Could 'Doing Lent' Hurt My Soul?

dan delzell opinion page

The season of Lent is once again in full swing. It's a tradition that leads up to Holy Week and Easter. Some find Lent more meaningful than others. But what if I told you that "doing Lent" could actually hurt your soul? It's true.

It all depends on how you "do Lent."

"Mardi Gras" is translated "Fat Tuesday." It's the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent. There is a natural way to approach Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, and Lent, and there is a supernatural way. Doing Lent is OK, but only if you do it in the supernatural way God designed discipleship to be lived out all year round.

The season of "Carnival" is celebrated in many countries where Roman Catholicism is prevalent. Carnival culminates on Fat Tuesday. For many, this season includes more than just parades, dancing and feasting. It also includes drunken celebrations of sexual immorality.

The natural way to look at Fat Tuesday is to see it as one final "sin binge" before going to church and getting ashes on your forehead to make up for all your unholy pursuits during Carnival. The ashes supposedly signify sorrow over the way you binged on sin during Carnival.

Those who "do Lent" this way miss out on the real meaning of repentance, faith, and salvation. And therefore, they miss out on a relationship with Christ. All they are left with is religion and a natural approach to Lent. It doesn't change your soul, and it doesn't bring you closer to God. The only thing that brings us to God is repentance and faith in Christ.

Imagine a couple preparing to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. The husband tells the wife, "Tomorrow night is our big celebration, but I need to tell you something. Tonight I am going out on a date with another woman, but don't worry. You will have my full attention tomorrow night. I just need this little binge right now, and then you and I can celebrate our anniversary tomorrow in style."

That repulsive approach to marriage is analogous to how some people "do Lent." And it doesn't work. That is to say, it doesn't bring a person closer to God. In fact, it actually hurts a person's soul.

While someone may feel comforted by "being religious" on Ash Wednesday, it does not make up for the past indiscretions during Carnival. Even if you choose to "give up something for Lent," it will not benefit your soul until you "do discipleship" in a supernatural way. The natural approach simply masks the underlying addiction to sin with a few religious rituals. Lent provides "cover" for those who choose to "do Lent" in a natural way. And yet, the "cover" only soothes their misguided thinking. In reality, their sins are not covered by the blood of Jesus because there is no genuine repentance in their heart.

"He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy." (Proverbs 28:13)

Chasing after sin on Fat Tuesday makes it very unlikely that a person will truly renounce his sin on Ash Wednesday. If he is not willing to renounce his sin on Fat Tuesday, then he has deceived himself into thinking that a few religious activities can make up for his life of deliberate sin. But he is sadly and tragically mistaken.

God does not accept those who love sin more than they love Jesus.

Is it possible that someone who is hung over from Fat Tuesday could actually be changed on Ash Wednesday through genuine repentance and faith? Sure. But most people who are "slaves to sin" (Romans 6:20) on Fat Tuesday remain slaves to sin on Ash Wednesday.

"A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him." (2 Peter 2:19)

Compare it to marriage. If a man dates another woman while he is married, then that man is a slave to sin. And he will almost certainly still be a slave to sin when he wakes up on the morning of his anniversary after carousing the night before.

St. Augustine said, "The will to be righteous is a large part of righteousness."

And if you don't have the will to be righteous on Fat Tuesday, you probably won't develop it suddenly even if you get ashes on your forehead and go through a few religious rituals.

Having said that, there are plenty of believers who "do Lent" in a way that strengthens their faith and draws them closer to the Lord. Their attitude and behavior during Lent is no different than their attitude and behavior during the rest of the year. People who have a relationship with Christ don't "sin binge" with the thought that they will go to church on Wednesday or Sunday to get it "taken off their record." Such an attitude is not supernatural, and it is not from God. It is merely natural. It is religious, but not godly or Christ-centered.

God's Word declares: "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." (Hebrews 10:26,27)

So if you feel like "doing Lent," no problem. That is, as long as you don't deceive yourself into thinking you can plan certain days and seasons to go to church, while also scheming in your heart about how you are going to "cut loose" and "sin binge" for awhile. This is the way manmade religion looks at sin and the "Christian" life, but such an insincere and disgraceful approach doesn't wash away sin.

Manmade religion has never saved anyone. Only the blood of Jesus saves a person as you trust Him to forgive you. No one who has a relationship with Christ says to Him, "Let's get together tomorrow Jesus. I am going to spend tonight with someone else." Those who live this way are not forgiven of their sins and they do not know Christ.

If you plan to let sin control your body and soul tonight, then recognize it for what it is, rather than assuming, "I will do a few religious things later this week to make everything alright." It doesn't work that way. God doesn't accept your rituals as payment for your sins.

If you are married, just ask your spouse if that approach would be acceptable on the night before your anniversary, or on any other night. Such behavior illustrates the difference between false religion and true religion. One is natural. The other is supernatural. One loves the world. The other loves Jesus.

So whether you have decided to "do Lent" this year or not, just be sure you know the difference between natural religion and a supernatural relationship with God. One is authentic and life-changing. The other involves jumping through religious hoops, but ending up with nothing but a few ashes on your forehead. And sadly, your soul is left in an ash heap as well.

So "yes." Doing Lent could definitely hurt my soul if I approach it with nothing more than religiosity and rituals.

No wonder Jesus warned against manmade religion when he stated, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men." (Matthew 15:8,9)

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church in Papillion, Neb. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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