 9:23-24). So if we use this season of lent as a time of fasting, repentance and prayer to draw close to God to become like Him, then the purpose will be fulfilled. Praise the Lord!

Much Blessings.....


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