Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lent: Is it Biblical?

By Pastor Bob Turner
River of Life Church

Some are talking about preparing for Lent, and I’ve received some questions about this practice that is upheld in many churches. I thought I would share my thoughts and opinions on this long time
tradition of most churches in our area. If you attend River, you know that this is something that we don’t practice formally. It isn’t that we are “against” the religious tradition of Lent, it is more that we don’t see it the 40 day custom as significant as other churches do. River has never been a liturgical church, however we do not look down on those that might value some rituals. So reading this, you may agree or disagree with me, but either way I hope to give some helpful, thought-provoking opinions on this subject.

1 – Is It Biblical?
When I ask those who practice this tradition of Lent I get a few common responses. One of them is
“Its Biblical”. Lent observers are quick to point out that Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness,
thus they say Lent is Biblical. But is it? Well I suppose that depends on your definition of “Biblical”.
If you mean its found in the Bible, or rooted in something that you read in the Scriptures, then I
suppose I would agree. But there is a big difference between something found in the Bible, and
something as a Biblical mandate for the church.

A few key points I would like to make on Jesus’ trek into the wilderness for 40 days:
a.) The Purpose?
It wasn’t necessarily to grow closer to God, but to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 4.1 specifically
tells us that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” Jesus was denying Himself earthly pleasures while being led into the wilderness, but it was to be tempted by the evil one. Is that our purpose in Lent? I assume not. So is it Biblical in the sense that it shares the same purpose of Jesus during His 40 day fast? No.
b.) The Mandate?
I see nothing in the Scriptures mandating us to follow Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days to fast and
be tempted by the devil. Nowhere in the New Testament does it talk about churches replicating this
temptation time of Jesus. I see no passage of Scripture instructing the body of Christ to do this in any
So I would disagree that Jesus’ 40 day time of temptation is “Biblical” in the sense that we must or
even should follow it in our churches today. Many things are found in the Bible but aren’t “Biblical”
in church practice. For instance, in the Scriptures Jesus walked on water, does this mean that we
should take time apart every year so the congregation can attempt stepping on top of a body of
water? Certainly not. So it is found in the Bible as something that Jesus did, however it was not set
or stated as a practice that had to be repeated by the New Testament church. So I just don’t see Lent
as a Biblical mandate, therefore most liturgical traditions like this tend to lose their appeal to me.

2 – Self Denial
One aspect that I enjoy hearing about is that people are willing to fast or deny themselves pleasure in
order to get closer to God. I feel this is very Biblical and of great encouragement. My problem comes
when I hear people doing it merely for superficial results rather than praise and honest pursuit of
God. If you want to fast for healing of someone, or to deny yourself pleasure and thus love God more
through this, more power to you! If you want to get some man-centered goal met and trick God into
blessing you for your great self-denial skills, I believe you have missed the point. Scripture
tells us plainly that God desires obedience more than sacrifice. You can give up soda or TV for 40
days, but if you don’t love Christ in your heart and life, who cares? Is God supposed to be impressed
by the works of a heathen who calls Him Lord but can’t love Him as his treasure?

3 – Temporary Solemn Promises
Another issue I have is when people make hypocritical oaths for Lent that seem to contradict
following Christ. I’ve heard a few of them over the years. One time someone said “I’m going to give
up swearing for Lent.” Perplexed I asked the only obvious question in my mind – “Are you going to take it back up again after Lent?” Why not just stop swearing and say God created my mouth, therefore I will praise Him with it and not curse. Why make solemn promises that should rather be lifestyle decisions in obedience to Christ? Some things are fine to abstain from temporarily for a short season, but some should be avoided all together for a cherishing of Christ above all.

4 – Cut It Loose
I’ve read a post this morning that said “Starting today I’m giving up social media for Lent.” It sounded
like the goal was somewhat pure. This person felt that social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and
Myspace was distracting him from having regular time with Christ in prayer and worship in the
Word. My issue is two-fold here. One is the same obvious question: “If those things are hurting your
relationship with Christ rather than helping, why give them up only for Lent? Why not give them up for good?”
Now personally, I’m not against social media in general. I use it often, and especially love to employ
these tools it to provoke thoughts on Scriptures or ideas I’m considering for the upcoming sermon. I
think social media can be used as a great tool to promote God’s glory, discuss subjects, get in touch
with old and more recent friends, advertise events, communicate prayer requests and needs, etc. But
if it is honestly a hindrance to your walk, cut it loose! (Matthew 5.29-20) Don’t give it up for Lent
and then come back to what distracts you from Christ again. Cut it loose!

5 – Why Advertise?
My other concern is that this person broke their commitment this morning by posting that
announcement on social media sites. This made me chuckle because by posting that he was
abstaining from social media for 40 days starting today, he broke his promise with the post itself. As
funny as that seemed to me, something else stuck out to me.
I see so many telling so many others that they are fasting and participating in Lent, what they are
giving up, etc. Doesn’t this go directly against the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 6.16-18: “And when
you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Jesus taught to not proclaim your great work of fasting and highlight to the world your sacrifices to
God, but rather to do them more with an attitude of discretion. Thus your fasting would be for God’s
joy and not the applause of man. Don’t worry, your fast will still be noticed, however the audience of
reward will be solely Divine.

6 – Daily Following Christ
To me, the idea of giving up something that may or does hinder your walk with Christ seems it
should be a lifelong venture, not one of a season. Jesus said that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” He didn’t say deny yourself and take up your cross for 40 days a year, but… daily!
This is how we follow Him. Again, I’m not trying to sound like I am against people participating in
Lent, I just simply don’t understand most of the thinking process behind it. It doesn’t seem to add up
for me. But again… these are my opinions.
My Conclusion
Finally let me close by saying I am all for the practice of fasting and self-denial. I, however, tend not
to participate in liturgy and traditional practices unless they are Biblically upheld as mandates for the
church indicative of a lifestyle follower of Jesus Christ. At River of Life, we are very different from
most churches, but I love that about us! If your church participates in Lent, do it for the glory of God.
Give up sin and anything that would hinder your walk for Christ for good, not just a season.
Maybe instead of 40 days of religious tradition, we should all have what I call “Lifetime Lent” – Selfdenial, obedience and sacrificing for our entire lifetime as we surrender all of our life to the obedience of Christ for the further sanctification of our souls and to the praise of His glorious grace. Maybe we should wake up every day praying something like this: “Lord how can I be closer to you today and please you more with my life? Jesus I want to live a lifetime of Lent for You!”

By Pastor Bob Turner
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  1. Very thourghal and very nice post.
    I write and maintain a blog which I have entitled “accordingtothebook” and I’d like to invite you to follow it.