Friday, February 27, 2015

Lent: Giving Up on Giving Up

Jesus did it all

Try harder, do better, love more, trust more, recommit, rededicate…

I grew up hearing these messages in church most of my life. For many of us, trying to be more like Jesus and become a better Christian can be a lifelong roller-coaster of failure and frustration. 


Where’s the “freedom in Christ” we were promised?


Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32 
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36


It can be so confusing ...

“…I know my sins were forgiven when I accepted Christ -- but now that I am saved, I have to be really, really good, right? I have to work hard to keep God's love and to stay close to Him... And if I give up something for Lent, that should help, right? I know I should suffer for Him more..”

Actually, that kind of thinking couldn’t be more wrong. It comes principally from mixing up the messages in the Old and New Testaments. Both are the inspired Word of God, but the prescription for daily living with God is very different in each one.

The old way.


The Old Testament is based on “The Law” which provided a kind of progressive forgiveness for the Jews. They would try and keep about 613 Judaic laws -- and because they couldn’t possibly do that perfectly, they would perform rituals, make numerous animal sacrifices, and little-by-little receive a kind of progressive forgiveness for their sins throughout the year. The Law was a good and sacred thing -- but people  were not so good. Like many things that humans touch, it eventually became corrupted and misused. 

And then, as predicted in the Scripture, the time finally came for a better way – the Messiah arrived.

The new way.


The Old Way (Testament or Covenant) was out, and the New Way was ushered in. To replace ongoing animal sacrifices, God sent One perfect sacrifice -- His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for all of our sins (big and small, past, present and future), once and for all, and we were finally freed from the penalty of “The Law.” 

In contrast, the "old way" was all about what we could do for God. The "new way" takes us out of the equation pretty much all together. Now, it's ONLY about what God did for us. All we have to do is to accept it. We can’t earn it or repay it – but we must accept it by faith.

Judgement Day: CANCELLED!


In Christ, there is no final judgment for not keeping the rules (Galatians 2:16). (Note to reader: but there may very well be earthly consequences!)  All God asks of us is that we actually believe and accept His gift. It’s a faith deal (Ephesians 2:8). And it’s a great deal! That is what Grace is – the undeserved favor of God’s forgiveness because Jesus paid the price.

God, will you please stay still?


We don’t get actually get closer to God by being good or giving up something for Lent. Don’t get me wrong: all of those things are good -- but you must realize that God doesn’t move around based on our behavior or our feelings. When we accept Jesus and His loving sacrifice for us, God sees our sins “no more” (Hebrews 8:12).  We have a new identity in Him and we are completely safe in His love, always and forever. 

What do I do about my sin?


Of course, we will still sin. We can’t help it. But we won’t enjoy it much because that behavior is now contrary to our new identity in Christ. We can’t “behave” ourselves into a relationship with God; instead, we “relationship” ourselves into the behavior through the Holy Spirit living in us and through us. And here's a helpful suggestion on how to deal with your sin: Stop it!

Now for the really good part: Free at last!


The “freedom” we have in the crucified and Risen Christ is not a license to sin, but a freedom from the guilt and shame of sin. Of course, we still want to behave well (the “law” is written in our hearts) but we are not judged for our sins when we fail to measure up. That trial is over, the verdict was “guilty” and Jesus took the punishment for us. And on Good Friday, we remember this with unfathomable gratitude and rejoice on Easter morning because He lives!

Go ahead, knock yourself out. It can't hurt. 


So, if you want to give up chocolate for Lent, go ahead. You may feel better. You may even lose weight. But you will not get God to like you more for it. He already loves you beyond measure. All He ever wanted was your heart.

Suggested listening and reading: 

YouTube: Sermon by: Andrew Farley on the New Covenant 

Listen and watch: "Healing Begins" by Tenth Avenue North 

Read:  “Relaxing with God: The Neglected Spiritual Discipline” by Dr. Andrew Farley. Actually, any book by Andrew Farley is a good choice. They all drive home the same message: The New Covenant is here and it is good!

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