If you are like me, trying to lead your family well, then on occasion questions arise about certain “religious practices.” Every year about this time I wonder why so many Protestants begin to practice Lent. Lent clutters the pages of Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. At first, I get frustrated…am I the only Protestant left in the room? Then, I feel guilty thinking they are more spiritual than I. If you have ever had these feeling, then this post is for you.
I am trying to write this in a positive manner because no one likes the guy who is against everything. So instead of being against Lent, I write on why I have freedom from Lent. You could call it a “guilt free Lent trap.”
First things first…what is Lent? Lent is a 40 day time of penitence and prayer from Ash Wednesday until Easter. It became forty days in the seventh century to coincide with Christ fasting 40 days in the desert. For devout Catholics, it involves penitential works like abstinence, fasting, prayer and charitable works.
So why would I want to avoid it then? Well here is why.
1. I am protestant and not Catholic. Okay, I know this sounds snarky, but it’s true. There are differences–big ones. Protestants believe in the Bible as the only authoritative source. I have no obligation to obey the Pope or Roman Catholic Church tradition. No need to re-open the door that Luther nailed the 95 theses to. I do not believe that tradition equals Scripture, and I have freedom from following the sacraments to earn my own salvation because salvation comes only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. My hope rests not in works but in justification through the substitutionary atonement of Jesus.
2. I am free in Christ from the bondage of the law. Many passages discuss the attempt to lay legalistic rules on top of salvation by grace. We often critique preaching which merely moralizes instead of offering the grace of the cross. I have freedom from Lent because the grace of Christ is sufficient. His “once for all” sacrifice on the cross paid the entire price. “It is finished,” He cried, and I cannot add anything to what Jesus has already accomplished. Consider Col 2:20-23 on the matter.
Col. 2:20 “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations–“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)–according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
I have no desire to undermine the incredible grace of the cross by adding man-made religious exercises to it.
3. I don’t need to tell anyone when I am fasting. Some really use Lent as a way to fast. Nothing wrong with that as the Bible encourages fasting. When we fast, we give up temporal items like food to focus on matters of eternal importance like prayer. Yet sometimes we forget that when we fast, it should not be apparent to others. So if you practice Lent as a spiritual fast, then keep it a secret and earn a greater reward. Consider Matt 6:16-18:
Matt. 6:16-18: “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.”
Perhaps in today’s technological society we could say, “don’t tweet, blog, or Facebook about your fast.” Keep it a private matter known only to the Father who will reward you.
For a Protestant, the word pronounced “lint” should first bring to mind something you empty from your dryer after a cycle of clothes or what you find in the bottom of your pocket when digging for that last cough drop. Perhaps, after some thought, you might think of the freedom you have from human traditions like Lent.
Let me know what you think–Lent free or not and is it a big deal or just my personal pet peeve?
 T.J. German, “Lent” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 629.