Yesterday was Mardi Gras, 2015. While it came and went for many of us without notice, it was celebrated in all its glory in New Orleans and many societies around the world in a manner we can all describe and know.
It originated as a day of self examination and repentance. A few hundred years after Jesus returned to Heaven, Christians began practicing forty days of fasting before Easter, to examine their lives and repent of any sin that was present, following the example of Jesus fasting in the wilderness for forty days. Taking into account the six Sundays that would stand between the Easter celebration (which were not days of fasting), they came to note “Ash Wednesday” as the marker for the beginning of the fasting season. Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday, was an opportunity for the believer to consider the changes that needed to be made in his life, and eat one last fatty, heavy meal before the season of fasting and repentance began the next day. It was a feast, celebrating “Three Kings Day” , or the Epiphany, which celebrated the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Over the years, it has been greatly distorted and abused, culminating in its current form of debauchery. Here in Denver last night, I saw a neon sign on the side of the road that read “Beads for boobies”, and we are familiar with the traditions. I am pretty confident that celebrating Jesus’ incarnation and self examination of sin is not best exemplified by drunkenness, exhibition and partying.
So what does our current state of “celebrating” Mardi Gras say about us? I fear it exemplifies a lack of understanding about grace. There are many protestant denominations that claim a doctrine loosely defined as “Once Saved, Always Saved”. This is an elementary explanation of the doctrine of Justification. Justification is that exchange that happened when Jesus took our guilt and punishment on the cross, and we take his standing of righteous. It is erroneously defined as “just as if I’d never sinned” by many – but the heart of the understanding is correct: We can now stand before God righteous, holy, clean and acceptable. It is not “just as if I’d never sinned” because Jesus paid the penalty. The punishment was not wiped away, the guilt was not overlooked, it was dynamically judged on the person of Jesus. But the exchange of our guilt for Jesus’ righteousness is what happens. The doctrine of “once saved always saved” looks at that exchange and argues that Jesus cannot un-pay our debt of punishment. Once the debt has been paid, we are found pure in Jesus. Once we are given Spiritual life by repenting, we are Spiritually alive – we cannot be unborn.
And while these things are true and taught throughout the New Testament, they are not a license to sin.
“Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.”
– 1 Peter 2.16
“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
– Gal 5.13
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?”
– Rom 6.1-3
These types of verses had to be written because people misunderstood (and still misunderstand) grace. Because Jesus has paid our penalty, we should stop sinning. Why? Because every time we sin we essentially put Jesus back on the cross. And if we understand from what we have been saved and if we love Jesus and praise Him for what He did, we will never want to dishonor Him and put Him back on the cross (Heb 6.6).
But Mardi Gras shows that we think little of sin, that we consider ourselves good enough, and that God – if He even exists – will accept us just how we are. It shows that a season of fasting and focusing on God is actually a chore and a burden, so we are going to take a night (or a few days in some places) to binge on worldly pleasures and make ourselves feel good. We are Spiritually anorexic. We binge and purge on sin, hoping that we will be skinny and beautiful while still getting to enjoy those things that we like the most.
Please, consider the origins of the debauchery we now call a “Christian holiday”. Do not consider it an opportunity for the flesh, but examine yourself today to see if there be any unrepented sin in your life. And on this Ash Wednesday, remember the call of the season:
“Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
(Roman Missal: Ash Wednesday)