Truth Matters Newsletters – March 2012 – Vol. 16 Issue 4 – What Did You Give Up For Lent? Copyright © 2012 Robert S. Liichow
Discernment Ministries International
What Did You Give Up For Lent?
By Rev. Robert S. Liichow
Since becoming a Lutheran some years back the question comes up annually in discussions regarding what is going to be given up for Lent this year. In my prior years as an evangelical believer we never gave anything up for Lent, for that matter “Lent” itself was somewhat of a mystery and generally viewed through a somewhat jaundiced eye as being something Roman Catholics did, not us Protestants.
What I knew of the Lenten “season” was that it began on “Fat Tuesday” and sort of ended on Resurrection Sunday called Easter, which was set apart by its sunrise service and hidden eggs. The forty days between these tow “bookends” were the same as any other days lending up to spring. However, since becoming a confessionally high church liturgical Lutheran my eyes are being opened ot the deep significance of the entire Lenten season.
Lent is a time of sorrow over sin, repentance, contemplation on our Lord’s sufferings for our sake. (1) The forty day period is a journey meant to focus us on Christ, our baptism into His death and His joyous resurrection by which He has made us partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) Like just about everything else we do as Christians, the goal of this season is transformation, growing in grace until we attain the full stature of Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:13).
So, what am I giving up for Lent this year? Absolutely nothing! Why should I enter into a 40 day season of “works” and let us be clear on this point; whatever we’re giving up for 40 days is an act of our will power and is our work. I am forever set free from “working” for my salvation or trying to merit or curry favor with God. (2)
We live in a time where Lent begins globally with huge celebrations of feasting, fornication, devilment, drunkenness, revelry beginning on Fat Tuesday. Think of the scenes from New Orleans during their pre-Lent celebration, all the excess, nudity and crime or cast your vision southwards to Rio de Janeiro to their display of Sodom on parade. The next day is the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday and many of the revelers are in “church” now to start their service of works. In the minds of some people Lent is simply a time to “make-up” to God by a temporary self-denial which inevitably leads to a feeling of self-righteousness. Many people go out and live as much like the devil as they can on Tuesday and then on Wednesday say “opps I’m sorry, see I’ll prove it by my works and all will be well with my soul.” I fear some of these people mistake the grace of God for license of sin which it is not (2 Peter 3:16).
The more pious among us will openly declare their Lenten intentions such as “I am giving up smoking for Lent,” or one pastor I know gave up Macadamia nuts, some give up drinking or eating Twinkies. Whatever someone says they are giving something up for “Lent” that implies that as soon as Lent is over whatever they laid aside will be happily and eagerly picked back up. Somehow I do not think this was the intention behind the tradition of giving things “up” for Lent.
What do you really expect to gain from this temporary self-denial? If you give up something that you know is bad for you such as eating too much of certain types of foods smoking or drinking too much alcohol why start it back up? Many people give up things which are possibly morally wrong such as gambling, watching certain television programs or movies, etc. What profit is it to you to give up sinful practices (in some cases) only to take them back up in 40 days? Think of the unpleasant word picture of a dog retuning to eat its own vomit (2 Peter 2:22). God will not praise someone for “temporarily not sinning.” He desires for us to be free from sin’s grasp period, and a mere “break” from sinful behaviors is not true biblical repentance. We are called to freedom from sin and we are not to use our liberty in Christ as an occasion for the flesh. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1).
If all one is engaged in is a momentary cessation from behaviors which are believed to be displeasing to God and/or unbeneficial to ourselves, then such a person has only succeeded in deceiving themselves into thinking they have accomplished something of worth during this time. In the past I know that I have felt pretty “good” about myself at the end of a Lenten “fast,” but then feeling good about “me” has never really been much of a problem.
Others will argue that since it is a fast, whatever is stopped, will be started again. For example, if one fasts lunch, after the 40 days, they will again begin to eat lunch. In such a case I would agree. My issue with Lenten denials is that most people I have had this discussion with are giving up fleshly things, habits (some worse than others) and yes even sinful behaviors — temporarily. Why not forsake them permanently?
To me Lent begins the start of a New Year, remember that Lent precedes Christmas historically, and thus it is the perfect time to examine my walk with Christ (2 Cor. 13:5). As I look at myself honestly I do so with the following realities in mind: (1) Prov. 21:2 tells me that ALL my ways seem right to me; (2) Jer. 17:9 that the heart of man is desperately wicked and who can know it?; (3) Romans 12:3 reminds me that I am called to use sober judgment concerning myself and not to think higher of myself (a natural tendency) than I ought to. These three verses drive me to my knees and cause me to cry out for God’s mercy to enable me to truly see myself.
In and of myself I cannot come to an accurate assessment of myself (John 15:5) no matter how sincerely I may try. What then is the solution? At the beginning of Lent I go before our Lord in humility seeking His face and asking for His mercy to “show to the house the house” (Eze. 43:10). He responds with the Word of His Law, and in the light of His Word He opens my eyes through my ears (Romans 10:17) and shows me a little more of myself. His light exposes my darkness and I am again driven to my knees clinging to the hem of my Master’s garment saying “Lord have mercy on e a sinner.” (Luke 5:8)
His mercy comes to my rescue through the sweetness of the Gospel proclaimed to my burdened soul and the burden is lifted. His grace flows into my core “in, with, and under” the bread and wine as I kneel at His altar more frequently during this time. Thus Lent is to be a season of time set aside where we should make ourselves even more open to the molding work of the Spirit’s invisible hand (Jer. 18:6) acknowledging Him as the Potter and we His clay. We allow Him to do His work by availing ourselves of the increased opportunities to pray, attend Bible studies, Mass, etc. It is through these means and these means alone. Word and sacrament that our Lord uses to transform our lives from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18).
