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What We Believe – Fasting during Lent

Commentary

So where can one get a good fish fry? The Friday night menu during Lent at restaurants includes more fish sales than other times of the year, as many give up meat on Fridays, or for all of Lent. Some may give up other indulgences during the Lenten season, but do we remember why? Or has this just become tradition?

Fasting, abstaining from food, or giving up some pleasure is a method of discipline, of self-denial, but let us put this in Biblical perspective. Under the Gospel (the saving work of Jesus Christ dying on a cross for sinners and rising to new life to give forgiveness of sins to those of faith in Him), we are given a freedom, freedom from slavery to sin and death. Yet being freed from sin’s slavery, in response to God’s Gospel grace, one turns to Christ and desires to do the will of God. This too, doing the will of another, is slavery, but we become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:16-18). But ironically, this is a freedom, to turn from the corrupt nature that comes to us in original sin, freeing us to be what God intended us to be.

Living in this world, we struggle with two desires: (1) to follow the desires and lusts of our hearts under the temptation of sin, and (2) the desire to honor God, to return to Him in response to the love, mercy, forgiveness and new life He has given us through Christ. Certainly, a mental discipline is needed. Fasting, or giving up some pleasure for a time, for some, becomes that discipline. Yet fasting, in our cultural sense, is not a law, not a mandate of our Christian faith. Freedom under the Gospel is compromised when we look at such abstaining as a “must do,” as if breaking the abstention code makes us guilty of another sin. Jesus’ blood saves us, His life paid our cost. Our deeds, our fasting, our giving up of meat, or some indulgence for a time, does not make us righteous or worthy, nor does it impress God to make Him save us from all sins. Jesus alone accomplished this while we were still in our sins.

What purpose then, does fasting have? Martin Luther once said, “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training,” even though it is not required. Giving up a pleasure for Lent is in vain when we fail to give it a purpose in Christ. Self-denial focuses us on Jesus’ own self-denial, that He died for us to set us free. When we deny ourselves, the urge or temptation we resist helps us to focus on our faith, and our response to the Gospel goodness of God, our paradoxical freedom to do God’s will, becoming slaves of righteousness. Through this, we remain faithful, remain focused, and gain strength for the discipline of fasting, something that can only aid us in future temptation to sin.

So as we fast this Lent, may we keep our focus on Jesus, the one who overcame temptation, whose righteousness we claim as our own, for the sake of the Gospel. This is what we believe!

For more about what we believe, our churches are: St. Paul Lutheran Church in Fredonia (672-6731, stpaullcfredonia@outlook.com), Immanuel Lutheran Church in Gowanda (532-5451), and Trinity Lutheran Church in Silver Creek (934-2002).

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