SHOULD CHRISTIANS OBSERVE LENT? IS LENTEN SEASON A BIBLICAL PRACTICE?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Should we as Christians participate in Lent? Firstly, we need to define what “Lent” is, and then we need to search the Scriptures to see whether or not such an activity is taught in the Bible. As always, my goal is not to attack or condemn anyone, but to share God’s Word with you and let you come to your own conclusions about what God would have you to do. We should not blindly perform rituals simply because some religious group instructs us to do them. Compare it with the Scriptures and see what God says about the matter!
Interestingly, when the Catholic Encyclopedia speaks of Lent, it says regarding its origin: “Some of the Fathers as early as the fifth century supported the view that this forty days’ fast was of Apostolic institution. For example, St. Leo (d. 461) exhorts his hearers to abstain that they may “fulfill with their fasts the Apostolic institution of the forty days” — ut apostolica institutio quadraginta dierum jejuniis impleatur (P.L., LIV, 633), and the historian Socrates (d. 433) and St. Jerome (d. 420) use similar language (P.G., LXVII, 633; P.L., XXII, 475). But the best modern scholars are almost unanimous in rejecting this view, for in the existing remains of the first three centuries we find both considerable diversity of practice regarding the fast before Easter and also a gradual process of development in the matter of its duration. There Irenaeus says that there is not only a controversy about the time of keeping Easter but also regarding the preliminary fast. “For”, he continues, “some think they ought to fast for one day, others for two days, and others even for several, while others reckon forty hours both of day and night to their fast”. He also urges that this variety of usage is of ancient date, which implies that there could have been no Apostolic tradition on the subject. We may then fairly conclude that Irenaeus about the year 190 knew nothing of any Easter fast of forty days.” (Bold emphasis mine.)
Pay close attention to the above quote. Saint Irenaeus, a prominent church father, “knew nothing of any Easter fast of forty days.” Irenaeus, living nearly a century after the apostles, had never heard of a 40-day-long Lenten season. This practice developed later. Catholic authorities freely confess that they do not know if Jesus Christ’s apostles instituted a 40-day Lent—a 40-day Lent may not be a practice of Saints Peter, Paul, John, James, and so on. If Jesus’ apostles did not practice it, can we rightly call it “Christianity?”
Quote from a Roman Catholic priest regarding Lent: “Through prayer, repentance, and sacrifice, this time of year allows a Christian to more clearly reflect on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. During Lent, many Christians choose to abstain from certain items or activities.”
What does Scripture say about this? Do these religious rituals really help us reflect on Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection? Or, are they simply “traditions of men” as Paul called it in Colossians 2:8 designed to have us boast in ourselves and what we can do in the flesh? According to 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, remembrance of what Christ did for us is found in the Lord’s Supper, when we gather together with fellow saints to eat and discuss sound Bible doctrine, especially our life in Christ as made possible through Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. According to Saint Paul, the author of 1 Corinthians, remembrance of the finished crosswork of Jesus Christ is not found in prayer, repentance, and sacrifice. We do not remember what Jesus did for us by doing things for Jesus—that is how we remember what “good” things we do for Him! We remember what Jesus did for us by studying God’s Word, the King James Bible. Then, we reflect on what we read, for what we read in the Bible tells us all about God’s love for us in that He sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins. Jesus Christ came to pay for our sins, which no amount of good works could ever accomplish. Saint Paul wrote, “Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things” (2 Timothy 2:7). The emphasis is on the Bible, not religious duty (ceremonies, rites, rituals, et cetera).
To try to keep a set of rules and regulations in order to make ourselves acceptable before God, as with the case of the Lenten Season, is what Saint Paul openly rejected as wickedness and ungodliness. He wrote (New American Catholic Bible), “ Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on their behalf is for salvation.  I testify with regard to them that they have zeal for God, but it is not discerning.  For, in their unawareness of the righteousness that comes from God and their attempt to establish their own (righteousness), they did not submit to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:1-3). (Bold emphasis mine.)
