Lent is a dangerous time. Traditionally speaking, it is a time of great piety, self-sacrifice, and attempts to improve upon one’s own faith. So why is it so dangerous? Certainly giving something up to make oneself better can’t be bad. Trying to do faith-based devotions more often couldn’t possibly hurt could it?
Well, no. Those things of course won’t hurt you as long as you understand exactly why you are doing them. Jesus states in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 6: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” So often we get motivated by how others see us. Even if we aren’t blatant about it, we like to share with the world that we have started a new Lenten devotional, or are giving up a vice for lent, or are not eating meat on Fridays. We think this is to be seen as virtuous in the eyes of the neighbor, and we certainly like to look like we are living our best lives as far as the neighbor knows.
When we do this, we are putting way too much value on our own piety, or to use simpler terms, our works; which most often leads to works righteousness. Further translation of this theological notion: We think that what we do is what will grant us a more favorable standing with God, and that without our participation, God will not look kindly on us.
And that is why it is a dangerous time. The moment that we start “navel-gazing” as Luther says, we stop looking to the cross where the true glory lies. We stop looking to the One who has already saved us from all our sin and iniquity. Then when we fall short or our new daily devotionals, or we have that piece of chocolate, or beef, we are thrown into anxiety because we have failed ourselves.
Now. I am not discouraging you from doing devotionals or any other faith-based practices, especially if they help clear your mind and focus on God. I am not discouraging you from setting a goal of eating less junk food (the most common thing to give up in Lent). But let your trust rest in the One who has already promised you life everlasting apart from your works, apart from the Law. Know that Christ died on the cross not so that you may be FREE to serve your neighbor and live your life knowing that God has already called you His own. Christ has forgiven you of your sins and your iniquities will be remembered no more.
This is most certainly true.
Pastor Maxwell Whitehead