What benefit is there in giving something up for Lent? Can it earn favour for us in God’s eyes or make up for wrongs we have done?
We have all heard of people who give up cabbage (or something similar) for Lent because they do not like cabbage anyway! Such giving up is meaningless. Giving up something we really like, such as chocolate, might be more meaningful. But it depends on why we do it and what the result is. If all it does is increase our craving for chocolate so that we look forward to indulging ourselves even more at Easter, then it has been of little value.
Lent has its origin in the forty days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness after his baptism and before the start of his earthly ministry. Jesus had already been assured of his Father’s love at his baptism. Before going into the wilderness, we read that Father God was “well pleased” with Jesus (see Matthew’s gospel chapters 3 and 4).
So, Jesus’ fasting was not to earn God’s love or to put him in a right relationship with God – he was already loved by his heavenly Father and in a perfect relationship with him. No, his fasting was to prepare himself for his ministry. Jesus the man needed to learn to put earthly things in their right perspective. He needed to face human temptation without giving in to it. At the end of his time of fasting, he knew from experience the truth of the Old Testament words “man does not live by bread only” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
The Bible makes it clear that Jesus paid in full for all our wrongdoing when he died on the cross. Nothing we can do apart from fully accepting that truth for ourselves can put us right with God. No amount of fasting can earn us forgiveness or make God love us more than he already does. But if giving something up for Lent helps us to put our desire for that thing in perspective and to learn to trust God more fully and to be more dependent on him and less on ourselves then we might find it worthwhile.