(A Lenten devotion based on Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19)
[Note: Yesterday was Ash Wednesday; thus, we are now in the Season of Lent. Lent has been observed by the Church for centuries during the 40 days, not counting Sundays, leading up to Easter. Traditionally, Lent has been a time to focus on repentance, among other things. On Thursdays during Lent, I will be offering a Lenten devotion. The title for the series of devotions is “Living the Forgiven Life.”]
The Season of Lent is a time of repentance for Christians. To repent means to identify and confess our sins. But it also means to turn around and go the other way; it means to stop thinking, talking, and behaving in ways that run counter to the ways of God and to start instead thinking, talking, and behaving in ways that are consistent with his ways. We repent when we have our initial salvation experience, of course. We need, though, to have an ongoing attitude and practice of repentance. We still commit sins and we still need to seek God’s forgiveness. Indeed, being his children, we have a special obligation to live faithfully and consistently in obedience to him.
Still—and this is very important—Christians are forgiven people. Somewhere I saw this saying: “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” We have trusted in Christ as our Savior and God has forgiven us of our sin. The sin that stands between us and God is gone. We are not alienated from him; we live in a personal relationship with him. I worry that when we talk about us Christians confessing our sins and going to God in repentance we will forget to celebrate the fact that even though we commit sins we are forgiven people. So on these Thursdays during the Lenten season I want us to think about living the forgiven life.
The first thing I want to say about living the forgiven life is that forgiven people tell the truth. I am speaking about a particular kind of truth-telling. Forgiven people tell the truth about the way things are with God and us. We are able to tell the truth about the way things are with God and us because we can see the way things are with God and us.
Forgiven people are able to look at ourselves and at our world in the hard cold light of day and name it all for what it is. Forgiven people don’t waste time talking about the way things could have been or the way things ought to be. We could, I guess. We could point to the Garden of Eden stories and we could say, “See, God made this a perfect world and he made us to live in full fellowship with him and to live happy and healthy lives and not to have all these problems but Adam and Eve blew it and we’ve fallen right in with them. Things ought to be better but they’re not because we messed up.” We could linger from now on over the way that things ought to be. It’s interesting, though, that the Bible doesn’t do that. The Bible takes very little time and space to tell us about how it was, about how good and perfect and wonderful it was and could have remained. It then uses the rest of its pages to tell us how it is, what God is doing about how it is, and how it’s going to be when God gets finished with what he’s doing about how it is.
So some people spend all their lives wishing that things were different and like they ought to be. But they aren’t. We forgiven people are able to look right at ourselves and say, “That’s right. I’ve messed up. I’ve wanted to have it my way rather than God’s way. I’ve thought I’ve known better than God and I’ve acted like it. I’ve chosen paths to my detriment when God had a way for my benefit.” And when we’re really, really honest, we forgiven people look at ourselves and confess, that even as saved, forgiven disciples of Christ, we sometimes still choose and act in those same ways, not to our ultimate ruin but certainly to our personal hurt.
There are all kinds of people and not all people could articulate the reality that I’m talking about. Some of you are very self-aware and can ably describe your human state of affairs. Some of you are overly analytical and critical and you are harder on yourself than maybe you ought to be. Some of you are, on the surface of your minds at least, not particularly conscious of your situation. I believe, though, that all of us do have a sense of where we stand. In a Get Fuzzy cartoon, a dog named Rowdy discovered that another dog named Satchel has a cat for a roommate. Rowdy said, “Satchel, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.” To which Satchel replied, “Well, I am…but what are you referring to specifically?” All human beings, whether they can name it or not, have that sense that something is wrong, that there is something of which to be ashamed. We forgiven people know what that something is. We don’t say it’s somebody else’s fault. We don’t say that it’s justified. We don’t say that we’re ok. We know what we are. We’re sinners—people who give in to the desire and who make the futile effort to play the role of God in our lives, and it is shameful, hurtful, and foolish—and it is the way it is.
And yet—that’s not the only way it is. True, from the very beginning humankind has been a sinful race and none of us has been able to break that pattern. True, each one of us has repeated the sin of Adam and has broken fellowship with God. True, we stand condemned before God because of our sin. True, there’s nothing we can do on our own to do anything about it. True, there is a sense of helplessness and emptiness and lostness in us. True, it will take a miracle to do anything about our situation. Here crashes in the other truth that must be told, the other truth that forgiven people tell, the truth that we also see and tell in the cold hard light of day—God’s grace is greater than our sin! Our heritage of sin is great, yes. Our state of sin is great, yes. But God’s grace is greater than our sin! This is the truth we tell. This is the state of affairs that we celebrate.
Think of God as a bidder at auction who will go as high as he has to go. Think of yourself as the opposing bidder. You bid sin but God bids grace. You bid more sin but God bids more grace. You bid the sin of Adam and the collective sin of all humanity ever since, culminating in your own sin, but God bids grace. He bids grace and more grace and more grace. You don’t deserve it but he bids it anyway. You don’t deserve it but he loves you anyway. You don’t deserve it but he forgives you anyway. And finally in comes his last bid: “Grace, grace, more grace, more grace—the grace that you see in my Son on the cross.” The bidding is over because it can go no higher. And grace abounds. It abounds for you and for me.
That’s the truth we tell. Our sin is great. God’s grace is infinitely greater. We tell the truth we know. We celebrate the truth we know. In the cold hard light of day, we’re sinners. But in the cold hard light of grace, we’re forgiven. Forgiven people accept the truth about who and what we are. But we also accept the truth about who God is and what he has done. And that makes all the difference.