Orwell Bible Church

What is Lent, and Should Christians Observe it?

What is Lent?

Lent is a tradition observed by Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans, and some Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians. It is observed from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and is based on the OT practice of using ashes as signs of penitence and mourning. Centuries ago Roman Catholics who fell into serious sin became part of an “order of penitents” to prepare themselves to be reconciled with the Church in Holy Week and thus be prepared for Holy Communion. Today on Ash Wednesday ashes are sprinkled on people’s foreheads as a sign of mortality while the priest/officiant says, “dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19).

Lent’s purpose is to prepare one (through prayer, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial) for “Holy Week” that recalls Christ’s death and resurrection. This is not an optional activity for Roman Catholics: they are required to observe this, including abstaining from meat and fasting on Ash Wednesday (Code of Canon Law, 1249–1253).

Their “biblical basis” is found in Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the desert before his public ministry began. “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 138).

The Meaning of Lent. At first the Latin term for 40 (quadragesima) was used As English began to be used in Catholic sermons during the Middle Ages, the word lent was adopted. At first lent meant spring (German: Lenz, Dutch: lente). It comes from the Germanic root for long because in spring the days are longer.

Why is Lent Observed? The Roman Catholic Church says that fasting during Lent must be observed so that spiritual life is “guaranteed” in “the faithful” (Catechism, p. 493). By keeping these “holy days of obligation” Catholics “honor the mysteries of the Lord, the Virgin Mary, and the saints” (Catechism, p. 494). This is a “means of obtaining forgiveness of sins” (Catechism, p. 360).

Lent is observed to honor Mary—“In celebrating this annual cycle of the mysteries of Christ, Holy Church honors the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, with a special love. She is inseparably linked with the saving work of her Son” (Catechism, p. 303).

What Else is Observed During Lent? Lent is preceded by a festival (Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday) that gives one last opportunity for excess. The 40 days of Lent are marked by fasting from food and activities and other acts of penance. Some people give up a vice or add something that will bring them closer to God.

Did the Protestant Reformers Observe Lent? The Reformers rejected Lent, seeing it as the difference between the sacramentalism of Catholicism and the Scriptural foundation of “faith alone” (sola fide). One of the Reformers, Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), and some of his followers publicly and purposely violated the Lenten fast by eating smoked sausages.

Should Christians Observe Lent?

We must first consider what is a Christian? A Christian is a sinner who is saved solely by God’s grace through Jesus Christ, not by any human works or merit. Salvation is received by repenting from dead works and all attempts to be saved by self-righteousness, and by exclusive faith in Jesus Christ—the knowledge of, assent to, and unreserved trust in the person and work of Christ. A Christian is a believer whose salvation is evidenced by holiness and good works, not gained or maintained by such.

Lent is a Catholic rite, and its purposes are to guarantee spiritual life, honor Jesus Christ and Mary, and obtain forgiveness of sins.

The various customs associated with Lent are entirely works of self-righteousness by which one tries to get right with and closer to God. God says in Scripture, however, that works can never gain forgiveness of sins (Gal 2:16), and that such have no place in the Christian’s life (Gal 3:3). “All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isa 64:6; Phil 3:9)

Conclusion

Christians should not observe Lent – it is a distinctly Catholic ritual, believed to be essential for salvation and forgiveness of sins. Depending on your works will never bring you closer to God. Rituals are substituted for the real thing—the righteousness of Christ. Additionally, we are warned against making some days more important than others (Gal 4:9–10; Col 2:8, 16). Observing Lent in reality an exercise in hypocrisy—before and after Lent adherents can literally live like the Devil, but during Lent the same feign holiness by outward efforts of self-denial.

Here is a Bulletin Insert Version of This Article

Proverbs 9:13-18

This last talk makes clear that you must choose either wisdom and life or foolishness and death. We have heard “wisdom’s” appeal and encouragement, now we will hear what “foolishness” has to say, and what will happen to those who choose this woeful woman. Foolishness’s invitation focuses and emphasizes externals (“clamorous,” 13a). She is “simple” (and that’s not a complement!) and “knows nothing” (13b), in other words, foolishness is completely ignorant of the Lord and His ways. Foolishness sits at the door, giving the sense of one who is lazy, a slob, dirty, messy, and boorish (14). Like wisdom (3b) foolishness also is at the highest places of the city (14b); this was where people would regularly gather for worship, so foolishness sets herself up in competition to the Lord. She appeals to those who know nothing (16), offering a feast significantly different from wisdom’s, one that is stolen from others rather than laboriously prepared (17). This “talk” describes the end of those who go in after foolishness (18). Foolishness doesn’t care about the future, seeking to gratify senses and live for “now.” Because of this those who follow her end up dead and in hell. If you go this route for fun and good times you’ll end up with the exact opposition.

