St Paul's Anglican Church, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

blog: archive

February 21, 2012

Christian Calendar, American Evangelicalism, Gospel

How Not to Observe Lent

by Lanier Nail

Somehow Lent has become cool. Everyone seems to be giving something up for Lent – and telling all their friends about it! Forty days of solemn examination and repentance are being eclipsed by an ever-more shallow cultural faddishness. Yuck! Because what we really need is one more cultural fad…

The forgiveness God offers us in Christ was costly.

Now, I am a firm believer in the helpfulness and usefulness of the Christian calendar. It serves to ensure that a healthy balance of Biblical teachings are not only taught and heard, but put into practice over the course of a year. I am enough of a Puritan, however, to warn against possible pitfalls of the calendar. Lent, for example, is a season of self-examination in light of the Law of God. The most common discipline associated with Lent is fasting. Both of these emphases are Biblical. Taking part in “Pop-Lent”, however, hardly does justice to either emphasis.

What is “Pop-Lent”? Pop-lent is essentially the form Lent takes in our self-help culture. It is light. It is cool. It is fun. Pop-lent asks, “What did you give up for lent?” Popular answers: social media, caffeine, sugar, etc. It’s really nothing more than a second chance at some failed New Year’s resolutions. Its purpose is simply to have an answer to the above question; maybe lose some weight; maybe feel a little better about ourselves. Dr. Phil stuff.

Christian Lent, however, asks a different question. Christian Lent does not ask “What did YOU give up?”, but “What does GOD require of you, o man (or woman)? And it is leading to the question which is answered on Good Friday, “What did God give up?” Christ, who is eternally God yet took on flesh, gave Himself up for us and for our sins. If we would have any chance of grasping the enormity of what that means, we must understand what sin is; why it matters; and what God does with it.

Sin is breaking God’s law and it springs from a corrupt nature expressing itself in corrupt actions. (I John 3:4 and John 8:44)

Sin matters because we are created in God’s image; when the image rebels against his Creator, all hell breaks loose. (Genesis 1:27; 3:14-19; Romans 1:10-32)

God hates sin; God judges sinners. (Genesis 6:5-7; Revelation 21:8)

God will also, for the sake of His perfectly obedient Son, forgive sinners who repent and believe the Gospel (Acts 2:37-38)

You see God’s Gospel is not a self-esteem program. God doesn’t pat us on the head and tell us it’s ok because sin’s just not a big deal; after all, everyone does it! The forgiveness God offers us in Christ was costly. The true purpose of Lent is to come to terms with the seriousness of our sins so that we can see the true depth and breadth of what Christ has accomplished on the cross. True lent is frightening because in the mirror of God’s law we see the monsters we have become and the dreadful sentence of death that hangs over us; the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.

So how might one approach the season of Lent with these thoughts guiding us?

1. If the purpose of Lent is to prepare for Good Friday by examining ourselves in the mirror of God’s Law, then we need to spend some time reading God’s Law. Re-read Genesis 1-3 and see yourself in your first parents. See also God’s promise of redemption through the seed of the woman. Spend some time meditating daily on God’s commandments in Exodus 20. Read and re-read Romans 1 and 2 and find yourself there. Open your heart to grieve and lament your breaking of God’s perfect laws.

2. Read and pray meditatively through Psalm 51 daily. This is the Psalm of repentance par excellence, a record of David’s heart as the Holy Spirit works repentance in him.

3. Give something up. Fast. #1 and #2 above require time. You will have to find that time somewhere. Maybe you can give up lunches during lent for examination. Perhaps you will give up Facebook so you can read Scripture. It is good to give things up, provided it is for a purpose beyond bragging to my friends about what I gave up (Matthew 6:18).

4. Celebrate like crazy on Sundays. Sundays are not part of Lent. Every Sunday is resurrection day. Rejoice in the new creation that Christ has paid for with his death and has begun in His resurrection. Go to church and enjoy it! Eat a big meal with friends and family. Play with your children. Anticipate the Kingdom to come!

May God prepare us, by His Word and Spirit, for the Good News of Good Friday.

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