"Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward," Matt. 6:16.
"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ," Colossians 2:16-17.
"Hey Bob, let's go to McDonald's and get something to eat." "I can't," said Bob. "Why not?" His friend asks. "I gave up fast food for Lent," Bob replies.
As an evangelical, this situation, or something similar happens regularly this time of year. This often leads to confusion but brings up some excellent questions. Most importantly, we need to ask what is Lent and is it Biblical and more importantly is it Biblically mandated.
Lent is the forty day period, beginning with Ash Wednesday, before Resurrection Sunday. It is, according to Catholic resources, a time of penance. Penance is the Catholic term for our reparation for our sin. It is a system of works righteousness for our sins. This is antithetical to Biblical fasting. We can in no way impress God with our works, it is only by our submission to His Holy Spirit that we can please Him. Jesus did expect us to fast, as His words from Matthew 6 demonstrate, yet it is a private matter, between us and Him. Now, that does not mean that a pastor or church can not fast together to seek God's will on a matter, especially seeking to humble ourselves and seek revival in our lives and to submit our lives more completely to God as we give up our daily substinance, food, to be filled more fully with His Spirit. Fasting is a wonderful discipline that allows us to more fully understand how awesome God is as we pray and reflect on His amazing works, especially the work that saves us: His Son's death on the cross for ours sins and the hope of His resurrection.
In the evangelical world, we have more and more pastors seeking to incorporate elements of Catholic faith and tradition into our worship. The Forty Days of Purpose and many other resources are tying into Catholic tradition in many ways and this is not a helpful influence whatsoever and confuses many people and draws them into false teaching and error. Observing Lent as a form of penance is unbiblical and must be rejected. Paul stated clearly in Colossians 2 that we are not bound to festivals as a form of obedience to impress God. We have the reality of Christ to worship and adore. He is our Lenten festival, we feast on Him and His word and His perfect work on the cross. Yes, we can forgo food and fast for a time in fuller devotion to Him. We do need to take time to leave the noise of this world and fast and pray and concentrate completely on Christ, but it is a matter personal to us that we do not need to force upon others or parade in public to the adoration of man. Truly, that is its own reward and our only reward if we do that.
Brothers and sisters, do not be drawn in by the traditions of men, like Lent. We must "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness," as Jesus said. We need to keep His gospel central in our hearts and minds at all times, not for forty days in the spring. God bless you all and remember to learn, live and love the gospel.