Should Protestants participate in Lent?
It’s Fat Tuesday and people are racing to decide what to give up for Lent. In Christian circles, I’ve seen a lot of debate over how to or who should participate in Lent. While my initial answer on this will be clear as mud, hopefully it will make sense to those in the same place I am spiritually.
The answer is yes and no.
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No, they SHOULD not. The Bible doesn’t outline Lent as a requirement of the faith. We need to be cautious in adding things to what the Bible says salvation requires.
John 20:31 ESV But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Some Christian denominations have made Lent an ostentatious ritual that secures salvation or God’s blessing in our lives. This kind of thinking is not based in scripture. The book of John alone contains so many verses explaining that our belief in Christ is all God asks of us for salvation.
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We cannot earn salvation. Nothing we do will impress God. As Romans explains, none are righteous, not one. We all have turned away from God in our sin. In John, Jesus teaches that it is through the Father’s calling that we come to Christ. God draws us to Himself.
We choose to listen and obey His calling, but we cannot earn salvation.
Romans 3:28 ESV For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Our faith justifies us. No participation in rule-following (or in Lent) justifies us. Our belief informs our actions, so our works demonstrate our faith, but do not save in and of themselves.
When we say SHOULD Protestants participate in Lent, we risk making it a requirement.
We humans do such a good job of taking the things of the Spirit and boiling them down into a set of rules and ruining them. Some things cannot be codified into a set of humanly discernible guidelines. They have to be known in the heart. We can’t always look at someone and instantly recognize their level of spiritual maturity based on an external behavior, but God sees their heart.
We are always wanting to measure our spirituality or level of good ‘Christianness’ against some external measuring tape, and too often, we run rampantly over the Gospel.
I’ve seen Christians taking good ideas and creating separation within the body of Christ. We create this mental list of things good Christians do or don’t do.
- Don’t have pagan Christmas trees, but only Jesse trees
- Attend a small or home church exclusively
- Don’t pay for cable television
- Don’t celebrate Easter, but Resurrection Day
- Participate in Lent
- Don’t do Santa or the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, etc.
- Celebrate the Jewish festivals in addition to our Christian holidays
- Learn Greek and Hebrew words for Biblical study
I’m sure the list could go on and on what “good” Christians should or should not do in our minds, but very few of these things are in scripture.
Oh wait, NONE of them are.
That’s right, we’ve taken some meaningful, deep personal convictions of some and turned them into a checklist of behaviors that were never meant to be rules! None of these are bad things. Some of them are even very good things, but they are not required things.
When we take a spiritual conviction and make it into a ritual, we make it a fleshly requirement. My daily Bible reading or devotions can become dry and dead if I see those things as a fleshly requirement of my Christian checklist instead of an spiritual opportunity to bask in the presence of God.
So, should Protestants participate in Lent?
Not necessarily, But we CAN.
Within Christ we have the freedom to do anything that honors Christ and does not detract from another’s walk.
If we approach the season of Lent as one of fasting in an effort to draw closer to God, then we have the blessed freedom to participate in Lent. Fasting can be a way to break strongholds in your life and demonstrate total surrender to Christ.
Some Christians might still see Lent as a denominational ritual, but if God is pressing into your heart to fast, go ahead and fast. Fast from fatty food. Fast from processed sugar. Even fast from television or coffee or Facebook or pizza.
Last year, I chose to give up something a little strange, but it was a powerful reminder who is ultimately in control of my life if I am taking up my cross daily.
If the purpose in your fast is to lean into Christ, to honor His sacrifice by sacrificing, then go for it! God’s word is full of scriptures telling us to fast. There are many documented spiritual and physical benefits to fasting.
But again, there is no should here. Participating in Lent should be a response to a quiet calling of the Spirit in your heart to set down something that you’ve struggled to believe you could let go, or abstaining for a season from something that has taken your focus and attention from Him.
But any fasting should be primarily between you and God.
Matthew 6:16-18 ESV “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.
God sees how we live in secret. It is there the fast draws us to Him. When we share about our fasting whether for Lent or another time, it should be for the edification of others and the glorification of the Lord, not to earn any earthly praise.
I share my fast because I love how God lays just the thing on my heart each year on Fat Tuesday what He wants from me, what lesson He has for me to learn.
My fast this year is from delivery pizza.
That may sound ridiculous, but in my heart, I am surrendering to a new call in my life.
My husband started a new job this week. He is working longer hours, later nights, and won’t be home to make dinner anymore. While I am a stay-at-home mom, I also write and work and homeschool, so I’m busy all day, everyday. And my husband loves to cook. In cooking, he can express himself and play with recipes. He is really talented!
However, I want food to magically appear on the table at 5:30. I don’t enjoy spending hours to make something that will be devoured in twenty minutes. I literally lived on Lean Cuisine the last time he was in Iraq.
But, if I can set down my selfishness and embrace this change to our family routine, joyfully do more of the cooking and meal planning, as a way of supporting my husband in this new chapter of his career. Giving up delivery pizza reflects an acceptance of my responsibility to plan our meals, even if it’s frozen pizza and salad.
And I’m embracing the role of serving God through caring for the family He has given to me. Serving others doesn’t always come naturally to me. I’m always willing to drop everything and listen, encourage, instruct, but not always make a meal.
And learning to serve others outside of my gifting and preferences has to begin in my heart and home before my ministry can truly flourish.
Should Protestants participate in Lent? If God calls you to do so, you have the beautiful freedom to decide for yourself.