By Scott Keith –
To begin, I would like to say that I offered Pastor Koch the option to post his sermon today rather than having me rant against false piety during Lent. He insisted that I was capable of contributing to the spirit of the season. So to Paul, here you go, you asked for it.
Facebook has been awash this week with proclamations of what people are giving up for Lent. Some are giving up meat, some alcohol, some are trying not to swear as much, as if a temporary or false piety will somehow please God. In the early church people were not encouraged to “give up something” for Lent, but rather it was a period of fasting and abstinence. Ironic that I have not seen more posts from married people (especially pastors) about giving up sex for Lent. Forty days without sex might actually convince me that you are pious. So why do we do this? And why do I hate it so damn much?
For Roman Catholics, this seems like an easy answer. They still, even post Vatican II, hold to a synergistic system of works righteousness by which they believe a combination of their effort and God’s grace will save them. If they are faithful Catholics, many parts of their life will involve participation in the sacramental and liturgical aspects of the church toward their salvation and sanctification. Lent is just one more representation by which they give something back to God. Giving up something for Lent is ultimately a form of fasting as in the early church. They can deprive themselves of some small pleasure or indulgence and offer that sacrifice up to God. Or they might “give up” a bad habit such as smoking as a way of positively turning their life back towards what they believe God wants for them, thereby earning some measure of His grace.
So too, I could see this attitude prevailing among some evangelicals. Granted, their system of works righteousness is not as well developed as our Roman Catholic friends, but nonetheless it is typically synergistic in nature and pietistic in character. They too might give something up as a show to the world and to God that they are willing to do something as a small step toward moving closer to God through some measure or act of their own. Even if salvation is not earned through this small act, certainly a greater measure of sanctification can be consummated through the small deprivations of personal pleasure.
But why on God’s green Earth would those who believe they are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ’s sacrifice alone, feel the need to return to a theology of personal sacrifice rather than focusing on the sacrifice wrought for us by Christ? Why would those who claim, “to God alone goes the glory,” seek to think they can give up some small insignificant personal pleasure to merit God’s favor or show him and others how much we understand what He has done for us? Now for those that plan on quoting Luther back at me on this, don’t bother. Luther never preached the wisdom of giving something up for lent. He may have said it was beneficial to occasionally fast, but that is very different. And, really, I’ve seen pictures of Luther; he didn’t fast much. So too, please avoid using Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:5 as well. Paul literally is discussing the idea of setting a time aside, occasionally, where prayer and a study of God’s Word is the focus in our lives. This does not equate to a public post on Facebook or anywhere else, so everyone knows, that you are pious enough to “give something up.” Also, it is clear that Christ did fast. But, ask yourself why. Will your fast accomplish what the Son of God’s fast did? Further, I don’t recall the account of Christ’s fasts beginning with Him posting #givingsomethingupformyFather. Let me set the record straight. We do not earn God’s favor by giving things up. God’s favor was won for us by Christ alone! We do not show Him or others how much we care by giving something up. We do not care. That is why Christ had to die.
We do not share in His sacrifice by depriving ourselves of chocolate, beer, or meat, and further to even hint of a theology of personal sacrifice trivializes the actual sacrifice that was won for us for our salvation.
Our theology is founded on Christ alone. We ought to flee daily, even in the season of Lent, from any hint of a theology that seeks to say, “what can I do?”, instead of what has He done, and what does He do daily for me. Remember, we ought to do good works and they are necessary. But come on, is giving up chocolate, or any arbitrary thing a good work? Serving our neighbor is good! Fast occasionally if you find it beneficial. But let me, a strict vegetarian tell you something… Giving up meat is not the same as fasting and doesn’t bring you closer to God. In this case it seems more like false piety. Again, we are saved on account of Christ and faith in Him not only saves, but is a gift brought about by the preaching of the Gospel, not personal sacrifice. Faith will bring forth good fruits, but when it does, please refrain from announcing it on Facebook or confusing those fruits with frivolous personal sacrifice. Happy Ash Wednesday!