We have just passed the halfway point thru Lent. I’ve enjoyed hearing the stories of the college students in their journeys so far. Many have given up social media, and to their surprise get significantly much more homework done. Today’s students have had access to Facebook their entire school careers, so Facebook “breaks” and homework go hand in hand. Of course without discipline, a five minute Facebook break turns into an hour or more. One gal fasting from social media found herself checking her email more, and I thought “welcome to the 90’s” as that’s all we had; Instant Messenger, Facebook, texting, MySpace weren’t invented yet.
A couple gals have given up makeup, and I couldn’t be more delighted for them to start knowing their beauty is already present, they don’t need makeup to be valuable or accepted. But it’s been a hard journey for them this first half of Lent.
I took a break from my Facebook fast around my birthday so I could communicate about my birthday party, and I quickly realized how much I still need to fast from it. It was one of the first things I looked at on my phone in the morning. I thankfully didn’t linger on it, but I would prefer to have the self-discipline to not to go to it except occasionally.
I also discovered I hate fasting from food. I did an 18 hour fast and it was rough. I did pray more as the hunger pains prompted me, but boy was I grumpy. I have one more full 24 hour fast I want to do, and since I’m endeavoring to do it on Good Friday, I’m hoping a better desire will be present. By fasting that day, I hope it will enable me to identify more with Jesus’ sufferings on that fateful Friday.
I’ve also been reading “Gospel for Real Life”, which surprisingly has coincided well with reading “Church History in Plain Language”. In the first four chapters of GfRL a couple themes have stood out so far: the importance of recognizing my sin, the significance of Jesus living and dying for me, and the thoroughness of God’s plan.
I unfortunately tend to forget that I am a sinner until I fail in a significant way. And since I tend to try to avoid failure at all costs, I don’t experience that very often. But before God I sin daily and I don’t treat my sin as seriously as I ought. Bridges writes “the seriousness of sin is not simply measured by its consequences, but by the authority of the One who gives the command.” As I examine the sinfulness in my heart, I discover self-centeredness, selfish ambition, resentment, bitterness, impatience, a critical or unforgiving spirit, irritability, a love of material things, or an indifference to the eternal or temporal welfare of those around me. And those are just the negative traits. There are also the positive ones that I fail to live up to as God commands, like loving God with my whole mind, heart, and soul and loving my neighbor as myself. Loving God above all other desires, always rejoicing to meditate on God’s Word day and night (Ps 119:97), always delighting to do His Will (Ps 40:8), doing everything for His glory – eating, drinking, working, playing, driving, reading, speaking (1 Corin 10:31), never worrying but always trusting God’s plan and good heart towards me (Rom 8:28, Phil 4:6), and the list could keep going.
So why spend all that time considering how sinful we are, we’re only human, right?! Yes, we are human, and God is a Holy God. So holy in fact, He can’t be around sin. And until we see our deep need, we can’t even begin to appreciate the good news of the gospel. As Bridges states “Most people, even people who have already become believers, have never given much thought to how desperate our condition is outside of Christ. Few people ever think about the dreadful implications of being under the wrath of God. And most of all, none of us even begins to realize how truly sinful we are…. Only those who understand to some degree the enormity of their spiritual debt can begin to appreciate what Christ did for them at the cross.”
“Only those who understand to some degree the enormity of their spiritual debt can begin to appreciate what Christ did for them at the cross.”
I’ll come back to the Cross in a bit. A lot of attention is given to Christ dying on the Cross for our sins, and while this is incredibly important and I still don’t fully grasp the amazingness of it, there is also the truth that Christ LIVED for me. And it wasn’t until reading Church History that I understood the implications a bit more.
Christ lived a perfect life. He committed no sin. He perfectly loved and obeyed God, He perfectly loved people, He was never impatient, or critical or unforgiving. And this matters so greatly because Christ is our representative before God. As believers, what Christ did, God sees that we did. All that Jesus did, we did, because of our union with Him! Wow! The perfect life I was unable to live, Christ lived for me. I understood this to some degree concerning His death (that He died for me and in my place), but I hadn’t really considered before that it also meant His life.
