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Why and How Some Christians Observe Lent – Can Fasting be Sinful?

( [email protected] ) Mar 05, 2014 02:01 PM EST
Whether you are a Catholic or Protestant Christian, you might follow the tradition of fasting from something for Lent. Though there is no teaching in the Bible to fast before celebrating the resurrection of Christ, the Catholic tradition of fasting for 40 days prior to Easter is in part based on Jesus' fast in the wilderness just after His baptism. If you choose to partake, be mindful that there are two ways to fast - one that is sinful, and one that blesses both the Lord and our hearts.

Whether you are a Catholic or Protestant Christian, you might follow the tradition of fasting from something for Lent. Though there is no teaching in the Bible to fast before celebrating the resurrection of Christ, the Catholic tradition of fasting for 40 days prior to Easter is in part based on Jesus' fast in the wilderness just after His baptism. If you choose to partake, be mindful that there are two ways to fast - one that is sinful, and one that blesses both the Lord and our hearts.

How can a fast be sinful? Anything that does not proceed from faith is sin (see Romans 14:23). "Faith" is not belief that God exists. The Bible says that even demons believe that God exists, yet they are not saved (see James 2:19). The faith that God desires is one that is humble - acknowledging our sin and our need for Jesus to save us because we cannot be good enough to save ourselves - and hopes in the historical account that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for our sins on the cross, absorbed the wrath of God for every sin of those who would place their trust in Him, and raised from the dead three days later.

Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (English Standard Version).

God's standard for acceptance is perfection. Jesus Christ alone has lived a completely sinless life - meaning that only He and those He gives His righteousness to in exchange for their sins are in right-standing with God. If Christ did not die for sinners and raise from the dead, then all of us are doomed to bear the just wrath of God (see Romans 6:23 and 1 Corinthians 15:17).

A nominal Christian can fast during Lent. In fact, someone who professes to be a Christian but has not truly been born again can do a number of praiseworthy things every single day. A nominal Christian thinks that they are "Ok with God" because they earnestly try to follow the traditions of the church, or God's commands in the Bible. Such a person is not saved from their sins, however, because they are trusting in someone (themselves) or something (the church) other than Jesus Christ - and Christ alone - to save them.

"Behavioral compliance to rules without heart-change will be superficial and fleeting," tweeted New York pastor Tim Keller yesterday, perhaps in reference to those who give up something for Lent without having saving faith in and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

God expresses His displeasure in those who seek to honor Him without having a heart change in Amos 5:21-23:

"I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer Me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen."

In Isaiah 29, God rebukes those who "Draw near with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, while their hearts are far from Me, and their fear of Me is a commandment taught by men" (Isaiah 29:13b).

If you are not truly in Christ, then fasting during Lent is like honoring God with your lips and not with your heart - like singing Him a love song when you don't know Him.

If we could please God so easily - with earnest efforts of obedience - then the Son of God would not have come down to earth to die an excruciating death on the cross so that you and I could be forgiven. Jesus bore the wrath of God on our behalf, so that anyone who turns to Him in repentance and faith will be saved (see Acts 2:22-41). Our forgiveness is either secured by Christ alone, or we are not forgiven at all.

Fasting is good for the Christian, and it can greatly bless our hearts as the Lord draws near to us. Fasting helps us to tangibly feel our need for God, and enables more focused time to pray and to meditate on His word. Geoff Ashley from The Village Church in Dallas, Texas says that Lent is a wonderful time for the Church to focus on the Gospel: the death of Christ for our sins and His resurrection. "Originally a preparation period for those desiring to be baptized, Lent eventually became embedded into Christian tradition as a time for the Church to symbolically follow Christ into the wilderness. It is a time for fasting and self-denial, though not for denial itself. It is a period to empty ourselves of lesser things so that we might be filled with the greater things of the Gospel," he says.

Jesus suggested that His followers would fast after He had ascended to the Father, and He promises that God will reward a true fast of the heart (see Matthew 9:15 and Matthew 6:16-18). The Village Church offers a Lent guide as a helpful resource for those wanting to participate in a Gospel-centered season of fasting.