  1. In every situation of life you always have two choices—wisdom or foolishness. Stop and think! Ask the Lord for help and wisdom!
  2. Your choice of wisdom or foolishness depends on whether you fear the Lord or not. Do you fear the Lord?
  3. Is there such a thing as the middle of the road? Which woman—wisdom or foolishness—would say there is?
  4. In Bible times dining with others was a close, personal relationship. Who are you cultivating that kind of a relationship with, God’s wisdom or foolishness’ friends death and hell?

Proverbs 9:7-12

“Wisdom” has given her invitation (1-6) and now describes how she’s received (7-12). Those who reject her are fools and mockers who hate correction, attacking those who try to help them. Every attempt to fix a fool is fruitless (7-8a). In contrast, those who are wise grow in wisdom (8b-9) and are thankful for those who help them. The fool’s mind is closed to the Lord’s while the mind of the wise is open to Him. If you’ve ever tried convincing someone who’s obstinately going the wrong way that they’re wrong, you’ve experienced something of this! The fundamental, root issue is if you fear the Lord (10-11). Remember, the fear of the Lord is a reverent belief in the God of the Bible, exclusively loving, obeying, and worshiping the One you will give an account to. The fear of the Lord is the “beginning of wisdom” in the sense that it is its foundation and fount, what it is based on and springs from (cf. 1:7). If you live fearing the Lord, that will positively affect your life (11). Ultimately you’re responsible for yourself (12), whether you’ll be wise and live from God’s perspective or be stubbornly foolish and reject Him.

  1. What can you learn from vv. 7-9 about the best direction to give your energies and effort?
  2. How do you respond when someone points out a problem in your life?
  3. If you don’t listen to correction, what will happen?

Proverbs 9:1-6

In these last eight chapters Solomon has had a series of “talks” with his sons. He has been teaching what wisdom looks like and emphasizing that it is a matter of life and death. These “talks” give the essential principles of wisdom that will help understand the proverbs given in the rest of the book.

This last “talk” draws things to a close, demonstrating that you must make a decision: choose either wisdom and life or foolishness and death. There are two competing ways of life: wisdom and foolishness. You must choose where you’ll “lay your head,” and be assured, wherever you make your bed, you’ll like in it!

Verses 1-16 continue the concept of wisdom speaking as a person. Her invitation describes a perfect setting and layout (1-2). She provides a large, well-built house (1) and a sumptuous feast (2). What a place to call home! What a feast to enjoy and benefit from! God’s ways are solid and lasting, truly enjoyable and satisfying!

Wisdom’s invitation is an open one (3-6). Wisdom is for those without it—the simple and ignorant (4). Wisdom gives life (5) and receiving her requires rejecting foolishness (6). You can’t go down two different paths or directions; you can’t love righteousness and wickedness. Jesus himself said you must choose one of two ways (Matt 7:13-14) and masters (Matt 6:24).

  1. What do you call “home”? Where do you go for spiritual nourishment?
  2. Do you reject what is wrong (6)? This is necessary, but not enough, you must embrace what is right!
  3. Everyone must choose whether to fear the Lord or not, to follow wisdom or foolishness. What have and will you choose?
  4. Young people are especially in view in these “talks.” They face a decision to follow the world or the Lord. Will you pray for them? Will you talk to them and urge them to follow the Lord?

Proverbs 8:32-36

“Wisdom” closes her autobiography with an admonition: “Listen to me, or else!” There are definite responsibilities with definite results, both positive (32b, 34–35) and negative (36). What you will experience (blessing and life or pain and death) match up with what you do with wisdom. As you read verses 32–34, did you “hear” the beginning of the chapter? Note especially vv. 3 and 34! Life belongs to those who listen to God’s wisdom with obedience (32), love, respect, and approval (33), and constant, expectant attention (34). To experience pain and death all you need do is ignore Wisdom, disdaining and sinning against her. You might wonder how “wisdom” can be sinned against (v. 36); remember from yesterday’s devotional that wisdom is an attribute of God. We know God by and from his attributes; he is what his attributes are. If you reject and disdain God’s wisdom, you’re rejecting and showing contempt for him, and when you sin against the Lord you wrong your own soul. Dear friend, listening to wisdom is vital for living in God’s world!

