Gospel-Empowered Observance Of Lent
February 15, 2018 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
Millions of Christians the world over plunged into the season of Lent this week. Beginning with the imposition of ashes as a reminder of our mortality and frailty up to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning, Lent is a season of penitence, fasting, and humble reflection. As with any spiritual discipline, there is a gospel-empowered way to observe Lent and an anti-gospel way to observe the season.
At its core, Lent is a time for fasting. As a physical discipline of self-denial, fasting trains our hearts to long for and treasure Christ above all things. It also leads us to deeper repentance of sin, as we reflect on the affliction caused by the self-denial. Jesus speaks about the right and wrong way to fast in Matthew 6:
"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. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 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.” (v. 16-18)
In a nutshell, fasting is to be secretive, not seen by others. Why?
The difference between fasting to be recognized by others and fasting in secret is the source of renewal. Am I seeking to be renewed by my efforts or by Christ? If I fast in order to be seen, I’m putting confidence in my own efforts to renew myself. “Look at me! Look at what I can do! I am disciplined! I am holy…”
If I fast in secret, I allow the self-denial to humble and weaken my self-reliance in order to lean more on Christ. I am not the focus. Jesus is.
This gives us a window into understanding the difference between the gospel-empowered way to observe Lent and an anti-gospel way to observe the season. If I practice self-denial during these six weeks because I rely on my efforts to deepen my spiritual life, grow in holiness, and better myself, I am on the anti-gospel path. There is no focus on Christ, trusting in Christ, hoping in Christ on this path. The self-denial becomes a self-reliance.
The gospel-empowered way to observe Lent sets our gaze on Christ. The practices of self-denial direct our hearts from focusing on self to focusing on Christ. Christ is the only source of renewal, healing, growth, and hope.
The parable in Luke 18 about the Pharisee and tax collector praying at the temple provides another example of the difference between self-reliance and self-denial:
"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." (v. 9-14)
Regardless of how you observe Lent, may you rely on and delight in Christ more and more.