The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 1:8-2:2 NIV)
True Confessions of a Disciple
Confessions are scary business. For everyone.
True confessions sounds like one of those rag mags you find on a newsstand full of the foibles and follies of the rich and famous. People love their reality shows and true confessions spice things up nicely. And celebrities are used to it, aren’t they? Nobody gets hurt. Some people like to air their dirty laundry in public, sharing their accusations and stories of betrayal and disappointment with the whole world watching.
Those of us who have a bit more sense, avoid those kinds of situations like the plague. True confessions are the dirty side of reality and it just mires you in bitterness and resentment as you are reminded of all your own hurts and offenses.
So when it comes to the church, most of us are rather uncomfortable with the idea of confession. Isn’t that a Catholic idea anyway? We don’t do that in my church. The Pastor might talk about it once in a while, but it is always a silent confession just between God and myself. Nobody else’s business. It’s a private thing, not public. Thank God.
Besides, all that talk about sin and rebellion is so last century. Nobody wants to focus on the negative side of things. We are more about positive psychology and becoming the best person we can be, right? Come to think of it, my Pastor hardly ever preaches on hell and eternal damnation either. It seems like that whole side of things has been forgotten about or set aside or something. Now I’m not so sure…..if that’s a good thing or not. After all, the Bible does talk about it…..quite a bit. Even Jesus warned the people about it and said that there was a real danger that, even a person who considered themselves to be part of the people of God, could still end up in hell where there was fire and gnashing of teeth. I remember that part….
Yes, true, honest confessions of sin are definitely a part of the gospel message. It is key to salvation in fact. There is no redemption without it. Apparently God thought our sin and rebellion was so dangerous to our eternal welfare that He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross to take care of it. Accepting and confessing to God and others the reality of our sin and rebellion is essential to our salvation.
We keep saying that confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation are the Way of the Cross, that these four things are essential to the Gospel, that they reflect the whole point and power of the Cross, that they are, in fact, the heart and soul of the gospel because these are the steps we need to take to be reconciled first of all with God and then with others and that they are only possible because of the cross.
But saying it doesn’t make it so. We need to take each one of these concepts and show from Scripture how they are rooted in and reflect the person and work of Christ and why they are essential to salvation. Perhaps you already agree or know these truths. In any event, it is a good exercise to show why these four steps are essential to appropriating the good news of the gospel for ourselves.
And don’t think that this is a light issue. This is where the battle is the fiercest, where Satan spends most of his time distracting the church and giving them other battles to fight, other issues to deal with. This is where the Holy Spirit focuses all of his power and effort to bring sinners to the foot of the cross in brokenness and repentance. The Bible tells us that the work of the Holy Spirit is to “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8 NIV). Jesus preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 3:2 and 4:17) so that mankind could be reconciled to God. There it is in a nutshell. The preaching of repentance for those who are convicted of their sin so that they can be forgiven and brought into a new relationship with God.
All of this is only possible because of the person and work of Christ on the cross.
The Bible is saturated with this message because it is the entire point of the gospel. No one really doubts it. But still there is a problem. Nobody wants to do it, much less talk about it. We don’t mind talking about forgiveness and reconciliation but we avoid the confession and repentance side of things. But is that even possible? Does that not destroy the gospel and, in fact, give us a false gospel? Are we in eternal danger if we do not embrace both sides of the cross? Indeed we are. The Bible is also clear about that.
In theological terms, this is often discussed as the relationship between justification (we are “justified” before God by the righteousness of Christ who is our substitute) and sanctification (often called “progressive” sanctification which is our actual level of righteousness).
The idea is not to get all theological here but a basic understanding of these two concepts will help us find the powerful truth of the cross and apply it to our lives. A misunderstanding of these two concepts has created problems of “cheap grace, legalism and moralism” which still dominate most churches today. Remember, Satan works hard to get us to miss the heart of the gospel and therefore lose out on the power of the gospel to heal relationships (especially with God but also with others). That’s why so many churches have the form of religion but not the power of transformed lives.
So it’s worth getting this right, don’t you think? We will be talking about these concepts for the next couple of days, bringing to light the key questions and issues so that we get it right and stay focused on the power of the cross to heal our relationships with God and others.
Besides, isn’t that what the cross is all about? What a crazy “logo” for the church. Who in his right mind would choose an instrument of torture, a symbol of oppression and cruelty and senseless violence as a way to represent the church of God? We hang it around our necks, we proudly display it on top of our churches and in the front of our sanctuaries. Almost as if we were proud of it. And we are. Just like Jesus doesn’t hide his wounds and is often depicted as “a lamb that was slain” (Rev. 5:6), we don’t hide from the dark side of the cross. Reality is a bitch. It hurts. The nails through the wrists and hands and heels hurt and hurt deeply. The suffering is real. The pain is unbearable.
But we aren’t masochists. We aren’t “reality junkies” wanting nothing more than to witness the suffering of others as a form of self-catharsis or vicarious pleasure (or pain). It isn’t reality by itself that is a symbol of our faith but rather reality transformed by the love of God in Christ into the power to heal us where reality hurts the most. In our relationships.
