It’s funny how every single holiday where Christ is supposed to be at the center, Satan has something planned or some way to try and divert our eyes off of Him and His work on our behalf, and center us rather onto that which is worldly, self-focused or something that isn’t necessarily bad, but that isn’t Christ-centered in any manner. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Lent, all originally intended to give glory to Christ, have been distorted by Satan to take our eyes off the only One who matters, and move our focus to that which profits nothing for the soul, but rather, in all reality, hurts its progress toward godliness that comes only through the righteousness of Christ obtained for us on the cross. With Lent in particular, Satan seems to have devised a two-pronged attack: 1) move people away from Christ through the indulgence of the flesh, and 2) move people away from Christ through works-based religion.
So how did Lent get to the state it’s in now? People indulge themselves, almost to death, in preparation for giving things up during Lent, whether it’s food, alcohol, sex, etc. But to what end? What’s the point? Why even try if you’re just going to show such irreverence toward Christ in acts clearly condemned in Scripture? A friend of mine named Alan Barron said something that hits on the very reason: “Carnival (a word meaning ‘the raising of the flesh’) is an out-growth of a works based religion where grace is obtained through a list of prescribed actions and sins may be worked-off by confession or by penance.” That is exactly right.
Through the preaching of a salvation through works combined with a priest-administered re-sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist by Romans Catholics, people assume 1) they obtain salvation through what they do (the natural thinking of all men, whereas the Gospel is the reverse of this), and 2) that they can just work off their sins previously committed (defying the very reason Christ came, died, and rose again to begin with). Marti Gras is the natural outflow of works-based religion. If you preach to people they can only be saved through what they do and that they can work off their sins, they’ll party as hard as they can, defying God to His face, because they believe they can just work off those sins later during Lent. How erroneous and tragic.
But if we preach a Gospel that says we are so bad off that we could never do anything right to please God, that even our righteous acts are like filthy rags before Him (Isaiah 64:6), that in ourselves and our abilities, we give no glory to Him as we should, and that our only hope is for Christ to literally come in, take out our heart of stone, replacing it with a heart of flesh that desires, loves and is responsive to Him, think of how much differently we would approach God in every way. Lent would then not be a time of either trying to earn God’s favor or trying to work off past sins, but rather, a time of simply reveling in and accepting the mercy granted to us in the cross where Christ paid ALL of our debt against God in full, and also gives us His FULL righteousness.
This alone is what changes hearts to believe in Him unto salvation, the work of Christ in His life, death and resurrection for sinners. This (the Gospel) is the principle dynamic for all radical heart-change, that we may not either 1) participate in the indulgences of Marti Gras (notice I didn’t say participate at all-with the hopes of maybe evangelizing the lost?), or 2) think we have to earn favor with God through Lent, but rather simply turn to the cross and see that Christ has satisfied the infinitely high demands of God on the cross for whoever would believe through faith alone, and then the natural outflow of this is doing all things (works, words, actions) to the glory of God.