We are now one day into the Lenton Season. I wrote yesterday briefly on the history and overview of the fast and its prevalent, and relatively new intermingling of adherence amongst denominations. I crossed paths with people who had ash on their foreheads yesterday, and heard many declarations from friends around the world about their personal vice which they were sacrificing this season. The Pope himself spoke out on the topic, stating that fasting alone is not enough but it must be by nature benevolent to the needy. And while I agree with him, that Jesus has commanded us to take care of one another both within the body and also to serve the poor in our community and around the world, I whole-heartedly disagree with him and unashamedly proclaim that our personal Spiritual disciplines should be preformed unto the glory of God alone, and the Biblical teaching on fasting is choosing to abstain from food in order to devote the time spent on meal preparation and eating in prayer, and to depend on God for sustenance, all while growing closer to Him personally. Jesus Himself interacted with and served no one except God during His forty days of fasting, and we cannot and must not overlook that fact.
The traditional teaching on Lent, however, sums up the vast teaching of the Catholic church and erroneously (heretically) teaches followers that they can gain merit with God. The truth of the Gospel is simple: There is none righteous and all of our righteousness is worthless before God (Rom 3.10, Is 64.6). We have all sinned, and because of that sin we all deserve to spend eternity in Hell (Rom 3.23, Rom 6.23). But Jesus came to the Earth and lived a perfect life, but was murdered and sent to Hell in our place (Rom 5.8). After three days He rose back to life, defeating death and having paid our penalty can offer us forgiveness for our sins (1 Cor 15.55-57). We cannot earn His forgiveness, in fact if we try we actually diminish the gift! It is free grace alone (Eph 2.8-9). Therefore, if a person sins and confesses that sin to a priest, and the priest prescribes a way to atone the sin (pray so many “Hail Marys”, serve penance, etc.), this is not only a slap in the face to Jesus’ sacrifice, but also heresy because it adds to the Gospel. Paul teaches us that no one can add to the Gospel, not even the Pope:
“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”
– Gal 1.6-9
Lent can be kept with a God-honoring heart and motivation, or it can be kept under a false pretense of earning merit with God. Choosing to abstain from a vice of disposition, however, is not the call of Jesus. When Jesus called Matthew, the tax collector, He did not implore him to simply give up his greed or pay back the money he had stolen. He demanded his life. Matthew quit his job, left the comfort of home, and followed Jesus with everything he had. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, He did not simply ask them to change their vocation from fishermen, He called them to die to themselves. Bonhoeffer says it like this:
“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Jesus is not pleased if we simply give up one sin, one distraction or one time-sucker. He wants our lives. He wants our hearts. He wants everything. In fact, He said plainly,
– Matt 6.24
Jesus must be our master, our Lord, our authority in every aspect of life: our work, our free time, our familial relationships, our service, everything. If He is not, then we are serving another master and not Him. Because of this level of devotion and calling, John teaches us:
“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”
– 1 John 2.15-17
Evangelist Bill Piper echoes the sentiment:
“Every Christian who indulges in the sinful pleasures of this world is a compromiser and a stumbling-block. No dancing, theater-going, card-playing, gambling Christian can hope to be a soul winner or have a testimony for God. If men see this world in you, you will never point them to the next.”
– Bill Piper
Now, obviously his sins of choice might cause you pause as a renown fundamentalist, but his point is convicting: if we love the world as Christians, we are at best compromisers and stumbling blocks who cannot point others to Heaven because we are consumed with this world. At worst, Jesus says, we are not Christians.
So the call is simple, and the call is clear. If you are feeling convicted to give up an aspect of your life that is not glorifying to God this Lenton Season, then by all means give it up! But die to it fully, not only for forty days. If you are feeling called to devote yourself to prayer or service to the glory of God, then serve Him with everything you have. If, however, you have been deceived to believe that by fasting from facebook or giving extra money to the local homeless shelter that you are earning favor with God, hear me clearly: God does not want your money or your good deeds. He wants your heart. And He wants your full heart. There is nothing that you or I can do to catch God’s attention or work our way into His good graces. He has already done it all by offering His son to pay our punishment for sin, and all we need to do is repent of our sins and believe. He wants way more than your facebook. He wants your everything.