This week the people of God enter into the season of Lent. It’s a time for us to look at our lives under the guidance of God’s Spirit and honestly assess our spiritual condition. As we begin Lent, I’ve been thinking about how so many of us mistake the Gospel as just another religious system providing us a particular form of sin management. Here’s what I mean. Over the years I’ve pastored many people who have done their best to manage – some quite remarkably – areas of sin and weakness in their lives. They’ve spent years managing, through various tricks and practices, to tamp down, but never eradicate, the monsters in their lives. But, at some point they all eventually arrive at the outer limits of their capacity to manage these monsters. This is scary territory for every “sin manager” because it feels like God has abandoned them, and “the gospel” (their version of it) didn’t really work. The truth is God hasn’t abandoned them, and they’ve only come to the end of a “gospel” that really was no Gospel at all.
It makes me think of Dallas Willard’s observation, in his book “The Divine Conspiracy.”
“The current situation, in which faith professed has little impact on the whole of life, is not unique to our times, nor is it a recent development. But it is currently at an acute stage. History has brought us to the point where the Christian message is thought to be essentially concerned only with how to deal with sin: with wrongdoing or wrong-being and its effects. Life, our actual existence, is not included in what is now presented as the heart of the Christian message, or it is included only marginally. That is where we find ourselves today. Once we understand the disconnection between the current message and ordinary life, the failures just noted at least make a certain sense. They should be expected. When we examine the broad spectrum of Christian proclamation and practice, we see that the only thing made essential on the right-wing of theology is forgiveness of the individual’s sins. On the left it is removal of social or structural evils. The current gospel then becomes a ‘gospel of sin management.’ Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message. Moment-to-moment human reality in its depths is not the arena of faith and eternal living.”
You cannot create something-ness from nothing-ness. A vacuum will only produce a vacuum. We came into our salvation naked, blind, lost and dead. What makes us think that we can proceed on to maturity in our salvation (what theologians call “sanctification”) by single-handedly re-arranging our nakedness, blindness, lostness and deadness? We must stop trying to manage the monsters in our life. It won’t work. Let’s talk about what the Gospel really means . . .