Why We Prepare In Lent

By: Dr. Gregory S. Neal

It is always a good idea to take a momentary step back from one’s Lenten journey of self-examination to reflect upon where you are. And, it’s also a good idea to being this reflection by examining a fundamental Christian truth which, too often, we forget amidst the chores of preparation: the reality of God’s Grace.

In the letter of Paul to the Ephesians, chapter 2 verses 8-10, it says:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God--not the result of works, lest any one should boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (NRSV)

These words of the Apostle Paul are simple, straight forward, and to the point . . . but they do bear a little amplification.

No amount of preparation, no amount of self-examination, no amount of self-denial will save you. Our Lenten journey must always be balanced with the continual realization that nothing we do will ever save us. It is only by the Grace of God through faith that we are saved. We cannot merit, or earn, salvation. As the Apostle Paul said, “it is a gift of God.”

So why do we go through Lent, spending so much time in self-examination and preparation? I can come up with two good reasons: firstly, we must be made ready to see our culpability in Christ’s crucifixion; and, secondly, we must be willing to join Him there in order to join Him as he exits the tomb.

You see, we are the reason He hangs on the cross. We are the reason Jesus came into this world, lived with us, and then died on the cross. We, just as surely as the Roman soldiers, drove the nails into His feet and wrists. We are the reason for this season. Our exercises in self examination help us to come face-to-face with this truth. We often want to deny our culpability in Christ’s death--Lord knows, I would like to--but if we try to deny it, we will also deny the gift of grace itself. It is a gift we can turn down. We don’t have to accept it. But, if we open ourselves through careful preparation, we will discover that it is simply impossible for us to deny our guilt. We are the reason our Lord went to the cross. And, with this realization, it becomes possible for us to actually accept the gift of forgiveness.

When we have confronted our sin, when we have truly come to grips with our culpability, we will finally be able to see Jesus on the cross as he really is: our savior.. And, when this happens we will also be able to join him there as he defeats our sin through death, and our death through His resurrection.

Yes, the gift is free. Grace actually means “unmerited favor.” But, we must not be tempted to turn down the gift by refusing to truly see Christ, crucified, and our role in His death. We prepare during Lent so that we won’t miss Him when He is crucified. We prepare during Lent so that our eyes will be opened, and our hearts made ready, to receive the gift of God’s saving grace. It really is too precious a gift to turn down.

© 1998 Dr. Gregory S. Neal
All Rights Reserved

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The Reverend Dr. Gregory S. Neal is the Senior Pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Commerce, Texas, and an ordained Elder in the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Duke University, and Trinity College, Dr. Neal is a scholar of Systematic Theology, New Testament origins, and Biblical Languages. His areas of specialization include the Theology of the Sacraments, in which he did his doctoral dissertation, and the formation and early transmission of the New Testament. Trained as a Christian educator, he has taught classes in these and related fields while also serving for more than 25 years as the pastor of United Methodist churches in North Texas.

As a popular teacher, preacher, and retreat leader, Dr. Neal is known for his ability to translate complex theological concepts into common, everyday terms. HIs preaching and teaching ministry is in demand around the world, and much of his work can be found on this website. He is the author of several books, including
Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life, which is in its second edition, and Seeking the Shepherd's Arms: Reflections from the Pastoral Side of Life, a work of devotional literature. Both of these books are currently available from Amazon.com.