Based in St. Cloud, Minnesota, Growing in Grace is a blog by Pastor Matthew Molesky. His posts explore the Bible, theology, ecclesiology, culture, books, family, and life.

The Heart of Lent

Despite my best efforts, I am a chronological snob. I get wrapped up in the here and now, in my generation's take on things. I am too influenced by my peers, to narrow in my experience, disconnected from the long and faithful lives of all those -  particularly all those saints - who have gone before me.


noun. a custom, practice, convention, ritual, observance, or way.

What is it about young people that we rankle against tradition?

"How do we keep our balance?," asked Tevye, in the famous, Fiddler on the Roof, "That I can tell you in one word...Tradition!

And, because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is, and what God expects us to do."

Yes! - traditions can do that. With their ritual and structure, they provide a path for learning and growth, if you are willing to enter into the journey, a journey that supplies a departure from the norm. The tradition of Lent is blessing me with just such an opportunity to pursue balance. I am thirty-four days into this walk of forty days of meditating upon Jesus and his journey to the cross, of who I am in him, and, because of what he has already done in me and who he has made me, what God expects me to do in response. 

For the past week, my devotional has me gazing upon the nature of sacrifice in the life of Jesus, and therefore, for those who follow him.

We live in a culture obsessed with self-improvement. We want to change our job, our body, our house, our habits, and hobbies. We even want to “improve” the people around us. When it comes to opportunity and options for change, our day is unparalleled in history. The problem is that we also live in an age of unparalleled convenience. I can shoot a video on my phone and send it to someone a thousand miles away, all within minutes. I can take a pill and lose weight while I sleep, allegedly. Without any work of preparation, I can eat nearly whenever and whatever I want. Privileges like these have cultivated unrealistic expectations and unwarranted impatience. We cannot escape the effects of our technological age.

The Bible offers an entirely different norm for change, which is more profound and deliberate. It promises holistic change, but not all at once, and not without sacrifice. In Romans 12, after Paul has laid out the theology of the gospel, he exhorts his readers to take action, to let the gospel change them, if you will: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

O how I chafe against this reality, and how good to be reminded! Read that again:

The Bible offers an entirely different norm for change, which is more profound and deliberate. It promises holistic change, but not all at once, and not without sacrifice.

But just how does the change come about?

The way we take action is to present the entirety of who we are to God “as a living sacrifice” to him.

This is a peculiar phrase.

The allusion to Old Testament sacrifice is clear, but what is being sacrificed on that altar dies. So what are we to make of this “living sacrifice?”

So, Paul is telling us that in our following of Jesus we become a living sacrifice. Which means, something in us needs to die...

On one hand, personal growth is sacrificial. We do not need to atone for our sins (Jesus is the final sacrifice for sin), but we do have to put to death our selfish ambition and our desire to be in control. So much of our motive for change is to secure ourselves by our own means. We want to change our bodies to secure a good image, acquire wealth to secure comfort, and gain power to secure our happiness. All of that must be put to death. that we may truly live...

But that is only part of what Paul is saying here. Our worship is sacrificial, but it is also living: “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). In other words, our sacrifice of worship is to live for God, to present the members of our body to God as “instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13). This is possible because “he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also [give life to our] mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in [us]” (Romans 8:11). Because Jesus offered up his body on the cross to secure our salvation forever, we can offer up our entire life to God as a continual act of worship.

...and thus, we find the heart of Lent...

The norm in our culture is to sacrifice whatever we have to get what we want. The way of true sanctification is to sacrifice everything we want because of what we already have in Christ. This is the heart of Lent. We are decluttering our lives, inside and out, testing the values and habits and desires that have become our acceptable norm. We are making room in our heart and mind to consider what Jesus gave up for us, and it is changing us. It’s not all at once, because that would rob us of the joy we experience in knowing the one who changes us.

I know you probably have a very full schedule. Time is short. But would you mind reading all that again, and thinking over it. Before you do, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to show you something, to teach you in the way of Jesus.

And then, take another few moments to reflect:

1. What kinds of things do you want to change about yourself and your life?

2. What would it look like to offer these things to God in worship?

3. How will pursuing change help you seek God above all else?

And to pray:

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, your unworthy servants, give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. 


(Again, all these quotes were taken from the Lenten devotional I'm using, Journey to the Cross.)

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