I think it’s a fair assessment to say that many Christians play defense when it comes to their spiritual life. They wait for problems to arise and then pray or fast in order to combat them. I believe that Lent is a season that puts us on offense. The spiritual disciplines practiced during this season enable us to wage war on the enemy, namely Satan, but also our own flesh.
In one of his sermons on Lent, Leo the Great said, “For what is more accepted than this time, what more suitable to salvation than these days, in which war is proclaimed against vices and progress is made in all virtues?” (Sermon 40.2). Leo continued in this sermon to say that fasting is not enough. To that we add works of piety. He’s talking about going on offense.
If we were to stick with the three basic disciplines, fasting, giving, and prayer then we’d have all that we need to combat “all that is in the world” (1 John 2:16). Jesus succeeded where Adam and Israel failed. Through the power of his resurrection we have the ability to succeed in these areas as well.
|Adam (Loss)||Israel (Loss)||Jesus (Win)|
|Lust of the Flesh||Gen 3:6||Num 11:1–9, 31–35||Matt 4:2–4|
|Lust of the Eye||Gen 3:6||Deut 6:13–15; 1 Cor 10:7–8||Matt 4:8–10|
|Pride of Life||Gen 3:6||Deut 6:16; 1 Cor 10:9–10||Matt 4:5–7|
Fasting combats the lust of the flesh. The lust of the flesh is our baser desires. It’s what drives us to do the things that feel good even when they’re not pleasing to God. When we fast, we deny our physical desires to keep our appetites under control. We control our desires rather than allowing our desires to control us.
Giving combats the lust of the eye. The lust of the eye is at the root of jealousy, envy, and covetousness. It’s inherently selfish. Giving, with the right heart, is selfless. It focuses our attention on helping those in need rather than on fulfilling our wants.
Prayer combats the pride of life. The pride of life is thinking more of ourselves than we ought to. It’s exalting ourselves above God and pretending that we are in control. Prayer is a recognition that we aren’t in control. It’s turning to the one who stands above us and can make a real difference in our lives and the lives of others.
These three basic disciplines are all that we need to emerge victorious in the spiritual war against our enemy, but we can add many other works of piety into the mix. Leo speaks of clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and showing our humaneness to the sick, exiled, and orphaned.
Whatever disciplines we choose to practice during the Lenten season, let us practice them with an eye on the victory of Christ in his resurrection. It is in the resurrection that he defeated the final enemy, death itself!