By his wounds we are healed the Bible promises us. The healing we need is relational first of all…..everybody knows that. When we are surrounded by people who love us, we can endure almost anything that reality can throw at us. Nobody regrets not making more money or spending more time on their careers when they are on their deathbeds. They only have regrets about relationships that have not been healed, friends and family that are not there, loved ones estranged and distant, unable to bridge that gap of offense or misunderstanding or downright meanness that happened so long ago. The healing we need first of all is between us and God. Then we will understand and experience the source of the power to heal other relationships as well.
It starts with confession.
Confession is about looking reality square in the face and calling things what they truly are, no excuses, no justifications, no rationalization. Sin is what it is. Rebellion, self-authority, selfishness, disinterest, ignoring a relationship that cannot be ignored. If we are not convicted of our guilt with regards to sin and rebellion before God (which is a gift of the Holy Spirit), we cannot be forgiven.
We must first of all acknowledge the absolute necessity of the cross because our situation was so grave, so dangerous, so impossible to solve that the only solution was for God, Himself, to come down and take the punishment on His own head, in the body, as a human even though he was also divine. The necessity of the cross is our confession. There is no other way than to start with the naked truth, the stark reality, the unforgiving existence of evil in the heart of man.
The cross is not a symbol only of reality but of reality dealt with, forgiven, cleansed, transformed into something even more real, more substantial that will last into eternity. And it is that truth, reality transformed by love, that the cross represents for us.
If that is true, then why are we so afraid to admit the truth about ourselves. It isn’t about reality but about “reality transformed.” What is the big deal about confession, especially confession followed by repentance and both culminating in forgiveness and reconciliation? Why is it so hard to do?
How often have I heard the complaint from those outside the church that they just felt guilty and dirty every time they went to church. They didn’t appreciate the negativity. They didn’t like the confession. They didn’t want the light of the Word of God to shine on their lives. They only heard a “half-gospel.” They left before they understood how the story ends, how the drama unfolds. Sometimes it was because the preaching was not properly focused and sometimes just because those who reject the confession can never hear the good news of the gospel because they refuse to deal with reality.
Some who are more philosophically inclined argue that it is a “straw man” argument. First you convince people that they are guilty and then you tell them that they are forgiven. It is pure manipulation, they claim. Well that would be true if the person was NOT guilty but if they are guilty, then it is not manipulation but rather spiritual therapy resulting in a burden of guilt and shame that is taken away and the result is literally transformed lives.
Yes, confession is dangerous especially in this dark and difficult world (and even in our churches). Not everybody in the church understands the spiritual dynamics involved in true confessions and why they are necessary not only for salvation but for our progressive sanctification. Many people in the church only have a “half-gospel,” they reject any feeling of manipulation or guilt or shame as consider it to be “unspiritual.” Their blindness is deep and profound.
In churches that have fallen into the trap of legalism or moralism, the danger of confession is that it will be used against you, your reputation may be damaged, your livelihood affected, your marriage could break up, your position in the church could be dissolved.
Who in their right mind confesses their sins “one to another” as the Bible directs us to do as part of our progressive sanctification (James 5:16)? Are you crazy? Very few people (including the leaders) really understand the gospel and so are ill-equipped to handle these revelations of guilt and shame. Some will even claim that it is a lack of maturity when it is, of all things, a sign of great spiritual relational maturity (even if unwise in the eyes of the leaders).
Of all things, confession is rooted in the cross of Christ since it is willing to look at the reality of sin and shame and rebellion and call it what it is and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is forgiveness for those who confess and repent of their sins. That is the good news and no amount of stupidity on the side of the church or church leaders can change that fundamental fact. Thank God.
But it still takes courage and faith and an eye on eternity. This is where persecution within the church usually starts. And the pain and rejection is deep and hurts like hell. So be it. It is the price of our discipleship. It is the first step in our spiritual healing. It is the path which we call the Way of the Cross and there is no avoiding it. Embracing it, on the other hand, will bring joy beyond imagination.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s pray…..
Lord, I don’t like this confession stuff. It scares me. But I know you have asked me to confess the truth, to call sin what it is and don’t sugar-coat it. So I will. This is the way of the cross and it will hurt both within as I crucify my flesh and without as others in the church crucify me as well. It hurts when they crucify me because there is no redemptive purpose to their comments. They are probably just reacting, scared that my transparency will require them also to be transparent. Forgive them, Lord and teach all of us to carry each others burdens and bring them to the cross together in joint confession of sin and rejoicing in the forgiveness that you offer. Thank you, Lord for always having one of those disciples around to help me. In your name I pray. Amen.
Read more (from The Temptations of the Cross)
“Get away, hide.”
The warning came with the sound of marching feet and a sudden silence in the streets. Paralyzed for a moment, he couldn’t grasp the danger. The boy, who had come with the message, ran at him, pushing him toward the rear of the hovel with a half-shout, half-whisper.
“They’re after you. Go out the back. Run, run.”
There was a shout outside as orders were given. It was already too late. His hand dropped to the head of the boy who was still pushing him, almost unbalancing him, in his fierce efforts to get him to safety. (Read more…..)