“What is the meaning of Lent?”

Question: “What is the meaning of Lent?”

Answer: Lent is period of fasting and repentance traditionally observed by Catholics and some Protestant denominations in preparation for Easter. The length of the Lenten fast, was established in the 4th century as 40 days. During this time, participants eat sparingly, or simply give up a particular food or habit. Ash Wednesday and Lent began as a way for Catholics to remind themselves to repent of their sins in a similar manner to how people in the Old Testament repented in sackcloth, ashes, and fasting (Esther 4:1-3; Jeremiah 6:26; Daniel 9:3; Matthew 11:21).

However, over the centuries it has developed a much more “sacramental” value. Many Catholics understand giving something up for Lent as a way to gain blessing from God. The Bible does not teach that such acts have any merit with God (Isaiah 64:6). In fact, the New Testament teaches us that our acts of fasting and repentance should be done in a manner that does not attract attention to ourselves: “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; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).

Fasting is a good thing when it is done with a Biblical perspective. It is good and pleasing to God when we give up sinful habits and practices. There is absolutely nothing wrong with setting aside a time where we focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, these “practices” are things we should be doing every day of the year, not just for 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. If you feel led of the Lord to observe Lent, you are free to do so. Be sure to focus on the time as you repenting from your sins and consecrating yourself to God – not on trying to earn God’s favor or increase His love for you!

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