Lent was established in the 4th century as a period of 46 days of fasting and self-denial (40 days, not counting Sundays). According to the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus Christ spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by the devil. Lent originated as a mirroring of this experience.
Lent is traditionally observed by Catholics and some Protestant denominations. It begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday. During Lent, participants eat sparingly or give up a particular food or habit. The idea is to abstain from pleasurable activities and instead use the time and energy to one’s own spiritual revival. During Lent people reserve themselves for prayer, repentance, and re-commitment leading up to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. During Lent it is common for people to give up smoking, meat, chocolate, alcohol or watching television.
As Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ, unfortunately, some often fail to spend much time grieving over their sins that caused the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is appropriate to truly appreciate the great price that Christ offered for our salvation through fasting and meditation. This meditation should lead the believers to turn away from their sins and recommit themselves to holiness.
The scriptures don’t appoint special times for fasting for Christians. And although Christians are free to fast during Lent before celebration of the Resurrection, they should not wait to fast and repent of their sins once a year but whenever they need to. Christians are to humble themselves before the Lord all through the year. And these fasting times should not be done for boasting of one’s sacrifice, earning God’s favor, or gaining the Lord’s love (John 3:16; John 15:13).
Fasting is a biblical way to prepare the soul for repentance and spiritual growth. Believers in the Old Testament fasted and repented in sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:1-3; Jeremiah 6:26; Daniel 9:3). Jesus fasted 40 days before starting His ministry (Matthew 4:2). But He taught that fasting should be done discreetly: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:16-18).
Jesus’ command to “wash your face” goes contrary to the practice of rubbing ashes on one’s face on Ash Wednesday. Also, some have come to mistakenly believe that observing Lent have some “sacramental” value. Many Catholics believe that giving something up for Lent is a way to obtain God’s favor or even atone for sins. But the Bible teaches that grace cannot be earned. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Also, Lent is associated with the carnival of Mardi Gras which is Fat Tuesday – a day before Ash Wednesday. In Mardi Gras people engage in a day of sinning before a time of dedication to God. This day is characterized by feasting, drinking and dancing. The celebration of Mardi Gras promotes the idea that you can indulge your appetites on Fat Tuesday, as long as you go to church on Ash Wednesday which is un-scriptural (Romans 13:13-14).
Fasting is a proper way to seek the Lord and learn His ways through the study of scriptures. The Lord lovingly calls His children to have a closer walk with Him. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).
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