Should we give up Lent?

I want to answer this question, not because Lent is a really pressing issue for us but because it gives us a good chance to think through the heart of the message of Colossians 3:1-4:

Lent is ok if you want to kick a habit or form a habit or exercise a bit of self-discipline in your life. It’s even ok if you want to create circumstances in your life that will be conducive to setting your mind on the things that are above. If someone said to me that they were planning on 40 days of memorising the Bible or 40 days in a row where they start the day thinking about Christ or 40 days of meeting friends to encourage each other, then I’d say “great! Why not keep going after the 40 days are up!”

But Lent is not ok if you think that 40 days of abstaining from something will achieve either of two things:

1) That it will make you more acceptable to God. You are seated at the right hand of God in heaven (Colossians 3:3). You couldn’t be closer or more acceptable. I know we all know that but it’s funny how trying to achieve something that feels righteous can have the effect of undermining our confidence in the righteousness that Christ has given us, especially when we don’t manage it. If a failure in lent makes you feel bad, or a success in Lent makes you feel proud then practising Lent has become a Colossian mistake!

2) That it will help you be more godly. “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (Colossians 2:21) is the way the Colossian false teachers try to produce godliness. The problem is that that is trying to change you from the inside by changing what goes on outside. It’s trying to get rid of the earthly in you with earthly principles. We need the heavenly to break in if we’re going to get rid of the earthly in us and that’s why Paul says “seek the things that are above” (Col 3:1). Abstaining from something for 40 days can’t change my heart, only setting my mind on things that are above can have that effect.

In what ways can we practically set our minds on Christ?

Let me give you a few suggestions:

  • Read your Bible regularly asking the question: “How does this help me know more of Jesus?” and “How does this make me want to give thanks for him?” That simple process might not mean a light bulb comes on every time, but over time it will have a transformative effect on you.
  • Ask yourself the question “What is the past that has made me the person I am?” Really think about it and then spend time thinking about how that is all reshaped by having died with Christ
  • Ask yourself the question “who do I think I am?” As you present yourself to other how do you do that? When you buy clothes what kind of person do you buy them for? When people talk about you what do you hope they say? Now spend time thinking about what difference being seated with Christ at the right hand of God should make to those things.
  • Pray, asking God to fill your mind with Christ such that, without you even knowing it, your mind is set above such that it shapes how you act in the present.
  • Memorise verses that speak of the work and worth of Jesus such that the word of God dwells in you richly and changes you.
  • Let regular things in your life prompt your thoughts towards Christ in heaven. As you walk through the front door at work let that prompt you to remember that the Lord is with you. As you get on the crowded tube full of people from many different backgrounds remember that for you Christ is all and in all. As you whistle in the shower get into the habit of whistling psalm and hymns and spiritual songs!

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