  1. God’s blessing doesn’t rest on one who merely hears his Word. What is necessary? (v. 32b; cf. Matt 7:24–27)
  2. There are only two responses to God’s wisdom in his Word, obedient, loving approval or sinful, hateful disdain. How are you responding? How you live is the answer!
  3. Regular, continual, daily listening is required (vv. 32–34). Why?
  4. Why is it that if one hates the Lord he loves death (v. 36)?

Proverbs 8:22-31

8:22-31

Here “Wisdom” gives autobiographical details about herself to prove why listening to her is vital for living in God’s world, pointing out that God used wisdom to create everything (vv. 22–31). First, she says, “Listen to me, because I’ve been around forever,” (vv. 22–26). Wisdom has existed before anything existed: earth, depths, foundations, mountains, hills, fields, dust, the stars and planets in the heavens, the clouds, and seas. The reason wisdom is eternal is because wisdom is an attribute of God—he is all-wise (Rom 11:33). Think about this: God knows exactly the right way to use his infinite knowledge. He never has been “stumped,” nor has he ever said “oops.” Second, “Wisdom” says, “When it comes to living life, listen to me, as I was essential to the creation of everything,” (vv. 27–31). Everything God created was perfect and exactly as he thought it should be. Thus, at the end of God’s creative work the assessment was that “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen 1:31). Since God’s wisdom was essential to his creative work, you must have God’s wisdom to correctly live in God’s creation. No one knows life in this world better than the Creator!

  1. Have you ever listened to a symphony? Most orchestras have 50–100 members. You might know a little about music, but could you correctly and skillfully apply that knowledge for dozens of players so that the music is beautiful and harmonious? Now, think about everything in creation!
  2. What should you think about the God who “orchestrated” creation?
  3. How should you respond to the “sheet music” God has given for living life as it should be (the Bible)?
  4. What happens when you don’t follow the “sheet music” God has given? How serious can the consequences be?
  5. How does a musician improve? Practice, practice, practice! The more you listen to the Lord, the more skillful you’ll live life. What kind of effort are you devoting to that?

Proverbs 8:12-21

“Wisdom” continues her autobiography detailing why listening to her is vital for living in God’s world by specifying why she is essential to everyday life, detailing her character (12-14), effect (15-16), and blessings (17-21). What does “Wisdom” say about her character? Only God’s wisdom can help you make sensible, level-headed, carefully considered decisions in everyday life (v. 12, “prudence, knowledge, discretion”). Only wisdom teaches “the fear of the Lord” that results in a right attitude and action toward sin and wickedness (v. 13). You will loathe evil when you live in awe of God. What does “Wisdom” say about her effects (15-16)? Wisdom is the correct, skillful application of God’s truth to life. Everyone needs this, but those making decisions affecting many others (“kings, rulers, princes, nobles, judges”) have more detailed and complex issues than a store clerk or garbage man. The point here is that God’s wisdom effectively helps every believer fulfill their roles and responsibilities in a Christ-like manner. What does “Wisdom” say about her blessings (17-21)? When you live by the fear of the Lord in this world, generally speaking you’ll enjoy many good things in this life. This was particularly so when the Mosaic Covenant was in effect, as Israelites enjoyed definite material blessings when they obeyed the Law (cf. Deut 28:1–14). The blessings listed in Prov 8:18–21 are so because of wisdom’s character (v. 20). Listening to God is vital for living in God’s world!

  1. Is the Bible your ready and regular “go-to” for the “how-to’s” of life?
  2. Do you hate evil (v. 13)? If you don’t feel revulsion about sin, what does that say about the level of your fear of the Lord?
  3. Your needed resource for life is found with Christ, in the fear of the Lord. He can help you in every circumstance and situation.
  4. Where does the world say to look to enjoy life? Where does the Lord say to look (v. 20)? Whom will and do you believe?
  5. Do you love the Lord (v. 21)? What’s the difference between being an acquaintance and in love?

