As we are approaching the end of our Lenten season I was talking with some people about Lenten sacrifices. Some were successful in maintaining what they committed to do during Lent. Others were successful for most of the past five weeks; while others failed miserably. Those who failed needed some reassurances that God was not going to judge them on a self-imposed duty. In fact this led to a broader discussion of the moral laws which define sin for us. God has had thousands of years of watching us continually failing to faithfully follow the law. There was so much failure that he promised to do something to make it so we could always follow the law. Once he fulfilled his promise, the law would no longer define what we are not. Instead our lives would define who we are – sons and daughters of the living God.
Through the prophet Jeremiah God promised to change our hearts. “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more (Jer. 31: 31-34).
God says plainly that he will change our hearts by imprinting on it his design of how to live lives which conform to his will. Then in the prophecy of Ezekiel he said this new heart would happen by placing the Spirit within us; so God’s promises were fulfilled with the death of Jesus and then with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But he promised us even more than a change in our hearts. He also tells us he would forgive us our sins and remember them no more. We need to do more than to hear those words “remember them (your sins) no more.” We need to believe them because they tell us more about God’s desire for us to be holy than we can learn in years of study.
Paul tells us in Romans 7 that the law can only point out what is sin. How right he is for the law can do nothing more than condemn us of our failings. So let me say this in another way, the law can do nothing to make us holy or righteous. But God changing our hearts will imprint on our very core an understanding of how God desires us to live. So that our new hearts know that when we failed to keep a Lenten sacrifice, instead of making us feel like a failure we will rely more on God in the future. So failing to keep our Lenten promise in one sense is just as or more rewarding as keeping it.
Without this new heart we are totally dependent on our will to adhere to a law or pledge. So we define righteousness by how well we succeeded in keeping our Lenten sacrifice. But if we succeed in keeping our pledge and go back to our old habits, what have we achieved. In the end we are nothing more than law abiders whose hearts are far from God. Paul sums this up for us when he said “For if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:21). This is exactly why we need to surrender and die to self-help in our quest for holiness. It is exactly why God said he would do it for us through the outpouring of the Spirit changing our hearts.
Paul tells us, “…the law was our tutor to lead us to Christ” (Gal. 3:24) but at some point that law now written on our hearts must lead us to repentance and into the arms of the Father. Once we let God embrace us we begin to understand the truth of his promise. It is only when we act on the understanding that he has forgotten and remembers no more that everything changes for us.
Before this truth is real for us we will continue to live in the past with our failings haunting us? Have we become so programmed by the world to believe that mistakes must not only be overcome but must be rectified by some act? Must we always pay the piper for failure? God does not require sacrifice for our failures. His only desire is that we open ourselves up to his mercy and forgiveness. No price has to be paid for our unfaithfulness beyond the price of Jesus on the Cross. But it does require us to acknowledge that the price was paid and because it was paid we must believe God’s love for us is unconditional.
Words should fail us when we finally grasp this act of love. But we do need to accept the gift of grace offered to us by the life and death of Jesus Christ. Offer God your heart in the remaining time left of Lent. Make a promise to God that you will attend the three services of the coming Triduum the first weekend in April.
The Mass of the Lords Supper gives us a visual about forgiveness when feet are washed. Let us mentally place our feet into the hands of Jesus and feel his cleansing power – not of our feet but of our souls.
Let us on Good Friday look at that wood of the cross and let us see on it our sinfulness. Let us accept and embrace the fact that the death of Jesus was the price of our sin and it was paid in full. “According to the Law…without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Heb. 9:22). Forgiveness has been handed to us as a free gift of grace. Accept this gift and mentally remember his words – I have forgiven them and have forgotten them. Then give God thanks as you reverence the cross on that day.
Then on Easter when God’s glory is revealed in the resurrection, picture yourself as he promised you would be – a new creation in Christ. Free from condemnation because you remember his promise to forget your past. Alive to Christ because of the Holy Spirit and rejoice for He is Risen. Sing the Glory to God with a new understanding of who you are. Let this Easter be your rebirth for like the prodigal son…you were once dead and now you live a new life in Christ.