It is with the above in mind that I approach Lent not with the idea of “what can I give up for Lent,” but “what is it in my life that is a weight or unknown sin that can be given up for Christ.” Lent should be a transformative time for us all, which is why I seek permanent change, not a mere temporary cessation but freedom from these issues once and for all.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Hebrews 12:1-3
As we ponder the great testimonies of the faithful departed we should be encouraged by their example to pursue righteousness as the apostle Paul admonished Timothy when he wrote “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22)
The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to lay aside every weight and the sin that so EASILY beset us. Lent is the perfect time to engage in this endeavor! It is commonly reported that it takes approximately 40 days to start a habit pattern and it is also believed that it takes about as long to break a habit pattern as well. So Lent can be a time of addition and subtraction from our lives. By God’s grace we subtract the dross (1 Cor. 3:9), He refines our silver and enriches our lives.
Every Christian’s spiritual race is encumbered by various weights and sins. What is a weight? The Greek in the text according to Louw & Nida means the following:
13.149 : that which serves to hinder or prevent someone fro doing something—’hindrance, impediment.’ . ‘set aside everything that serves as a hindrance’ He 12:1. (3)
The image is of a man running a race (see also 1 Cor. 9:24), which he is running he is carrying various weights that slow down his progress and weaken his strength to run. . . Logically when one sets something down and runs ahead, what was set down grows smaller and eventually vanishes from sight with each stride forward. Picking back up a “dropped” weight indicates to us that we have backtracked spiritually. (4), which is all a 40 day cessation is. Exactly what constitutes a weight in your life is known to you and God. Lent can be the perfect time to discern what it is in your life that hinders your race and ask God for grace to lay it (them) aside and spend the next forty days consciously forsaking that “weight” or weights with joy. Joy? Absolutely, laying down anything that hinders my walk with Christ I eagerly embrace in my inner-man (2 Cor. 4:16) even as my flesh cries out as it is starved (Romans 8:13; Col. 3:5) to death. Note also that the author writes “every” weight, not just one thing but everything that hinders our race. During Lent let us ask ourselves, “have I laid aside every weight?” The answer will be “no” if you are honest with yourself. Then ask the follow-up inquiry — why not?
Weights (5), which are not sins are to be laid aside and also “the sin” that so easily besets us. In the Greek the phase “easily besets” is translated to mean:
2343 (euperistatos), ov (on): adj 2139—LN 37.6 controlling tightly, constricting, obstructing, formally, easily distracting (Heb 12:1 +) (6)
Is there some sin that has a tight control over your life? A sin, when awakened that is so strong it demands your attention and distracts you from all else until it is satiated? Lent is the perfect time to engage in spiritual warfare against such troubling issues. Let’s face facts, you and I will never gain victory over the sins that beset our lives without the power of God. Providentially for us “Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6) and Lent is all about focusing on Christ’s redemptive work and all the events leading up to His crucifixion and bodily resurrection. Victory over besetting sin(s) is ours in Christ Jesus, and like everything else we appropriate this victory by faith (Hebrews 11:6).
How can we obtain this victory? As our texts reads, we can do so by “looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith.”
The author (See 2:10 for this word. “The pioneer of personal faith” (Moffatt). Perfecter [teleioten]. A word apparently coined by the writer from [teleioo] as it has been found nowhere else. Vulgate has consummator. (7)
The Greek for “Author” means that Jesus is the initiator, the founder of our faith in Him. Our faith is to be based in and on nothing and no one other than Jesus Christ. Anyone saved today is saved because He sovereignty drew them to Himself (John 6:44; 65; 15:16). He gave us the faith to believe. What is more the text says that He is the “finisher” or the One who brings our faith to its final conclusion, seeing Jesus face to face (1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18; 1 John 3:2). We can rest assured that the faith we now possess will be brought to its full fruition by the Alpha and Omega, our Beginning and our Ending. We will always be battling against sin in this life, but there is victory along the way and those victories always have their foundation in the work and working of Christ. This is why we are told to run with “patience.” The righteous man though he fall, Jesus picks us back up, we take a few more steps along the racecourse and fall again, and He (perfecting our faith) picks us up, wipes away our tears and off we go, it is called the Christian life.
We become victorious only by looking unto Jesus, by focusing on Him and His work for us. He despised the shame of the cross, because of the JOY set before Him. What Joy? The joy of knowing that His people would be now able to live free from sin and shame due to His death and forth coming resurrection.
During Lent we considerer what Jesus suffered at the hands of sinners, this brings true focus on the petty trials (8) we undergo. This enables us to patiently endure (Hebrews 6:12) them and thus inherit the promise.
No my friends Lent is not about half-measures or temporary spirituality, it is about true transformation which is freely offered to us in Christ, in fact it is our “re-birth” to live free and unencumbered (2 timothy 2:4) serving Christ Jesus as good soldiers. I pray this Lenten season is one of spiritual growth and development in all our lives as we continue to look unto Jesus.
Copyright © 2012 Robert S. Liichow
1. Obviously sorrow over sin, repentance, contemplation are not simply reserved for Lent, but occur daily as the need arises (which is always seems to do).
2. Works come as a result of faith, it is a “working” faith. This is totally different from working in an attempt to merit something. No rest in the completed work of Christ for you.
3. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, vol. 1, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. Of the 2nd edition (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 164
4. Backsliding spiritually is a genuine danger. Either we are progressing in our spirituality or we are regressing, there is no simply “treading” water, either we are going forward or we are going backwards.
5. Weights although not sins as a category in this instance, they can become sins if allowed to foment.
6. James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc. 1997).
7. A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), Hebrews 12:2.
8. I call them “petty” I know at the time they seem anything but minor, but let us consider Jesus surrounded daily by sinners makes our problems pale in comparison.