During the Lenten season, it is common for Christians to speak of “giving something up.” And so we find some (usually) little thing in our lives, and decide to completely or partially forego it until Easter Sunday. Having done such things myself, I am no longer certain that such behaviors ever make much of an impact on the shape or trajectory of our spiritual lives. For example, have you ever given up some food item during the Lenten season, only to find yourself returning to old indulgences with gusto after it was all over? What good did the temporary abstinence do if it only led to renewed (or even increased) consumption when everything got back to normal?
I am not willing to say that such small behavior modifications are completely bad for us or that they are of no value in the pursuit of God. God wants us to submit all of our lives to him. If that means giving up chocolate for a season, then so be it. But we should never forget the words that Samuel speaks to the disobedient King Saul: “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22 NAS).
King Saul had not been obedient to God. His sacrifice could not balance out his disobedience. In a similar manner, our little sacrifices (and all sacrifices are little next to the majesty and power of God) cannot make up for our disobedience. First, no sacrifice that we offer can ever atone for our sins. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can do that. Second, God wants to make us like Jesus through the power of His Spirit at work within us. Though it might be beneficial for me to use my cell phone less, such an action does not necessarily make me more like Jesus.
In this spirit, during the course of Lent, I will be summarizing chapters of Jerry Bridges’ Respectable Sins. Here Bridges challenges God’s people to be honest about the “little” sins that Christian people are willing to tolerate. We are not talking about the big, obvious spiritual blunders. In this book, the focus is on things like anger, gossip, and jealousy. Please use these summaries as a means of being open and honest before the Lord about those “respectable” areas of disobedience in our lives. And as you do so, never forget that Easter hope is on its way!
What has been your experience of “giving something up” for Lent? How has it had either positive or negative impact in your life? Are you giving something up this year? What do you hope to result from this behavior modification?