For our Protestant readers, the King James Bible reads like this in Romans 10:1-3: “ Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.  For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.  For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” (Bold emphasis mine.)
Notice how Saint Paul said the nation Israel ignored Jesus Christ’s righteousness displayed at Calvary, and they attempted to counterfeit it when they performed religious rites and rituals. They placed more emphasis on what they could do for God in religion (a form/appearance of godliness), than what God had done for them through Jesus Christ! They thought they could please God, but despite their “good” works, they could not please God. They were sinners, lost and going to hell, having not understood that God only accepts what Jesus Christ does, not what sinful man does. God the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”” (Matthew 3:17 New American Catholic Bible). “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 King James Bible). Works-religion is never enough because we can never perform perfectly.
The New American (Catholic) Bible says: “ Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the last times some will turn away from the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and demonic instructions  through the hypocrisy of liars with branded consciences.  They forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected when received with thanksgiving,  for it is made holy by the invocation of God in prayer.” According to Saint Paul, abstaining from foods and marriage for religious purposes are “demonic instructions!” Lenten practices, according to Saint Paul, is not how one draws closer to God, but how one draws further away from His truth. Lent, says Saint Paul, is how we fall into Satanic deception!
The New American Catholic Bible has the following footnote at 1 Timothy 4:1-5: “[1-5] Doctrinal deviations from the true Christian message within the church have been prophesied, though the origin of the prophecy is not specified (1 Tim 4:1-2); cf Acts 20:29-30. The letter warns against a false asceticism that prohibits marriage and regards certain foods as forbidden, though they are part of God’s good creation (1 Tim 4:3).” If this is not descriptive and denouncing of Lenten practices, I do not know what is!
For our Protestant readers, the King James Bible reads like this in 1 Timothy 4:1-5: “ Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;  Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;  Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.  For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:  For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”
Not only is Lent connected with the pagan festival Mardi Gras, and completely un-Christian (pagan), Lent is an example of works-religion, something that God’s grace is completely against. Here are a few things people are instructed to do during Lent: give up some type of food or activity, doing good deeds, praying, treating others like Jesus treated them, obeying Matthew chapters 5-7 (by the way, this was spoken to the Jews, not us Gentiles, according to Saint Matthew 15:24, Saint John 4:22, and Saint Paul in Romans 15:8.
As long as you are faithful for those 40 days of Lent, living a “holy” life, religion says that once the Lenten Season expires, you can return to the shameful activities you gave up! Some dear souls give up alcoholic beverages and/or cigarettes for forty days, and then go right back to drinking and smoking once Lenten season is over. The next year, they give up those bad habits for another Lenten Season, and then return to them yet again. This is using grace as a license to sin, and the Bible teaches that this should not be so!
Engaging in the activity of self-denial (giving something up) for 40 days is nothing godly or noble, for you are only doing that one-tenth of the year. Of the 365 days in a year, you only reserve 40 for holy living? That makes no sense. The Bible says the Christian’s life should honor God all year round, not just during Lent! How does relinquishing bad habits and living a “holy” life for 40 days bring you closer to God? Saint Paul wrote that if have you have never trusted Jesus Christ alone as your personal Saviour, you are still dead in your sins, and you cannot fellowship with God, not matter how “religious” you are or appear to be.
The New American (Catholic) Bible says: “ You were dead in your transgressions and sins 3  in which you once lived following the age of this world, 4 following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the disobedient.  All of us once lived among them in the desires of our flesh, following the wishes of the flesh and the impulses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest.  But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us,  even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ 5 (by grace you have been saved),  raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus,  that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;  it is not from works, so no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:1-9).
