What Exactly Is Lent?
Lent is the 40-day Catholic religious season of preparation before “Easter Sunday” (though many other denominations within Christendom also participate). The Lenten season begins on “Ash Wednesday,” with many solemnly marking their foreheads with ash in the shape of a cross, repenting, and “fasting” (or giving up certain foods or pleasures) until “Easter Sunday” – a period of about six weeks in all.
During this time, some give up smoking or alcohol, others give up television. Still others give up fast food, video games, or even cursing & crude language (imagine that!). People can vow to give up anything, so long as they think it will ‘prepare’ them for “Easter Sunday.” All of this is supposedly done to commemorate Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness (cf. Matt. 4:1-11). Thus, Lent is an official religious period of repentance and fasting. Fasting from something. Whatever you choose.
Should Christians Celebrate Lent?
While fasting, repenting, and remembering our Lord’s suffering and resurrection are righteous things to do, Lent is a perversion of these things in several ways.
First, those who observe Lent – particularly the most devout – often smear ash on their foreheads on “Ash Wednesday” as they begin their period of fasting. But Jesus said,
16 “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. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 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. (Matt. 6:16-18, ESV)
Jesus’ command to “wash your face” and to ensure that “your fasting may not be seen by others” seems in conflict with “Ash Wednesday” and the often-public nature of the observance.
Second, while God is pleased with – and indeed commands – our repentance, Christians should be repenting of sin all year long – not just for the six weeks of Lent. Additionally, if something is immoral or evil for six weeks, it is immoral or evil all year long. Christians should never engage in anything that is opposed to God’s Will (cf. 1 John 3:4-8).
Third, nowhere in the Bible does the Bible reference “Lent” or any of the special Catholic holy days. The Catholic Church requires fasting to be observed on “Ash Wednesday” and “Good Friday” by anyone between the ages of 18 and 59, and to refuse is to be guilty of sin. The real sin is to give tradition the same authority as God’s commands (Matt. 15:8-9).
Fourth, the only holy day for Christians today is the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7; Rev. 1:10). To place religious significance on any other day is to depart from the New Testament pattern (Gal. 4:8-11; 2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Pet. 4:11; 1 Cor. 4:6). The Lord’s church in the New Testament practiced no such thing as Lent.
Fifth, the Catholic teaching of Lent requires the abstinence of certain foods. Yet the words of Paul are a strong indictment of this teaching:
1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. (1 Tim. 3:1-3, ESV)
Sixth, Christians are to give special attention to Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection every first day of the week (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
Seventh, openly observing Lent gives approval to its perversions and endorses the Catholic denomination that sanctions this religious season. Some may be thinking, “What’s the big deal, Ben? You’re blowing this out of proportion. I practice Lent because fasting and repentance are good things.” While you may think observing the Lenten season is your own prerogative, 1 Corinthians 8:10-13 offers this warning: though you may have justified Lent in your own mind, what is your public participation teaching others? Are your actions in essence endorsing non-Biblical holy days, temporary penitence, Catholic doctrine, and attention-grabbing fasting?
It is a mistake to view New Testament Christianity as merely being opposed to the observance of Lent. In reality, Christians aim to be more holy and righteous than those during the Lenten season because we repent and think about the Lord’s death and resurrection all year round! We refuse to restrict our most sincere period of devotion to a mere six weeks.
Many legitimately think God wants them to follow this religious practice. Those who religiously observe Lent should be respected, not ridiculed. God demands sincerity in our worship and our service to Him. Yet sincere actions are vain if they are not done with the authority of Jesus (Col. 3:17).
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