The framers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism were well aware of not only man’s sin nature in transgressing the laws of God but also of the proclivity to not do those things to which He has called us. Sins of omission and commission. As they put it, “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” It is that lack of conformity to the law of God which we most easily excuse and dismiss. After all, I have not murdered anyone, used the name of God in vain, committed adultery, stolen property, etc. today so I must be doing okay with the commandments. Again and again we are reminded that we may tithe our mint and dill and cumin but that we have neglected the weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness (humility).
So in this time of Lent, what shall I give up to remind me of my fallen state and my need for forgiveness as I seek to become more holy? Chocolate? TV and mass media? How often do we try to affect holiness by screwing up our resolve, making promises, and trying to make it under our own power? To be sure, there is a place and call for fasting—from food, from situations, from elements of the world.
However, as Thomas Chalmers reminds us in his sermon, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” the rooting out of the sinful elements of the world is best accomplished by replacing that desire with something more powerful and desirable—the Gospel. Holiness is not just turning away from wickedness but rather it is the ontological declaration of righteousness in Christ manifested, and growing through, the disciplines of grace as a new affection. You can never replace something with nothing.
With that in mind, I have decided this year to not be so caught up in the idea of giving things up for Lent as much as adding on the disciplines of grace—prayer, fasting, meditating on the Word of God, gifts of mercy, the sacraments, the communion of the saints. May the Lord shape my affections in such a manner that I have fewer things in my life from which to abstain. How joyous it is to embrace the Gospel!