The significance of this hit home even further for me while reading Church History. In the first half of the 3rd Century, the Christian Church enjoyed a rather peaceful time of no persecution, and the church grew. But then Emperor Decius came into power and he thought Christians were enemies of the empire. He commanded all citizens of the empire to sacrifice to the Roman gods and those who didn’t obey faced death. To save their lives, many Christians complied; others were martyred for their faith. A few more were tortured but didn’t renounce their faith and were called “confessors.”
After Decius’ death in battle only a couple years later, the persecution ended and the Christian Church struggled with readmitting people to the church. In some places as many as ¾’s of the church has deserted during the persecution. Two terrible concepts entered the Church. One was a system of penance for the repenting believers, and the other was elevating the confessors and martyrs to sainthood. They believed that these extraordinary Saints could “cover with their merits the demerits of the lapsed.”
When Jordan and I were discussing Church History this last week, she got an earful of my frustration as I was fired up! Both these concepts deny what Christ offered in His life and death. At the time the Church leaders believed that Christ died for all your sins up to the time you converted and were baptized, but not after. How important it is to realize that Christ died for ALL our sins – past, present and future! We don’t have to pay any penance whatsoever, because Christ paid the full penalty on the Cross. I understand that it’s an offer that sounds too good to be true, and so we have a hard time accepting it. But it is true! Gloriously true!
We don’t have to pay any penance whatsoever, because Christ paid the full penalty on the Cross.
As for the Saints, argh! No! The concept is correct, but with the wrong Person. The merits of the Saints don’t get transferred to the lapsed Christian. CHRIST’s merits get transferred to us. This offer also really seems too good to be true. What Christ did, God sees that I did. Christ lived His perfect life in our place and our behalf. It’s an amazing offer to those who choose to believe and follow Christ. To look to penance or to look to the Saints is to say that what Christ did in His life and death was not enough. But it IS enough!
This brings me to the last point of the thoroughness of God’s plan. We are sinners in desperate need of mercy. God is a God of justice and His justice also needed to be fully satisfied. If God extended mercy at the expense of His justice, it would take away from His holy and perfect justice. “Only God’s infinite wisdom and superabundant love could devise such a plan that both satisfies His justice and meets our desperate need for mercy.” It makes me think of some of shows on Netflix we watch, like White Collar or Leverage. The endings of each episode are so satisfying because they always come up with the perfect plan to catch the bad guy and help the good guy. And if I allow myself to be swept up in the story (and forget there are writers orchestrating the script), I can be amazed at “how did they do that?” There is a true story going on in our lives, so much more satisfying than an episode on Netflix, where God orchestrated the perfect plan to satisfy His holy justice and our need for mercy. It was the Cross!
A lot of people falsely think that God can just forgive our sins because He is a loving God. This is not the case. The Cross is why God can forgive our sins. God hates sin and only His wrath is sufficient enough to deal with sin. He is Holy, he cannot be around any degree of sin. “The Cross, then, is an expression of God’s wrath toward sin as well as His love to us. It expresses His holiness in His determination to punish sin, even at the cost of His Son. And it expresses His love in sending His Son to bear the punishment we so justly deserved. God’s holiness demanded [the Cross] as punishment for our sins, and God’s love provided it to save us from our sins.” The perfect plan! And oh am I grateful!
God’s holiness demanded the Cross as punishment for our sins, and God’s love provided it to save us from our sins.
It’s easy to gloss over the significance of this, and if you find yourself in that place, as I often do, it helps to start by recognizing our sin. “For it is only against the dark backdrop of our sinfulness that we can see the glory of the Cross shining forth in all its brilliance and splendor.” As Bridges also states “Our need is not to be measured by our own sense of need, but by what God had to do to meet that need. Our situation was so desperate that only the death of His own Son on a cruel and shameful cross was sufficient to resolve the problem.”
Thanks for reading through all my thoughts. I hope I conveyed at least a little how truly significant the Cross is. Til next time!