Faith, Works, and an Un-Burdensome Lent

The Christian High Holy days are just about upon us again, a time when Catholics and some Protestants pause for a bit of a spiritual self-assessment over a 40-day period called Lent. Today is Shrove Tuesday, “pancake day” or Mardi-Gras, however you choose to look at it. A kick off celebration of excess before we get serious about our piety. We non-Catholics have an odd relationship with Lent, in that it both intrigues us and slightly repels us. On one hand, we love the idea of doing something to show the Lord we are faithful and dedicated… so maybe we give something up for a few weeks to show Him (or at least our friends on social media) that we are the real deal is satisfying. Many simply see it as an empty ritual with little to no spiritual reward to be had.

From the time I was a young teen, I have absolutely loved this time of year leading up to Easter. My Presbyterian Church flirted with the idea of Lent, ashes on the forehead were a step too far, but there was always the “40 days to…” (enter whatever attractive quality you like here, we surely thought it up). We evangelicals still like our 40 day programs though, and if you find one that brings you joy in your walk with Jesus, then I say go for it!

Let’s be careful, however, that we are sticking to Biblical principles and not doing things just to say we did them. We Christians are prone to some confusion when it comes to “faith vs. works” and no time brings this to the forefront more than the Lenten season.

Truth is a big deal to God. Theology and good understanding of His Word is a big deal. If we ‘give up’ anything for Lent, perhaps we can let go of some toxic ideas that may have taken hold of us that actually keep us from experiencing Him fully. Here are a few that come to mind when we consider Lent:

  • The idea that ‘good behavior’ for a time gets us in a good standing with Him, thus excusing willful, sinful behavior. “Party today, for tomorrow we fast!”
  • The idea that we have the power (or the need) to pay for our sins through denying ourselves some earthly pleasure. “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17)
  • Maybe lets not brag about all our sacrificial offerings on social media. “Day four without coffee, only 36 more to go, enjoying my time with Jesus tho!” Oh the humility of it all!
  • Our actions are indeed important, our ‘works’ do matter… but not in the context of our right standing with God. We are to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). So remembering that God does not require sacrifices, but a humble heart… what can we do in this season?

Delight in God and His word! Meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2).

Get to church! A Biblically sound church, with a community of believers. The pandemic took it’s toll on many of us in this area… the enemy wants you isolated and away from the truth, don’t let it happen. Online community isn’t where it’s at.

Truly, formulas and calendars and rituals only serve to tighten the grip of the outwardly religious over the not-so compliant masses… God doesn’t require all this of us. He doesn’t take sin lightly, though, and any time we can pause to reflect and repent is a good thing. For the Jesus follower, every day is resurrection Sunday, and every day holds the potential to walk in great freedom with the One who set us free.

Are there traditions in the Lenten season that you embrace? Do you avoid it completely?

Regardless, here’s a verse I am keeping in mind as we head into this joyous season (in which we all are also hoping for the fast return of spring and warmer temperatures!)

“My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 3:18/5:3)

Hear that? NOT BURDENSOME!! Go forth, do what He puts on your heart to do (or not do), knowing that our righteousness is not found in works, but in His finished work on the cross!

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