For our Protestant readers, the King James Bible reads like this in Ephesians 2:1-9: “ And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;  Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:  Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.  But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,  Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)  And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:  That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.  For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
“Good” works are of no value if you are lost and going to hell. The only truly GOOD works is what Jesus Christ did for you at Calvary, and what He will do in and through you when you trust Him and His Word to you, Saint Paul’s epistles of Romans through Philemon. Furthermore, suppose you dedicated yourself to prayer and Christian service all year-round, not just 40 days. How much more glory could be given to the Lord’s name? Why limit “holy” living to a mere 40 days out of the year?
A Roman Catholic parishioner commented, “[Lent] is when we have to start being good.” After sinning all day on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), the “faithful” are urged to come to church for Ash Wednesday, to show they are sorry for their sins (as evidenced by ashes placed on the forehead), and to show they will give up a certain sinful activity for the next 40 days so they may be “holy” for Easter Sunday, that they may mimick Jesus Christ’s life. The cycle of sin and “giving it up” is repeated year after year after year, every Lenten Season, and sin is returned to time and time again. This sin-management system fails over and over, for it is repeated over and over.
Saint Paul says in the New American (Catholic) Bible: “ What then shall we say? Shall we persist in sin that grace may abound? Of course not!  How can we who died to sin yet live in it?  For sin is not to have any power over you, since you are not under the law but under grace.  What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? Of course not!” (Romans 6:1-2,14-15). Saint Paul says we should not use grace as a license to sin.
For our Protestant readers, the King James Bible reads like this in Romans 6:1-2,14-15: “ What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?  For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.  What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.”
Again, Saint Paul says in the New American (Catholic) Bible: “For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love” (Galatians 5:13). For our Protestant readers, Galatians 5:13 in the King James Bible: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” Remember, Saint Paul says we should not use grace as a license to sin.
Saint Paul says in the New American (Catholic) Bible: “ If you died with Christ to the elemental powers of the world, why do you submit to regulations as if you were still living in the world?  “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”  These are all things destined to perish with use; they accord with human precepts and teachings.  While they have a semblance of wisdom in rigor of devotion and self-abasement (and) severity to the body, they are of no value against gratification of the flesh” (Colossians 2:20-23). Saint Paul condemns “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” religion, and this is exactly what Lent is—do not eat this and do not eat that, do not do this and do not do that, et cetera.
For our Protestant readers, Colossians 2:20-23 in the King James Bible: “ Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,  (Touch not; taste not; handle not;  Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?  Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.”
Saint Paul says in the New American (Catholic) Bible: “ Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness,  idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions,  occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:19-23). The Catholic Bible clearly forbids “drinking bouts,” and this is exactly what Mardi Gras “reveling” is! God’s Holy Spirit is not involved in the activities listed in Galatians 5:19-21. Saint Peter forbade “drunkenness” and “carousing” (1 Peter 4:3)—what is Mardi Gras? God’s Holy Spirit would lead us to have lives filled with the activities listed in verses 22-23 all year long, not just for 40 days during Lent.
The New American (Catholic) Bible has the following footnote at Galatians 5:19-23: “[19-23] Such lists of vices and virtues (cf Romans 1:29-31; 1 Cor 6:9-10) were common in the ancient world. Paul contrasts works of the flesh (Gal 5:19) with fruit (not “works”) of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). Not law, but the Spirit, leads to such traits.”
For our Protestant readers, Galatians 5:19-23 in the King James Bible: “ Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,  Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,  Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
Quote from a Roman Catholic bishop regarding Lent: “Lent is a time of subtracting and adding. People doing penance try to eliminate from their lives those things that are contrary to the Gospel. They try to add to their lives the virtues of the Gospel. Lent is a time of preparation for the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection at Easter.” The bishop also urged his readers to follow the three “penitential practices”—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—of Matthew chapter 6. He added, “In this season of Lent, may Christ help us to conform our lives more closely to his.” Works-religion is “a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear” (Saint Peter in Acts 15:10 in the Catholic Bible) and “weak and destitute elemental powers” (Saint Paul in Galatians 4:9 in the Catholic Bible). Contrary to the bishop’s comments, a sin-management system will help no sinner, for no sinner can ever quit sinning, and no sinner can ever make himself acceptable to God.
