Most importantly, I looked to Scripture to see if what I found elsewhere lined up with what the Bible teaches. Let’s take a look at what Lent is and how we ought to view it through the lens of Scripture.
What is Lent?
Traditionally, Lent is the observance of the 40-day period that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown the Thursday before Easter or later on depending on the denomination. It is intended as a time of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. This preparation is often marked by prayer and fasting or some form of abstention. Additionally, churches and denominations that corporately practice Lent view this period as a type of representation of Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11).
Where did Lent originate?
There is no mention of Lent in the Bible. While there are accounts of fasting by some individuals in the early Church leading up to the observance of Easter, there is no record of an official directive to corporately fast as a congregation by the New Testament Church, its leaders, or the apostles. It is not until 325 A.D. after the Council of Nicaea that we see any observance of Lent in the church. Its earliest observances were focused on fasting for new converts before they were to be baptized on Easter. However, it quickly evolved into something that was practiced by the whole church. Lent was not formally institutionalized until Pope Gregory (509-604 A.D.).
The rules and parameters for when and how to fast evolved over the centuries allowing for one meal or an additional meal for those doing manual labor. In time, strict adherence to abstaining from food ended, and the observance of Lent allowed for fasting from other items or activities. While fasting from food is still very much practiced by those who participate in Lent, the greater focal point has become the idea of personal sacrifice by giving up something during the 40-day period.
What is its purpose?
Lent is not just fasting for the purpose of fasting. For many who take part in the practice, the aim is to use the time that would otherwise be used for preparing or eating food to study or meditate on the Scriptures and to spend time in prayer. The ultimate purpose is to prepare one’s heart and mind for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Is it wrong for a Christian to observe Lent?
This question comes from the fact that the origins of Lent are rooted in Roman Catholicism rather than a Biblical mandate. So, is it okay for a believer to take part in Lent or is it wrong? There are many valid and differing arguments on both sides of this issue. But as believers, our choices must always be guided and informed by Scripture and not the words of men. As Martin Luther once said, our consciences must be “captive to the Word of God.”
In all my study of the matter, I found many arguments for or against Lent. But the clearest and most helpful words I read on the matter, I found this article by Tim Challies. It is well worth the read as it gives Biblical and insightful instruction on this issue. It certainly helped me to solidify my perspective and understanding.
As a result, I’ve come to two essential conclusions for myself on the matter:
As I sought to educate myself about Lent, I found something quite unexpected. Because Lent’s roots are connected to fasting, I was forced for the first time to really look at what is Biblical fasting. Fasting, no matter the time of the year, is something we see over and over in Scripture. But if you’re like me, it’s easy to think that fasting is a fringe thing — something for the "super spiritual” but not for me. Biblical fasting is important but also applicable in the life of every believer. It’s more than abstaining from food. It is a means to truly consider our God and deepen our devotion to Him.
So, whether you are fasting now for Lent, have fasted at other times, or have never before, I hope you will join me in my next post, as I share what God has taught me in His Word about fasting and the feast that it truly is.
What are your thoughts on Lent?
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