It is lent…as if you didn’t know. Why do we know? Because everyone tells everyone what they are giving up for lent. The classic example is the facebook post to the world that you are giving up facebook for lent. Why do we (myself included) feel the need to tell people about our righteous acts? Because we are all Pharisees in our flesh.
The Pharisees are most known for their obsessive obedience to God’s law. They built their life upon their ability to live righteously. They would make rules so as to live holy lives. Some rules would be acts of commission (doing) and some would be acts of omission (not doing). Their belief was that if they did the right thing and not do the wrong thing, God would accept them. In addition they would teach others to follow their lead. We call this belief system, works based salvation, or legalism.
If you read through the Gospels, Matthew especially, you will see that Jesus was not a fan of the Pharisees. The strongest words Jesus used were directed at the Pharisees. Their religion was all about their works, and not God’s grace. One term of endearment that Jesus used to describe them was “Whitewashed Tombs.” Interesting description. They were clean on the outside, but dead on the inside. He would also rebuke them for being hypocrites and show-offs. They would strut around with the hope that people would see their “good works” and be impressed by their piety.
Listen to what Jesus says about them in Matthew 15:8-9, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men."
Jesus tells his disciples that they must beware of the leaven of the Pharisees (leaven is like yeast used in making bread rise). Remember that Jesus’ disciples were chosen by Jesus and had left everything to follow Christ, yet Jesus still tells them to be on guard. Why? Because religion is the breeding ground for Pharisaicalism.
Satan wants nothing more than to take our focus off of God’s Grace and onto our works. He wants us to worship our own religious “self-righteousness,” so we do not worship Christ-righteousness. He wants us to believe that our works are sufficient in obtaining God’s favor. The goal is always the same for Satan, to steal God’s glory, and unfortunately the Church is Satan’s playground.
Therefore, this lent examine your heart. Is your sacrifice similar to the false teaching of the Pharisees; specifically that works save? Are you giving something up to boast before men? Or are you eliminating a sin or an idol in your life that is interfering with your relationship with God? Don’t just go through the motions and honor God with your lips or actions. Choose to honor Him, instead, with your heart. An extended time focused on God is a great thing, as long as it is for the right reason. Don’t assume that because it is a religious tradition in some denominations that you will not fall prey to the leaven. If you practice lent, make it about God's glory, not your own.