As I prepare to preach through Lent to Easter, I’ve been contemplating the meaning of this season. It’s a time of much-needed inner reflection for the church. It couldn’t come at a better time in my own life right now. And I suspect for everyone else as well.
The season of Lent covers the six weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. It’s a time of preparation as the church looks forward to Passion week and celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. This season involves an intentional focus on inner reflection through prayer, repentance, and self-denial. It is when we become acutely aware of our own brokenness and need for salvation.
Why do I need this season? I need it because I’m often tempted to look at others instead of myself. How can I help others? What is wrong with “the world” and how can I can help to transform it? As a pastor and teacher, it’s easy to live in this mode of existence. It’s easy to ignore what’s on the inside.
Also, I have noticed that as Christians we often need a little balance in our lives—equilibrium in our faith and practice. I think it’s possible to live in God’s love and grace, learning to live in freedom, and then forget something that is critical about ourselves and the gospel: we’re sinners saved by grace.
Bonhoeffer said that “cheap grace” is grace without discipleship, grace without repentance and the cross. Costly grace reminds us that practicing self-denial and repenting of sin is the call of every Christian.
Sin isn’t to be taken lightly.
Sin is “missing the mark” of God’s holy and righteous character, which is fully expressed in Christ. It’s a misuse of human energies, a breakdown in divine fellowship, and of human community. Sin is rebellion within the human heart against God’s best for his creation. It’s a spiritual distortion within humanity.
“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” 1 Peter 2:11 NIV
We can’t be lazy and careless on our journey with Christ in community. We must be intentional in the working out of our salvation (Phil 2:12). We need to remember the sin that is at work in us and the urgency of having it removed from us. This then requires us to look in the mirror, allowing God to chisel away the rough edges. The chiseling may hurt a little.
You can feel it when the cross meets your flesh.
Let us agree with Paul and claim this salvific truth concerning our identity:
“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Gal 2:20 NLT
So what about those sinful inclinations? How are we doing with temptation? Are we, by the power of Christ, overcoming sin at work in our lives? What measures are we taking to stamp out our anger, our lust, our gossip, our greed, and our cynicism? Have we allowed anything to become an idol in our lives?
Are we counting ourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ?
I do believe that Lent is also a good time to reflect on the problem of evil. Things are not as they should be. And if we’re going to walk in God’s love and grace through the purging process, we need to know from whence evil comes, and why we struggle with sin in the first place.
“Consider this: sin entered our world through one man, Adam; and through sin, death followed in hot pursuit. Death spread rapidly to infect all people on the earth as they engaged in sin.” Rom 5:12 VOICE
If we do not accept that the cosmos is not as God intended it to be, as a result of human sin on the earth and angelic (demonic) rebellion in the creative evolutionary processes of the primordial past, then we will inevitably attribute evil to God, instead of acknowledging the culprits who are responsible—ourselves and Satan who is the “god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2). Blaming God cuts us off from our only source of strength and salvation.
I submit to you that if there is any place in our hearts that wants to attribute evil to God, including our so-called “natural” proclivities, this makes naming our sins and repenting of them all the more difficult.
We will say things like, “Well, God made me/them this way” or “God is to blame for evil” in my life and the world. But if we accept that Jesus of Nazareth is the God-man, fully human and fully divine, we know the truth about the Creator and his good will for us. Christ reveals the divine will for our broken humanity.
We know that God in Christ is bringing order to the chaos. The good news of the Kingdom is that God has taken responsibility for the free world he created by becoming a human being and experiencing the darkness of our fall. He took up our sin and rebellion and nailed it to the cross (Col 2:13-15).
Jesus was crucified and raised for our sanctification. He calls out a people, a church, to accept this free gift and transform this broken world by the power of his Spirit. He wants us to participate in sorting it all out.
Sin has been rendered powerless. Death has lost its sting! Christ took on the powers of darkness and defeated them through holy living, even unto death. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead has been given to us.
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3 NIV
What will we do with the Spirit’s power this Lent? Will we quench the Spirit or will we let him have his way in us? The future of the church is wrapped up in the way we respond to the Spirit that is at work in the world, seeking to reconcile all things to God, and bring healing to the nations (Col 1:19-21).
Be strong and courageous. Call sin what it is and repent of it.
Stop looking at the sins of others, and reflect inwardly toward your own need for sanctification. It is there that we will find healing for our souls in this season of renewal. Blessings on the journey.
D.D. Flowers, 2014.