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in christ, not condemned

graphic: Martha G. Brady

This is the end of Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of Lent. As a protestant, Lent hasn’t been a big thing for me. But in the last few years, we have been at a church that does have an Ash Wednesday service. It has been very helpful for me to appreciate the way it sets a tone for these weeks before Easter.

I don’t believe that giving up something for Lent is beneficial to me. It might be. I have done it before at various times. But there is nothing intrinsically beneficial about giving up chocolate or some other food or goodie during Lent. Developing new spiritual disciplines are helpful of course, but they are good anytime!

There is no activity that will make me more favorable to GOD than I am right now, in Christ!

I had an exchange on the internet yesterday that reminded me of the fact that there is no activity or action I can do that will make me more favorable to GOD than I am right now, in Christ! Because of what Jesus did for me on the cross and then rose from the dead to show that He won the victory over death and sin, that He had paid the full penalty for my sin and it was accepted!

Now that I am in Christ, I stand in His righteousness, not mine. Yes, I have times when I feel guilty, but that is not who I am as GOD’s child. Do I sin as a christian? Yes, I do. But I am a new person in Christ. He is changing me at my core. He changes my desires and grows me to be more like Him. I won’t get to that place in this life, but I’m more aware of my sin than I once was and I’m growing more in grace. I am far from perfect…way far from it! But I am changed with a new heart. GOD is working to transform me to be more like Him so I match who I truly am by His grace.

When I sin, I repent and move on. It doesn’t change who I am in Christ. He is ready to forgive me. There are no recriminations. I don’t have to live in a state of penance for a few days or months. It is done and paid for. My sin doesn’t take GOD by surprise. He knows how frail I am in regard to sin, better than I do! He doesn’t look at me with hands on hips and say, “You sinned again?! What is wrong with you?” He forgives freely and totally. No matter how good our earthly human relationships are, there are none that are that good and still healthy. It is mind-blowing!

And He looks on me, not on the basis of my failed record, but on the basis of Jesus’ perfect record. That’s what it means to be “in Christ.” I have nothing to brag about because my righteousness has nothing to do with anything I have done. It is all because of Him and what He has done. That’s why christians should be the most humble people in the world! We have nothing to brag about. Our goodness is based on Jesus, not ourselves! Our “goodness” is based on Jesus’ record. The record of living 33 years on earth and not sinning once in thought, word or deed;  Of finishing the work He was sent to do on the cross for us.

So what is the motivation for the good things we do for Him? Does it earn us extra favor?

So back to things we do for Jesus. Sometimes, we decide to do special things for Jesus. We might even think He wants us to do something special for Him. I’m trying to think of examples: a time of special prayer for a special concern or issue, a special commitment to give of ourselves, money or something else…just 2 examples for now. I think I would put them in the category of worship.

It is something extra or special. The motivation is not to make GOD love us more or to improve our standing before Him. That can’t be done. That’s why I call it an act of worship. It is something He calls us to. Occasionally, it may be a lifestyle that is difficult…at least for a time.

The difference is totally in our attitude. We know we are already accepted in Christ. We aren’t doing it to be accepted or to improve our standing. We are doing it out of gratefulness to GOD for who He is and what He has done. We already know there is nothing we could do to repay Him.

If we are doing it out of guilt or duty, there will be no joy in it. We will find ourselves getting angry or upset if others don’t notice or appreciate what we are giving up or how much we are sacrificing. But wait! If that is happening, it is time to look for red flags. These are warnings that the motives for your activity or “sacrifice” are not what you thought…appreciation for what GOD has done. Your response is showing you that your motive is really a desire to have GOD love you more than He already does. That isn’t going to happen.

We are already living our lives as an act of worship (Romans 12:1-2), enabled by Him. For some, Lent may be a time when they make extra commitments as an act of worship in preparation to celebrate Easter. I’m not sure what your practice is.

Our Ash Wednesday service tonight was a helpful one as we confessed sin and were reminded of our frailty in this regard…and also how much GOD loves us and reaches down in mercy to us in our frail and broken state to forgive and cleanse and provide a righteousness that is not native to us.

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
    he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
    and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting
to everlasting on those who fear him,

    and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
    and remember to do his commandments.

Psalm 103:8-18