Around this time we hear a similar phrase being used in everyday conversation. It usually goes something like this; “what are you giving up for lent?”, “I’m giving up….. for lent”. For many this act of abstinence will normally involve setting aside something which we really enjoy for the allotted time. Common “vice’s” are chocolate, take-away’s, alcohol, TV, even social media. And with great enthusiasm people begin this time of setting aside, but it doesn’t tend to last. What began with zeal tends to tail off after some time (usually 2 days) and what started as a cheeky square of chocolate turns into a massacre of wrappers lying across the table.
Is it about giving up?
I’m not getting at people who give things up during the time of lent. Personally, I have never done it, but that doesn’t mean I think it is wrong, far from it! There are a couple of reasons why it can be a really helpful thing. The first of these is the aspect of setting aside something to spend time with Jesus in a deeper and more intentional way. You will never find me discouraging somebody from doing this. Indeed, if this helps you to grow in your knowledge and love of Christ then indulge (if that is the right word) in this period. But sadly this is not often the major motivation. Usually it is the desire to pinch an inch not to grow in Christ.
Another reason that giving up can be really helpful is to remember that Jesus gave up all that he was entitled to in order to come and redeem his creation. The early church knew this well, “he did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant.” (Philippians 2:6-7). However there is nothing that we can give up that will compare with everything Jesus set aside for us. Listened to what he said the night before he was to be executed; “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5).
Is that the question?
So, is giving something up really the point? I suppose for me the question is not “what am I giving up”? Instead it helps me to focus my mind and ask the question “what am I gaining”? The lead up to Easter helps me to remember what I am in line to gain through everything that Jesus has done. And it is a lot! Think about it. He offers the forgiveness of sin, the absolution of our shame, the hope of a new creation, a changed life, the presence of God in every aspect of our life, a welcome to join his family……. and that only begins the list.
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only son into the world so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept for you in heaven” (1 Peter 1:3-4).
Whether you give something up or not is not the point. It is about whether it helps you to know more about Jesus and all that he has done to redeem you through his cross. It is about whether we look beyond this life and see that, in Jesus, we have an imperishable hope of new life in a spotless, sinless creation. I pray that this is your vision in the lead up to reflecting on the cross. Christ is gain and eternal joy is secured!