Proverbs 8:1-11

In this talk wisdom speaks as if it were a person (this is called “personification”). “Wisdom” doesn’t tell us everything about her, just her key, important characteristics and how vital she is to living life by the fear of the Lord. This talk says that heeding God’s wisdom is vital for living in God’s world. “Wisdom” gives a bit of autobiography, insisting that life must be lived from her viewpoint. In other words, you must live from God’s viewpoint. She first says “Everyone, listen to me!” (vv. 1-5). No matter who you are or where you are in life, you must listen to wisdom, especially when you face different paths to take (2b). Wisdom is for everyone, even (especially!) for the simpleton (vv. 4-5). It can be known and understood, it’s not just for “smart” people. No one has any excuse. Second, “Wisdom” says “Here’s why you should listen to me!” (vv. 6-11) Wisdom’s pure, free-from-error character is described in vv. 6-8. Can this be said of anything or anyone in this world? No!  What is required to find wisdom? You must work hard to understand and find it (9), and value it more than anything in this world (10-11). If you have wisdom but not wealth you have everything, but if you have wealth but not wisdom you have nothing (cp. Mark 8:34-37). That is what God says, but the world says the opposite. Whom will you believe?

  1. Why do so many professing Christians not devote themselves to seeking and finding Christ’s wisdom? Is the problem with God? With the availability of wisdom?
  2. Gaining God’s wisdom requires faith in Jesus Christ, searching the Scriptures, and praying in faith for it. No money is needed! What specific actions are you taking to find it?
  3. Compare the character of wisdom’s words (7-9) with the world’s wisdom through books, music, videos, etc. Which do you know more of? How will that affect your outlook on life?
  4. What is the end result of a life characterized by wickedness? Of righteousness? What role does wisdom have in this?
  5. Is wealth truly essential for life, along the lines of air, food, shelter, and clothing?

Proverbs 7:24-27

This “talk” has emphasized loving the truths of heaven to resist lying lusts that lead to hell. You’ve heard that God’s protection from immorality is faithfully obeying God’s Word (1–5) and seen the foolishness of immorality in a tragic illustration (6–23). You must guard your heart and mind from the temptations to immorality (24–25a). You must mentally keep away from immorality. You must guard the steps of your life from going to the places where immorality presents itself (25b). Literally keep away from immorality. You must take the long look—seeing where immorality leads, death and hell (26–27). It looks good on the surface but underneath there is an evil, life-taking monster (26). Immorality’s home is all decked out, appealing in every way (16–17) but it is the doorway to death and hell (27). The only way you’ll see it for what it really is if you fear the Lord, reverently believing in the God of the Bible, exclusively loving, obeying, and worshiping the One you will give an account to.

1. Why doesn’t immorality show its true colors?
2. Sexual immorality is a lie, promising life and excitement that it never delivers on. What will it do to your soul? To your marriage and family?
3. What practically can you do to mentally keep away from immorality?
4. What practically can you do to literally keep away from immorality?

Proverbs 7:6-23

When it comes to sexual immorality, biblical wisdom commands you to love the truths of heaven to resist lying lusts that lead to hell (7:1–27). Faithfully obeying God’s Word (1–5) protects you from the foolishness of immorality (6–23). Sometimes a clear example is needed, so one is provided here, first by describing a foolish young person (6–9). (Remember that in the Bible a “fool” is an unbeliever, who doesn’t fear the Lord.) This person is with the wrong people (7a “among the simple”), doesn’t have godly wisdom (7b), rushes toward instead of away from evil (8), and wanders aimlessly at a time and around a location he shouldn’t be at (9). Next, the immoral person is described (10–20). This person is “dressed to kill,” her appearance matches her heart (10). There isn’t a smidgen of godly character or lifestyle (11–12), and has a hardened, won’t-take-no-for-an-answer pursuit of immorality (13–20). This pursuit uses shock treatment (13), hypocritical religious talk to soothe the conscience (14), flattery (15, “you” 3x), enticing, sensual appeal (16–18), and assurances that no one will know or find out (19–20). The last part of this illustration describes the foolish youth’s fall (21–23). He yields to the flattery, deceit, and seduction (21). He doesn’t think, ignores the danger, and lives in the moment (22). He is completely ignorant of any danger until its too late (23). What a sad, tragic, yet all too common tale. It is so common that this is something seen “from the window of my house.”

