What Does the Bible Say About...Lent? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kris Brewer   
Thursday, 21 March 2013 12:53

I am amazed at this time of year, how many people I see giving something up “for Lent”. I’m not talking about those who are Catholics, who have Lent as a part of their religious beliefs. I am talking about members of the Lord's church!  And yet, they see no problem with the practice. Wikipedia says this about Lent:


Lent in the Christian tradition, is the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter. Lent is a time of sacrifice for Jesus. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer — through prayer, repentance, alms giving and self-denial — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Conventionally, it is described as being forty days long, though different denominations calculate the forty days differently. The forty days represent the time that, according to the Bible, Jesus spent in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan.

This practice is common to much of Christendom, being celebrated by Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans.

Lent is described as a time of "sacrifice for Jesus." I find that very interesting, as Jesus has not given any instruction concerning this practice! While many will not have a problem with participating in the  practice of Lent, I hope to encourage you to further thought, and study.  There are several problems with the practice, and true Christians should consider these problems, and avoid taking part in Lent.


There is no authority... The first problem, and one that should be considered with any practice we involve ourselves in, especially religiously, is that there simply is no Bible authority to participate in a religious celebration called "Lent". If we are going to do something "in the name of Jesus" or "for Jesus" it must first be authorized by Him.  Involving ourselves in a practice, and then claiming to do it "for Jesus" is not good enough!  We can only know what Jesus wants by heeding His revelation.  If we are permitted to go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6), then what is written is pointless!  God has revealed His mind to us, and expects us to stay within the confines that He has established. Jesus said that the word of God is truth (John 17:17). If it is not found in the word of God, then it is not truth, regardless of how many people think it a good thing!


Self imposed religion... The apostle Paul, while writing to the brethren at Colossae, warned them about practices that would be introduced by men to define their spirituality. In Colossians Paul wrote this warning:


Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using— according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:20-23).

The first century Christians were having to face the problem of some setting up "rules of spirituality" for others. If you didn't participate, you were not as spiritual as the brethren who participated. Paul clearly stated that these things were the "commandments and doctrines of men" and that they provided no true spiritual benefit to the participant! The same thing can be said about Lent. Choosing to give up one thing for 40 days is not going to make a person more spiritual. It is a "self imposed religion" that reflects the same "false humility and neglect of the body" that Paul wrote about.  Isn't it interesting that Christians today will still subject themselves to the same dangerous practices that the first century Christians had to face?  Why not heed the warning of Paul and stay away from these practices?


Conveys an ecumenical spirit... When members of the Lord's church participate in Lent and other denominational religious practices and holidays, they convey an ecumenical spirit. Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary defines the word as: promoting or tending toward worldwide Christian unity or cooperation.  That sounds like a good thing at first, does it not?  The problem here is that when this is done, it conveys the idea that division (denominationalism) is approved by God.  All of the denominations are not coming to unity under one doctrine, they are coming to unity in diversity.  That means that they are acting unified, but in reality they see no need to come to a common understanding.  This is not approved of by God; it is certainly not what He desired for His own body.  Jesus prayed for unity among His followers, the same kind of unity that He and the Father shared (John 17:20-21).  Surely this type of unity is not the divisions, and differing doctrines that we see in the denominational world!  Can we imagine God the Father and God the Son differing on doctrine?  The mere thought of it is ludicrous and appalling!  When Paul wrote to the Corinthian brethren, he condemned the very concept of denominationalism:


Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)?

Denominationalism is a sign of carnality, not spirituality.  Again, consider the writings of the inspired apostle Paul:


And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal (1 Corinthians 3:1-4)?

When we give credence to the idea of denominationalism by joining in with the denominational (man-made) practices, we are not showing our spirituality. In fact, according to Paul, we are doing just the opposite, and showing our carnality (our worldliness)!


"But," some may say, "We are coming together on a practice and therefore moving toward unity."  The problem is that the practice is not authorized (see first point above). If we come together on practices that are man made, rather than the practices defined by God, then we are not forming His church, but rather our own!  Until we get past the idea that our religion is for us, we will never truly please God!


It is just like fasting... This is an idea I hear to defend the practice of participating in Lent. After all, fasting is approved of in scripture, and there is some spiritual benefit to it.  If a person wants to fast, they are certainly authorized to do so.  Lent is not like fasting, for many different reasons. First, during Lent, a person is told when to participate, which is not true for fasting.  Fasting is a personal choice, in which the individual, not a religious body, defines when it begins and when it ends.  Second, fasting is the choice to not eat, instead devoting one's self to spiritual focus (thus most instances in scripture refer to "prayer and fasting" together).  Lent only requires the giving up one item, or activity for the 40 day period.


Most people who make this argument refuse to truly treat it according to Jesus' teachings of fasting anyway.  Jesus gave some instructions about how to fast, if you chose to participate in that practice:


“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly (Matthew 6:16-18).

Why, if one really believes that participating in Lent is "just like fasting" would they announce their participation, so that everyone knows that they are doing it?  This is a sign of the very problem that Paul wrote about, which we mentioned earlier, of "false humility."  It is a way for an individual to try and announce to the world just how spiritual he is.  He is showing how he has humbled himself before God so that he is willing to give up something for God.


It gives credence to the holiday of Easter... Lent is a period of time that ends on Easter.  Easter is the holiday instituted originally by the Catholic Church, and then adopted by most "Christian" religions (in their ecumenical spirit), to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.  Surely that is a good thing to do!  Yes, in fact it is a good thing to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. However, it is important that we do it in the manner He prescribed, which is not a special, one day per year holiday which gives us an excuse to buy new pretty dresses and hunt around the church yard for eggs!  Jesus Christ instituted the Lord's Supper to celebrate His death and resurrection, and to look forward to the time when He would return (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).  When we make up our own way of celebrating His resurrection, we are ignoring His authority, and declaring ourselves to be just as (if not more) authoritative than He is.


The celebration of Lent is a reflection that man is simply not satisfied with doing things God's way.  If we were happy to serve Him, we wouldn't find the need to make additions or alterations to His instructions.  Serving God properly provides us with plenty of opportunities to do great things, and so there is no reason for us to feel the need to make additions, or to try and make ourselves appear "more spiritual."  In fact, until we find true humility, rather than the false humility that is shown by practices such as Lent, we will never be pleasing to Him.  True humility demands that we submit to His will, and leave our own selfish (and self imposed) practices behind.  Trust me, God has provided ample opportunity for you to show your worth to Him; we don't need foolish practices to try and show our worth to other people around us!

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 March 2013 13:06


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This is the personal page of Kris Brewer, who currently works with the Gallatin Valley church of Christ in Bozeman, Montana.

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