We are approaching the end of our Lenten season and I have had some very interesting conversations with several people about their Lenten sacrifices. Some were successful in adhering to the things they committed to do during Lent. Others were somewhat 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 sacrifice that he does not require for God has always said he desires our hearts not our sacrifices.
In fact this led to a broader discussion of the moral laws which define sin for us as Christians. God has thousands of years of watching us continually fail to faithfully follow the law. There was so much failure that in one sense he promised to do something to make it so we could always follow the law. Once he fulfilled his promise, the law would not define who we are; instead we would define the law by our righteousness.
What God promised to do was given to us in today’s first reading. “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).
This is an amazing promise God has made to us; it is what I call a Spiritual Truth an absolute fact of what God wants to do for you and I. God has promised us that he would change our hearts by imprinting on it his design of how to live in a right relationship with God. In the prophecy of Ezekiel chapter 36 beginning with verse 26 God tells us he will write this law on our hearts by placing the Spirit within us. Both of these promises were fulfilled with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Paul tells us in Romans 7 that the law can only point out to us 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 moral laws we follow can do nothing to make us holy they can only make us feel good about ourselves or bad about ourselves. We either will feel justified and holy or unjustified and sinful. The problem with the law – including our Lenten sacrifices – is it can only be followed by our own desire to be obedient and that depends on our will power to overcome temptation.
However if we invite the Holy Spirit which we received at baptism to stir within us and change our hearts everything we do will begin to change. Instead of following God’s will by our own strength and might the Holy Spirit will imprint on our very core an understanding of how God desires us to live. So that the fact that we failed to keep a Lenten sacrifice instead of making us feel like a failure will drive us to rely more on God in the future. So instead of condemning ourselves, we will have learned how our will power is useless in a quest for holiness.
On the other hand, if our will power was strong and we kept our Lenten sacrifice that presents us with another problem. We feel justified and will further rely on our own self directed attempts to grow in holiness. This does not help us grow closer to God but instead puffs us up with righteousness and we become Pharisees and fail to please God. The law can never help us grow in righteousness or holiness which is what God desire us to do “For if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:21). That passage from Galatians sums this up for us and should help us understand how much we need the Spirit to change our hearts.
Paul tells us, “…we were held in custody until Christ came…consequently the law was our disciplinarian …but now that faith has come we are no longer under a disciplinarian”” (Gal. 3:24). The new law of love is written on our hearts and it will lead us to repentance and into the arms of the Father. Once there we understand the truth of his promise that he will forgive our sins and remember them no more. If we can accept this promise of God everything changes in our approach to living our faith.
Why is it then that we continue to live in the past with our sins haunting us? Have we become so programmed by our world that good is rewarded and wrong must be punished that we have a hard time believing God’s word to forgive without any retribution or punishment? Must we always pay the piper for failure?
God does not require us to do anything other than to open ourselves up to his mercy and forgiveness. No price has to be paid for our unfaithfulness than the price of Jesus on the Cross. But it does require us to acknowledge that the price was paid by his death and resurrection.
We have a choice to accept mercy offered to us by the life and death of Jesus Christ or continue to ignore the life offered us by a loving God. As we approach Easter let us mentally allow Jesus to wash our feet so we can feel his cleansing of our sins.
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 this gift of God was the price of our sin. This should satisfy our understanding of paying a penalty for wrong done by us is fulfilled by his passion and death. 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 mentally and speak the words to God as you reverence the cross on that day.
Then on Easter when God’s glory is revealed in the resurrection see in yourself the new creation in Christ. Free from condemnation because you believe. Alive to Christ because of the Holy Spirit and rejoice for He is Risen.
Then prepare for new birth when his promise to change us was fulfilled on that Pentecost so long ago