Keep Lent Fasting Real

By: Ron Lagerquist

“As you prepare for Lent, think of it as a time set aside to deepen your relationship with God.”

If you haven’t, read first: Lent Fasting History

The Sin-Penance Ritual

One of the oldest and most common rituals humans have practiced down through the ages is the Sin-Penance Ritual. Binge-Purge is the secular version. It has taken many forms, celebrated in diverse and sometimes strange ways, Mardi Gras followed by Lent being a perfect example, but it boils down to the same basic elements. The Sin-Penance Ritual stages a tangible tug-of-war drama between faith and guilt, the inner war between conscience and craving. If you are soft hearted, sincere, or struggle with addiction and compulsive behavior, then you know what I am talking about. 

Before I get on my spiritual high horse and judge the flagrant distortion of the true and good intention of Lent, I must confess I have my own versions of Mardi Gras. There is a tendency within all of us to create a dichotomy between our “cutting loose” and spiritual life. Examining my own personal rituals, I think it must come from a fear that if we really allow God’s Spirit to invade all of our life, we will lose freedom. But in fact the complete opposite is true. Mardi Gras is not an expression of personal freedom before engaging in a forced self-sacrifice. It cannot be so, because its aftermath always results in a profound feeling of emptiness and personal betrayal. This dissatisfaction leads us to dependence and addiction, forcing us back again and again to the same old place. This is true whether it is a whisky bottle or pornography, it is our futile attempt to try to recapture meaningfulness and a cheap imitation for joy. Repeated penance over and over for the same sin is also not freedom. It becomes increasingly hard to take ourselves seriously and it no longer has the ability to clear the guilty conscience, resulting in a callused heart and feeling of separation from God.

Any Sociologist would tell you that the Sin-Penance Ritual is a creation of the human psyche and a good bible teacher would interject that it has nothing to do with God. Religion has created rituals and traditions that can often do more harm than good. 

So is Lent just an unsalvageable and useless ritual?

Keep It Real

If you were to ask me that question ten years ago, I would have proclaimed a frothy yes! But I have learned some tough lessons over the last ten years. I can get all the rituals right, making sure their roots are clean from any pagan origins, I can sing theologically correct songs, preach bible-based messages, even pray proper prayers and still be far from God. Miles away! And then I bump into a new Christian, their bible knowledge a tithe of mine, they have yet to learn the jargon, and come from a less than creditable denomination, but have more of the Holy Spirit in their left toe than I have in my whole heart.

So what is the answer to Lent?

Romans 14 proclaims that any Ritual, even ones rooted in law, if done out of love for God, is good and noble and should not fall under any man’s judgment. 

Lent FastingI picture a nameless old lady in a distant land, preparing her heart for Lent on bended knee, tears of devotion running down her wrinkled cheeks. She thinks of her simple life with thankfulness. God is never far from her thoughts; she is in love with her Savior. She will warm the heart of God. One day the entire Universe will know her name. 

The key to break meaningless Ritual, cold Religion and vain Tradition is making our whole life a rite of love and devotion to God.

So why fast? Fasting is a wonderful period set aside to quiet our lives and renew our love for God. A honeymoon with the One we love most. Is there penance involved? There always will be, but it will be led by the Holy Spirit. Understand, you do not receive forgiveness because you have earned it through fasting, no! Through fasting, your heart is more susceptible to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I deal with this in greater depth in the article Motive Is Everything.

If our position before God is dependent on the length and personal cost of our penance, then we are all dead. Our position is dependent on Jesus’ blood, liquid grace. This is a gift from God to you in spite of your failures, past and present sin. You say to me, so I have a license to sin all I want? No, it doesn’t work that way. I will tell you a secret. As you begin to understand God's love you will not want to sin. Your desires change. You change. The Sin-Penance Ritual will be replaced with daily joy and freedom, just as the Old Covenant, with its laws and sacrifices, was replaced by the New Covenant. 

So as you prepare for Lent, think of it as a time set aside to deepen your relationship with God. Remember, God is about relationship. He wants to be near to you so He can bless you and love on you. Take these next weeks to unclutter and quiet your heart. If you have missed the Lent season, do not despair. You can call a personal Lent any time of the year!

Related Article: Lent Fasting History 

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