The following is by Pastor Matthew Recker, Heritage Baptist Church, New York City (Why We Don’t Observe Lent – Heritage Baptist Church (hbcnyc.org)
While Lent is a ritual observed by various branches of the Christian faith, it has been popularized most notably by the Roman Catholic Church. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and extends for forty days. During this time, a Roman Catholic practices voluntary “self denial, fasting, almsgiving, fraternal sharing.” According to Roman Catholic teachings, these things along with other acts of penance “contributes to the forgiveness of sins.” (Catechism, p.361) Furthermore, these works “honor the mysteries of the Lord, the Virgin Mary, and the saints” (Catechism, p. 494).
The Catholic Catechism states that a Biblical reason for keeping Lent is because it unites the church “to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” who fasted for 40 days during his time He was tempted of the devil. (Catechism, p.138).
There are a number of reasons, however, that Christians should not observe Lent.
First, Roman Catholics keep Lent to gain the forgiveness of sins. Their church teaches they must continually work for their salvation. Scripture however, teaches that righteousness is not gained by doing rituals, but salvation is by God’s grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work of dying for our sins and bodily rising again on the third day. Peter declared that the lame man was made whole entirely through “faith in His name” (Acts 3:16). Jesus alone was sufficient to save that man. He did not do any work or receive any “sacrament” to be saved, neither did Mary play an intercessory role in his salvation. Paul preached that “by Him (Jesus) all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). The Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ is completely sufficient to save us from all our sins apart from a single work we do.
Secondly, the New Testament never tells us to observe Lent. There is no command or example to have ashes rubbed on our forehead or of observing forty days of fasting or almsgiving. Neither Jesus nor the apostles teach us to do that in order to abide with Him. The teachings of Christ, the example of the early in church in Acts, and the epistles are utterly silent on this. We abide in Jesus by obedience and love, and having His words abide in us (John 15:7-12). This life of abiding in Jesus is not done for forty days to work for our salvation, but it should be our daily walk in the Spirit because we have been saved by His grace.
Finally, various aspects of Lent have connections to ancient pagan mystery religions which filtered into the established church. For instance, Lent is preceded by a festival Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday in which one can engage in decadence before abstaining from those sins for forty days. This is a pagan festival full of wicked sin. It’s believed that Mardi Gras originated from the ancient Roman feasts of Saturnalia and Lupercalia. Lent originated in the established church during the fourth century when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of Rome. As unconverted pagans flooded into the church, various concessions and compromises were made to make Christianity more acceptable to their works based mindset. It is my understanding that Lent was one such pagan practice the church integrated, along with the worship of Mary, saints and idols. Alexander Hislop writes, “The forty days abstinence of Lent was directly borrowed from the worshippers of the Babylonian goddess” (Two Babylons, p. 104). Just as Babylonian paganism infiltrated the worship of God in Solomon’s temple where “there sat women weeping for Tammuz,” so pagan worship has invaded the so-called church (Ezek.8:3-16; Jer.7:18). The “image of jealousy” on the “door of the gate of the LORD’s house” was very probably a woman with a child, part of the ancient Babylonian mystery religions (Ezek.8:3.14).
If a true believer practices Lent, they give credence to a works based ritual that has its roots in ancient pagan practices. We must rest on the finished work of Christ’s once and for all sacrifice for our sins to forgive and save us to eternal life. Let us follow the apostle’s doctrine which simply states, “even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law,” for it is “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Gal.2:16; Titus 3:5).