Lent is a period of forty days before Easter which is used for fasting and repentance. It’s a time spent focusing on Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. It is largely practiced by the Catholic Church starting on Ash Wednesday. Today, it is considered a period of preparation for Easter.
Should Christians observe lent? Christians can observe lent, but they are not required to in any way. Lent is a time of preparation before Easter, so Christians are encouraged to participate and prepare their hearts. Some Christians do not celebrate Lent because they believe it is focused on legalism.
I’ll go over what Lent is biblically and historically so that we can understand the reasons why you should or should not observe Lent.
What is Lent?
Lent happens during the forty-days leading up to Easter. It starts on ash Wednesday where ash is placed on the person’s forehead to show they are fasting. Observing Lent is widely practiced and required in the Catholic church.
Today we see few other churches who practice it as traditionally. There are forty days in Lent that lead up to Easter to reflect Jesus who fasted in the desert for forty days.
Lent is a time to give up what is distracting and focus on God. This happens through fasting something specific.
In the Catholic church, they do not eat meat during Lent and fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Repentance is a big part of the Lent tradition as people take time throughout the forty-days to see what sin is in their life and can go about removing it.
Since Lent leads up to Easter, focusing and meditating on Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross is important during this time.
Meditating on Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross could include activities like reading prophecies of Jesus in the Old Testament, and his story of crucifixion and resurrection in the New Testament.
Biblical View on Lent
Lent was not a formal tradition until the First Council in Nicaea in 325, because of this we will not see anything in Scripture about the exact tradition of Lent. Looking in the Scripture we can see other passages that support certain practices of Lent.
Fasting is an amazing way to connect with God by denying yourself something. Fasting although not required in Scripture, but is encouraged and presented as a great tool to grow in your relationship with God.
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?Isaiah 58:6,7
Repentance is a big part of Lent and in scripture, we see many verses that encourage us to repent and ask for forgiveness.
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’Matthew 4:17
Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out,Acts 3:19
We also want to take time every year on Easter, and every day, to remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”1 Corinthians 11:24
When we take communion, this is an act of remembering Jesus and his sacrifice.
Differing Views on Lent
There is disagreement on the topic of whether to observe lent or not. Since the tradition of Lent came after the Bible times, there are not as clear instructions in Scripture about Lent.
There are some who believe strongly in Lent and see it as a sin not to observe Lent. They think of it as an indisputable tradition needed in preparation for the celebrations of Easter.
This often means following all the traditions including excluding meat from your diet, fasting on ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and representing the start of lent by putting ash on your forehead.
Some people are on the other end of the spectrum seeing Lent as a sacrilegious activity. They see the requirement of Lent as a violation of the fact that no works we do will save us. They also see those who practice it as a way of leading other Christians away from the true meaning of Easter.
Between these two views, there are those who see the benefit of Lent within the right context. Being legalistic is not the goal, instead using this time appropriately in worship to the Lord and truly helping us focus on Easter and not distract us from it.
The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.Romans 14:6
Whatever we do we want to do to the glory of God, and that may look different for different people.
Benefits of Observing Lent
If you decide to observe Lent is can be an amazing opportunity to grow closer to the Lord and focus on your spiritual life for forty-days. Lent is giving an opportunity to those in the family of faith to take time out of the year to fast from what is comfortable and focus on God.
While fasting we want to take time to look at our lives and see what sins are keeping us from pursuing God and adjust our life. We will hopefully be doing this year-round, but we can take a specific time during these forty-days to focus on this.
As mentioned before, fasting is a time to give up something in your life to focus on God. This can be food, but can also be something like social media or television. It is surprising the extra time that we have when giving up something in our lives. When we do have extra time we can now pray more and spend time serving others.
We will be able to see our spiritual disciplines strengthen throughout this period before Easter. If we truly invest ourselves in growing closer to God we will see the fruits in our life.
Cautions While Observing Lent
If we as believers do decide to participate in Lent we want to be careful this time truly is helpful in our walk with God and does not hinder us or others around us.
Ash Wednesday is often the start of Lent and it is an outward act of letting others know that you are beginning Lent. We want to be careful when doing this because in Scripture Jesus tells us that when we fast we do not want to get our reward on earth but in Heaven.
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.Matthew 6:17,18
An easy trap to fall into as we practice Lent is becoming legalistic. As Christians, we are justified by our faith in God. We can be Christians despite our past because of God’s grace. Not participating in a special time to fast and repent should not be considered a threat to our salvation.
We want to be careful of the mindset we have if we participate in Lent, one of growing closer to God, not just following the rules.
As Christians we are justified by faith, it is not because of what we do. Lent can be seen as some as a time required to fast and repent, and while these are good things we want to participate with a willing heart and be willing to act in a Christ-like way outside of these forty days. Easter is an extremely important holiday in the Christian faith and Lent can be a way to prepare for that.