New Year resolutions often carry the connotation of doing better and becoming better in the year ahead than a person was and did in the previous year. For Christ followers the season of Lent has some of the same connotation. People examine where their relationship with Jesus is strained and what they can do to restore the intimacy and vibrancy they once enjoyed but now are tarnished. The possibilities are legion.
The Apostle Paul wrote followers of Christ living in Corinth and Rome two millennium ago. His letters held up a mirror that was very unflattering. The images included “quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness (“selfish ambition”), slander, gossip (literally “whisperer”), arrogance, disorderly behavior, impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure.” The word for such pleasure means “excess” or the “absence of restraint.” It connotes shameful conduct such as the type of sexual deviance that occurred at religious orgies. Paul said their lives were “full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers (literally “evil speech” or “slander”), haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.”
Is the list different today? Can you see yourself in Paul’s mirror? The surprise is not that a growing number of people shun church, the gathering of some who claim to follow Christ yet manifest the things listed in Paul’s letter. Rather, the surprise is that God never gives up on those who want to better reflect the image of Jesus.
Every person must choose whether or not they want to reflect the fruit of the Spirit Paul describes to Christ followers living in the region of Galatia as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
The choice they do not have is whether to attempt to compose the picture as a solo act. The letter to the Hebrews commands Christ followers not to give up meeting together but to come together to encourage each other to reflect Jesus more clearly. Sometimes we need the mirror held up so we can gaze into it. Sometimes we need instruction how to correct the problems identified. Removing someone from the family of Christ was a last resort intended to convey the seriousness of a person’s actions which reflected not just upon themselves but the very body of Christ.
The introspection of Lent is most often viewed as optional. The timing may be, but the work to correct the flaws in ourselves that distort the image of Christ is not. Our goal is to depend on power of the Holy Spirit to transform us into as much of a perfect picture of Christ as is possible in this earthly canvas.
A masterpiece is not an instant creation. It takes time, focus, energy, persistence, and help. It is just what God wants us to cooperate with Him to create.