Contrary to popular belief, a Christian cannot grow “closer to God” because the relationship between us Christians and the Lord is based not on our performance, but relies upon Christ’s faithfulness toward us. Our performance is not the issue; Jesus Christ’s performance in and through us is what matters, for Jesus Christ alone can live His life. We cannot live the Christian life because we are not perfect. God is faithful, not us.
Notice what Saint Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:7-9 in the New American (Catholic) Bible: “ so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus (Christ).  God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” For our Protestant readers, 1 Corinthians 1:7-9 in the King James Bible: “ So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:  Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Saint Paul says in the New American (Catholic) Bible in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24: “ May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.” For our Protestant readers, 1 Thessalonians 5:23 in the King James Bible: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.”
Notice what Saint Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:13 in the New American (Catholic) Bible: “If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” For our Protestant readers, 2 Timothy 2:13 in the King James Bible: “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.”
Again, the emphasis is on God’s faithfulness, not our faithfulness. A believer can grow in knowledge and wisdom of God’s Word to him, which is what Paul prayed for his Gentile converts in Ephesians 1:18-23, Ephesians 3:14-21, Philippians 1:9-11, and Colossians 1:9-11, but you as a believer cannot come closer to God than you already are in Christ! “God hath accepted us in the beloved [Jesus Christ]” (Ephesians 1:6) Works-religion does not have the power of God, but the gospel of grace is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18)!
In order to justify the observance of Lent, religious people will oftentimes quote “work out your own salvation” from Philippians 2:12 or tell us that Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2; Luke 4:2). In the context, Philippians 2:13 has nothing to do with fasting, penance, prayer, or almsgiving—it is talking about pride (verses 1-8). These believers in Philippi were not working for their salvation, neither were they trying to merit favor with God. This “working out of their own salvation” was simply God’s grace transforming their Christian lives for His glory. It was not something they were doing; it was something God was doing in them.
Quote from the previous Catholic priest: “A small sacrifice helps us understand a little better what Christ did for us.”
No matter how big or small our sacrifice, what we do will never, ever be worthy to be compared to what Christ did on our behalf, and how blasphemous it is to insinuate what the priest did! How dare some mortal man thinks his menial sacrifices will come even close to Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of His life! How dare people force works-religion on us, and they use the Bible to do it, too. Just because Jesus fasted forty days in the wilderness does not mean you have to do the same (Jesus was physically circumcised, so would you care to follow Jesus in this activity too?).
Friend, please listen, you are placing your own deeds above what Christ already did for you. Jesus Christ already demonstrated His love for you and His grace toward you, so why will you ignore that and go on through with vain works-religion? Why try to please God with your sacrifices and self-denial, when God says you are a sinner, unworthy of His heaven, and that God offers to save you by grace (despite your sinfulness)? For those of us who are already saved by trusting Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork as sufficient payment for our sins, let us let Him live His life in and through us, and may we not attempt to live the life that only Jesus Christ can live in and through us. You cannot do something to get God’s merit, for as a sinner, you have fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). That is why God must deal with you in His grace—His grace enables Him to do for you when you do not deserve it.
“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Paul never mentioned that God’s Word would work in us 40 days out of the year; God’s Word works year-round in the believer’s heart! You should be bringing glory and honor to the Lord all 365 days out of the year (366 for leap years!).
Now, look at one final passage, which we examined earlier. “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
Saint Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 in the New American Catholic Bible: “ May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.”
According to Saint Paul, what will God do? Sanctify you wholly, and preserve you as blameless, as the Bible says. You do not have to perform rituals to be close to God. You simply have to place your faith in His Son Jesus Christ, and His finished work on Calvary as sufficient payment for your sins, and God will save you forever.
I gave up Lent for Lent! Will you, by faith, do the same?
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