It is now the season for lent, and for many Evangelicals this word and this season have zero meaning. In an theological system that centers on grace and a cultural context that thrives on individual freedom, it makes sense that the drab and dreary season of lent would get little air time. But it is exactly for those very reasons that we should reexamine the Lenten discipline as we journey towards the cross and ultimately toward Easter.
I have recently rediscovered the many places throughout scripture that call those of us who follow Christ to give up our freedoms, make our bodies slaves, and give up our rights for the benefit of others. The more I wrestle with these topics with my friends, the more I realize that in our grace based, individualized context, any talk of limiting either seems to be blasphemous.
Can slavery actually bring me freedom?
Truthfully, I love the gospel of grace and that there is no good work that will earn favor with God. There is no amount of service or sacrifice that will make God love me more. I am free! But I have also found that in this freedom grows laziness and apathy. Just like I am free to eat as much as I want at the Chinese food buffet, I actually am less free to to do many other things like running, hiking, bike riding, etc. When I make my body a slave, I find that I am actually free to experience more of life.
This principle is the same spiritually. I am free to do all things. Sure, not everything is beneficial, but it is all permissible. But in this freedom I want to make sure I am not mastered by anything. Lent is the annual season where we get to intentionally put our freedoms in check, make our bodies our slave, and as a discipline give up some of the freedoms that are ours for the sake of our spiritual growth and maturity.
Many of us spend so much of our spiritual lives soaking up our freedoms that we are actually becoming fat and lazy spiritually. Lent is an opportunity to take humility, sacrifice, and our sin seriously. It is the liturgical journey toward the cross that most Christians have participated in throughout all of history. It is an annual reminder that our freedoms came at an enormous price. And as a discipline we graciously give up these freedoms. And like a fast, we not become keenly aware of how these freedoms have in fact mastered us. The longing for these freedoms can also lead us to deeper spiritual reflection as we become more aware of our sin and sloth as well as we lean into the Holy Spirit seeking the continual breaking in of the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Lent is not a duty. Lent is a gift.
Are you willing to even consider the question, "What are you mastered by?" And after you answer that question, are you willing to do the difficult work of laying that freedom down as a spiritual discipline as you join with Christians all over the world to share in the humility, sacrifice, and service of Jesus Christ.