1. What the world calls “love” (18) is really lust. Matthew Henry (1662–1714) said, “true love is from heaven; this is from hell.”
2. How could this young person have avoided this sad end? Think through every step described here when answering this.
3. Some foolishly think viewing pornography doesn’t hurt anyone. How does it train your mind and heart? Would that make you “riper” or more resistant to this situation?
4. The world sees nothing wrong with this story. In fact, they’d make millions from a movie of it. This is how fools mock at sin (Prov 14:9). How do you view this, like Prov 1:7a, or Prov 1:7b?

Proverbs 7:1-5

These fatherly “talks” provide the “glasses” that give you wisdom’s essential facts and principles for understanding the proverbs of chapters 10–11. This next “talk” teaches you to love the truths of heaven to resist lying lusts that lead to hell (7:1-27). It has three parts:

1. God’s protection from immorality, 1-5
2. The foolishness of immorality, 6-23
3. The end of immorality, 24-27

What does God’s protection from immorality involve (1-5)? First, you must faithfully obey God’s Word (1-2). Merely knowing and having God’s Word isn’t enough—you must “keep” and “treasure” them (1). Your eye is the most delicate part of your body, so you guard it when something gets in it. That’s how sensitive you must be to keeping God’s Word, for in it God makes clear the path of life and death. Second, you must be wholly controlled by God’s Word (3). God’s Word must control and change you on the outside (“fingers”) and on the inside (“heart”) of your life. Third, you must exclusively love God’s Word (4-5). Calling wisdom “sister” is an OT expression of affection. To have this close affection with and for wisdom you must cultivate that kind of relationship with God’s Word. You do this by listening, consulting, being close with, loving. That is your only hope of protection not only from immorality, but any sin.

1. Think about the illustration of these “talks” as “glasses.” Have you ever looked through dirty or blurry glasses? How clearly can you “see” God’s wisdom?
2. Are you diligently keeping God’s Word as closely and carefully as you guard your eyes?
3. Does God’s Word control you on the inside and the outside of life?
4. How do you feel about God’s Word? Is it the dearest thing to you? Think about your days through the week. What kind of relationship does the time and attention you give the Lord Jesus Christ show?

Proverbs 6:25-35

6:25-35

Here are reasons to adhere to God’s Word , namely, to avoid adultery’s horrors. You must train your desires and affections (25); such training doesn’t happen immediately, it is continual, everyday. Be controlled by the fear of the Lord, by Scripture, not by sinful passions. When you are you’ll see temptations for what they are (24-25) to avoid their perils (26-35). The first temptation to adultery is silky smooth speech (24). “Flattery” is false praise offered for selfish reasons. It is the language of lust, not love; of adultery, not marriage. It comes from one who doesn’t know, love, or obey the Lord (“evil”). The second temptation is heart-snaring, eye-catching, alluring appearance (25) that entices to sin through physical appearance. When you adhere to God’s Word you’ll see through flattery and not be deceived by appearances. Beware the perils of adultery (26-35)! The first peril is you will get “burned” (27-29). Adultery always has harmful effects and consequences. The danger is you’re not thinking about the effects and consequences when you’re being lured in by flattering speech and alluring appearance; you’re only thinking about the moment, about yourself. The second peril is you will lose everything (26, 30-35). Most understand the starving thief’s motivation (he needs to eat), but he still has to pay the price. When it comes to adultery and sexual immorality, there is no “legitimate” reason and there are tremendous consequences. What will happen? You will lose your soul (32), your honor/testimony (33), and possibly your life (26, 34-35). Adhere to God’s Word to avoid adultery’s horrors!

1. How does a healthy fear of the Lord help avoid adultery’s temptations and consequences?
2. Did God give us desires for close intimacy? When has he said is it right to experience such? How should that control you?
3. Does culture and society have this view of adultery and sexual promiscuity? Is your heart and mind taught more by that or God’s Word?
4. In the “heat of the moment” do you always think straight? How would having your mind and heart “pre-programmed” with God’s Word help?
5. Check out Job 31:1; Matt 5:28; 15:19; Rom 13:14.