In three of the gospel accounts, Jesus, prior to beginning His ministry, was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. For 40 days He went without food and the comforts of life, yet He resisted temptation. He was taunted by the opportunity to satisfy His hunger and by the deceptive allure of safety, power, control, and authority. He resisted the temptation with His knowledge of the Truth and a humble devotion to a mission beyond those fleeting moments. The implications of this interaction with the adversary are significant for the people of God. This season of Lent, following the overwhelmingly wild year that preceded it, presents us with an opportunity to consider these implications.
First, Why Lent?
Lent is a season in Christian tradition serving as a commemoration in which the Church figuratively follows Jesus into the wilderness. It is observed, according to His example, as 40 days of worship and preparation through self-denial. Through sacrifice, participants may seek relief from an unnecessary dependence on lesser and lower things, in order to be filled with the greater and higher things of the Lord. While the light of Epiphany fades into the darkness and death of Good Friday, Lent prepares our souls and community for the mission of God in all seasons of life with a renewed dependence on the power of the Spirit and a clearer vision of Jesus. Participating in Lent can be beautiful and meaningful, but what if we get it wrong? What if our efforts are a waste? What if our sacrifices are in vain?
Your Sacrifice Isn’t Always Worshipful to God.
No doubt for some the offerings of this season are merely a perfunctory religious practice and tradition. Whether motivated by shame, fear, or a dispassionate commitment to the Church calendar, a sacrifice devoid of worship is a travesty. It altogether misses the transformative benefits available to the body of Christ. If we get sacrifice wrong, our minds are not renewed and the offering is unacceptable. In fact, the Lord hates it. He despises our poorly motivated religious practices (Proverbs 21:27; Jeremiah 6:20; Isaiah 1:11–15; Amos 5:21–23). What we do matters to God, but clearly the heart behind those things matters more. I’m suggesting there is only freedom to worship through sacrifice for those who truly know the Truth.
Jesus was not a victim of sin—until He willingly gave Himself over to death on the cross—because He had perfect knowledge of the Truth. Indeed, He is the Truth. We too are given freedom through a knowledge of the Truth (John 8:32). It is only in this spiritual freedom that we truly worship God (John 4:24). I want that freedom. I want it for me. I want it for you. I want to see everybody free! If our liberation comes only by knowledge of the Truth, what then does it mean to know the Truth?
Knowledge of the Truth vs. Knowing True Things
Straight to the point, knowledge of the Truth is about knowing a Person, not information. There is a danger in valuing doctrine over doxology like the Pharisees valued their traditions. A love of theology is not the same as love for The Word. That’s like having an obsession with the culinary arts but being indifferent about eating food. Certainly, it’s good to know true things about who Jesus is, but it’s liberating and most satisfying to actually know Jesus. If you have enough Bible conversations with different individuals, you may pick up on the intuitive difference between those who are seeking to gain more knowledge and those who are hungry for the Truth. It seems to me this distinction is a key to avoiding sanctimonious sacrifices and vain practices. We must not allow our knowing or doing to supplant our being.
Certain points of doctrine are worthy of rigorous critique and deliberate debate, and of course, faith apart from works is useless. However, knowledge is only fruitful when accompanied by faith. Even the demons know good doctrine (James 2:19-20). The reality is, knowing true things is good and worthy of pursuit, but it is a cerebral occurrence; whereas, knowing the Truth, embodying the righteousness of Christ, is a supernatural one. It is an impossible task for us; therefore, in this mission, we are to have a dependency on a power beyond the limited capabilities we possess. Sacrifice is valuable, right doctrine is good, but we must first be free in order to walk in the transformative practices of worship. Moreover, this is to be a communal activity. Individual believers come to know the Truth by grace through faith, but it is in community that we embody the Truth for the sake of the mission (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:11-16). (For more on practicing Lent as a community on mission, see this post by my friend Brad Watson.)
How Can You Worship the Lord this Lenten Season?
In light of our need to know and embody the Truth, how we make Lent meaningful in our hearts requires intentionality.
- Humbly give yourself to the mission through your local church.
Our money, food, energy, and time—they already belong to God. He lacks nothing. If you are in Christ, your life belongs to Him (1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Galatians 2:20). Therefore, our sacrifice is to Him, but it is for us. That is, sacrifice blesses Him and benefits us. As disciples of Jesus are made, and as darkness is pushed back in our lives (personally, relationally, and socially), God is glorified and we get to revel in the joys of His grace. This mission is carried out by the body of Christ. The body is made up of individuals shaped by gospel belief. The work is evidence of belief; therefore, Kingdom work is accomplished in your context through the local church. God has called you to this mission. “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22).
- Consider your sacrifice a pursuit of joy and result of knowing the Truth.
Observing Jesus interact with Satan in the wilderness offers some insight here. He answers the Enemy’s temptation with Truth we may come to know more clearly through our sacrifice. “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” On the surface, this may just seem to be a command we are obliged to obey, but for those who have knowledge of the Truth, these words serve as evidence that we are no longer a slave to sin. Our obedience to this command is a pursuit of joy. In the sacrifice, we actually gain significantly more than we could ever give up. We gain a clearer vision and deeper understanding of how choosing sin is a return to slavery. In sacrifice, we choose Jesus, and Jesus is infinitely better.
- Remember your worship is the offering, not the sacrifice.
Whatever it is you do in this season of Lent, worship Jesus. This is not about sacrifice; it’s about freedom. If we do not know Jesus, we can never be free. We know we are free when we “worship in spirit and in truth.” What sacrifice does He require of us? That we “do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.” Our sacrifice should be about doing what is right; it demonstrates our love and appreciation for His mercy, and it is inextricably linked to walking humbly in light of who He is. But like Jesus in the wilderness, and like the Apostle Paul in his suffering, we look beyond what our flesh may desire to the eternal weight of glory. Looking to Jesus, truly knowing the Truth, we find a freedom that gives way to a gospel-saturated sacrifice, and we give meaning to our days in the wilderness.
How might you and your community orient your hearts towards worshipping Jesus this Lenten season?
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