Did you give up anything for Lent? If so, why did you? I ask this because I have been thinking about Lent and its practices.
In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard indicted the church in the West for what he termed ‘the gospel of sin management.’ By this he meant a view of Christian truth which reduced the gospel to ‘just’ forgiveness for sin, making us righteous before God no matter what sort of mess we continue to make of our own life. Willard writes:
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. (D Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Discovering Our Hidden Life in God, 41).
This has been the temptation of evangelicals: to reduce our proclamation of the good news to Christ’s work on the cross to ‘merely’ dealing with our sin so we can go to heaven when we die. Yet we have few coherent things to say about what God is doing in our life now, the ways in which God is at work in our life and sanctifying us and transforming us into the image of Christ. We focus on our forgiveness before God because of Jesus’s cross, but we fail to see the ways in which we are to enjoy the kingdom of God now, and missionally extend it.
If Willard is right that we have made the gospel simply about managing ‘wrongdoing, wrong-being and its effects,’ then what implications does this have for our Lenten practice? Do we give up chocolate or coffee in hopes of reigning in our bad habits a little more (remembering that Jesus died because of our penchant for extra dessert) and abstain for ’40 days’ because we are more likely to succeed than we were with our New Year’s resolutions? When we are finished with Lent do we go back to integrating our bad habits into our life so that we can give up the same thing next year? Is this season just a season of sin management? What do you expect to get out of Lent? Is it just to rely more on God for your eternal destiny or does it affect the way you live now?
This is a season to enter into a penitent space acknowledging our own sinfulness and weaknesses. We do this not just so that we are really thankful about how forgiven we are when we feel the pay off Easter morning and know that heaven awaits. Walking with Jesus on the way of the cross means entering into a whole new way of life with him and being transformed by it. Our hearts are penitent so that we can make space for Christ to be fully formed in us and we have the strength to turn from our lives of sin and taste more of the good things of God.
We seek not to manage our sin for a season but we fast so that we can experience more of God and the transforming power of the Spirit in our lives now. Yes Jesus came to deal with our sin and Lent is a time when we reflect on that aspect of Christ’s work but there is much more for us here.