Easter is almost upon us, so 'what did you given up for Lent?' might be a question you've heard regularly over the past several weeks.
Most of us know Lent as the centuries-old Christian practice of fasting or abstaining from some activity or thing for 40 days in an attempt to prepare our hearts leading up to the remembrance and celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection at Easter.
The very question itself what did you “give up” - reveals a dichotomised issue with which many Christ-followers struggle today: the subtle divide between our own actions affecting our personal significance, and Christ’s finished work establishing this significance. We vacillate between the two mysteries, struggling with the issue of our own self-worth because we still tend to affix it to earthly patterns and possessions that can either be engaged or “given up,” even if only for a brief season.
Modern Christians can easily find themselves asking themselves, even if only subconsciously: “If I’m more worthy in Christ’s eyes because I gave this up, then what else do I need to give up to finish becoming worthy?”
The answer is: nothing.
Our worth has been settled by Christ himself
The Easter story pulls back the eternal curtain to reveal the ultimate mission of Christ, who said it best from his own cross: “It is finished.” This means there is nothing for us to give up in order to establish greater worth before God. In Christ and his cross, our worth has already been fully and eternally established. But we tend to forget this most important truth, leaning instead back into our own efforts. Lent and Easter remind us again that our worth has already been firmly established solely in the work of Christ.
In Christ and his cross, our worth has already been fully and eternally established
This is actually the reason my wife and I wrote the song, ‘My worth is not in what I own’ with our good friend, Graham Kendrick. We set out to express a gospel-centered response to the very struggle of worth and identity that each of us face in the modern age.
The season of Lent actually calls attention to this struggle in a unique and useful way. As we consider earthly things from which to abstain for a season, we again face the question of how various “things” in our lives affect our spiritual worth, causing us to face our own struggles with stewardship, accomplishment, age, beauty, image and idolatry.
We expressed these questions in the opening lyrics of this song:
My worth is not in what I own
Not in the strength of flesh and bone
But in the costly wounds of love
At the cross
My worth is not in skill or name
In win or lose, in pride or shame
But in the blood of Christ that flowed
At the cross
But these words are more easily sung than lived. So much of who we are has become wrapped up in individualism, self-entitlement and narcissism. From whom we marry, to our careers, to what church we attend, to our opinions about church music, every choice we make seems to center upon ourselves. Just like the “what did you give up?” question, we tend to live in a gospel story that pens ourselves as the main characters.
When we think like this, it becomes all too easy for the gospel to funnel down into the consumerism in which we tend to live. It is a self-focused existence, not just reflected in the extravagance of our possessions, but also in the condemnation of our hearts. We attempt to bear weights that only God can bear, and then we are surprised when they crush us with anxiety, confusion and bitterness.
But as Lent gives way to Easter, something incredible happens. We are reminded and transformed yet again by the simple truth that we are not made to be the authors of - or even the leading characters in - the story of our own fulfillment. No matter how much we were able to pursue good things or give up bad things, we ultimately needed a savior. We still do. We can only find fulfillment for our selves outside of ourselves - in him. So then, there are two distinct wonders at play here: in ourselves, we have infinite value before God. And yet, in our selves, we are completely unworthy and unable to muster even a fraction of the cost of fulfillment.
Freedom in Christ
Easter then reminds us that apart from Christ, we could give up everything and still gain nothing. But in Christ, we are free to give up anything because we have already gained everything, though we deserve nothing. The two wonders have come together like treasures of infinite worth being poured into fragile, earthen jars. We have been free to refrain during Lent, yet the lyrics of this refrain remind us:
Two wonders here that I confess
My worth and my unworthiness
My value fixed - my ransom paid
At the cross
At the cross, humanity’s longing for redemption has moved past our own efforts to merely refrain from certain things.
Instead we can now trust in the one who did not refrain from loving us, even though it cost him his very life.
Easter reminds us of this transition of confidence and belief, calling us again to trust solely and fully in the finished work of Christ, and nothing else. It is no longer about anything we can “give up” for him, but rather about the one “who loved [us], and gave Himself up for [us] (Galatians 2:20 NASB).
Keith Getty and his wife, Kristyn, are globally recognised for their modern hymn-writing. The full lyrics to ‘My worth is not in what I own’ as well as free sheet music and mp3 are available here. The Gettys’ latest album Sing! is out now