I confess I was scared into becoming a Christian.—
As a little kid, I heard about hell in church, and I knew I didn't want to go there.
I had a Grandma who loved Jesus, the Bible, and who demonstrated every possible Christian virtue at home and to her neighbors. But wanting to be like my Grandma (which I did) wasn't my overwhelming concern regarding a relationship with God. Every night before I went to bed at the end of my prayers I would always add, "And please God, let me go to heaven when I die and not to hell."
Though we went to church every Sunday, that prayer tormented me until a Good News Bible Club teacher explained if you trusted Jesus as your Savior, you didn't need to worry about going to hell. Jesus' death on the cross paid for the sin that sent people to hell, and by accepting Him, by asking him to be my Savior, I wouldn't ever need to worry about it. I did ask Jesus to save me and never prayed that fearful prayer again.
What this has to do with Lent
As I was putting together the communications for Lent I realized the current public image of Christianity is a happy, happy one complete with the promise that if you become a Christian, life will always go well for you. Even those who don't subscribe to the crassness of the health and wealth gospel (if you give God money He will give you back much more), are shocked if someone in the family gets sick or loses their job. Any disappointment with what we think God owes us provides grounds for walking away from the faith or at least is a justification to be mad at God.
Lent gives us a corrective to that view. Lent reminds us that there are things about the Christian life that are difficult and costly. It challenges us to say “no” to ourselves in minor areas of life to strengthen our spiritual muscles for larger challenges.
Lent proceeds Easter and commemorates the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness when he fasted for 40 days while tempted by the devil. C.S. Lewis talks about how we have no idea the depth and pain of his temptation because we always give in to temptation. To help us understand this unique temptation, Lewis talks about how a temptation might be difficult to fight for an hour or so, but the longer it goes on, the more painful it can become. To ultimately resist for 40 days is unimaginable. Jesus did that for us.
A reminder of why Jesus came
After his temptation, his earthly life wasn’t easy. His life ended with an unjust, horrifically painful death.
Jesus didn't go through all of that simply to make us happy in our short pilgrimage on earth.
He came to save us from our sins, from hell an eternity separated from God, no matter what the specifics we use to define it. Though we often quote John 3:16, we need to be reminded of what it says,
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus came so we wouldn't perish eternally (that's the hell part), but have everlasting life.
There are two parts of the equation of what it means to be a Christian. Yes, we are saved to everlasting life, joy, peace, and all that goes with it, but we need to remember what we are saved from. I have no idea what hell actually might be, but to be cut off from all love, joy, life, and everyone dear to you forever, with no chance of a “do-over” if we believe the Bible makes that future a horror.
What Lent does for us
Lent reminds our salvation was costly. It reminds us that God gave us this great gift, and He expects us to live in a way that reflects our gratitude, not as spoiled children demanding an unending stream of goodies or throwing a spiritual fit if things don’t go as we want.
If we are going to live in a way that reflects that honors God, we need to learn discipline and self-denial, Lent can be a kind of baby-steps to help us learn how.
In the handouts created for you for Lent, there are a variety of suggestions of things we can say no to—unkind words, our feelings of resentment, thinking our time is our own. Baby steps maybe, but I pray ones we can all take in the right direction of walking worthy of our great salvation.