The Observance of Lent

BEGINNING WITH ‘Ash Wednesday’, and continuing until Easter Sunday—which this year will be April 4—millions of professed Christians will observe what is known as ‘Lent’. The word means ‘spring fast’, and this period of time is supposedly in commemoration of the forty days during which Jesus fasted in the wilderness immediately following his baptism. Forty days of actual fasting is not possible for most people, so the observance of Lent is largely in giving up meat and perhaps also various delicacies of food, such as cake and candy; and often the practice of self-denial along other lines.

There is no scriptural authority for the observance of Lent. In this respect it is in the same category as Christmas and Easter. There is only one yearly rite scripturally enjoined upon Christians, and that is the commemoration of the death of Jesus. He instituted this memorial himself, on the night before his crucifixion, and Paul explains that as often as we observe it we show forth the Master’s death. All other special days and observances, regardless of how firmly they may have become entrenched in the customs of Christendom, and of any merit they may have, are without authority in the Word of God.

The principle, however, of self-denial as practiced in the observance of Lent is very prominently taught in the Bible, although it strikes much deeper into the life of the Christian than is generally supposed or practiced. Jesus said, “If any man will come after me [be my disciple], let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24) Many, in reading these words, have failed to notice that Jesus does not say that we should deny ourselves meat, or candy, or some trivial pleasure of life, but rather, we should deny ourselves.

What does this mean? The Greek word used by Jesus, and translated ‘deny’, is the same one the Scriptures use in relating Peter’s denial of his Master. What Peter did was to renounce the fact that he was one of Jesus’ disciples, or even that he knew him. Strong’s Concordance defines the word ‘deny’ as ‘disown’. This is a strong word, yet Jesus said that one of the terms of discipleship was that of denying, or disowning, self. This simply means the renouncing of our own wills, and the acceptance instead of the will of God to be the ruling factor in our lives.

As Christians, we also disown ourselves by recognition of the fact, as stated by Paul, that since Christ died for us we should not henceforth live unto ourselves, but unto him who died for us. (II Cor. 5:15) Paul states the same thought in other words, saying, “Ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (I Cor. 6:20) The natural desire of every human being is to be well thought of and respected by his friends and neighbors, but when we disown self in recognition of the fact that we belong to God, it becomes our chief concern to glorify him. Self might say, What will the neighbors think? But we deny the right of self to decide our course in life, so we ask, ‘What is the will of God’; ‘what will he think’; ‘what will glorify his name?’

In I Corinthians 7:23, Paul wrote, “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.” It would be quite possible to renounce self, and yet become a servant of men. We might consecrate ourselves to some special work; or to a human leader; or a denomination, or an organization. This would not be in keeping with Jesus’ requirement of self-denial; for, as he stated the matter, we are not only to renounce self and self-will, but we are also to follow him; that is, accept and humbly obey God’s will as expressed through Christ.

We see that Christian self-denial means a great deal more than temporarily giving up a few nonessential things in life which we especially enjoy. In the first place it is not a temporary measure to be practiced for a few weeks prior to Easter, or at any other special time of the year. It is a permanent dedication of ourselves to the Lord. True consecration is unto death. “Be thou faithful unto death,” Jesus promised, “and I will give thee a crown of life.”—Rev. 2:10

One who is thus dedicated to the Lord and to his service will not, however, be unmindful of his privilege of foregoing those things in life which might in any way hinder his devotion to God. We all need to be watchful along this line, lest we permit self-will to steal away time, or strength, or means, which we have disowned, by giving them to the Lord, and which should be used in his service. Jesus gives us a general description of these, referring to them as “the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches.”—Matt. 13:22

Life can easily become very complicated, and the mere matter of existing can consume practically all of our time. But when we are dedicated to the Lord, the deciding factor in all that we do will be whether or not his name will be glorified. The monastic viewpoint is that anything that is pleasant, or pleasurable to the senses, is contrary to God’s will. This is wrong. God does not expect his people to inflict punishment upon themselves. The deciding factor in each detail of a Christian’s life should not be, is it pleasant or unpleasant, but what would the Lord have us do to best glorify his name. In other words, the interests of self are set aside in a life that is fully consecrated to God; not for a day, a month or a year, but for all time—true self-denial.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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