When Sin Becomes an Alter
By Michael Gonzalez
Missing the Mark
For many years I’ve functionally lived as if the goal of being a mature Christian was to sin less or simply avoid sin. Sin essentially was a problem to fix as fast as possible. Repentance oftentimes left me feeling like a hypocrite because I was told you’re not truly repenting if you continue to repeat a particular sin over and over. So when I kept getting angry at particular types of people, or when I’d continuously experience non-clinical anxiety, it was rooted in unbelief and thus a sin. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just get my act together?
Can you relate to this? Feeling stuck in a cycle of failure, shame, and then over time, finding renewed energy to follow Jesus; only to fail…again. The cycle of shame and guilt continues on and on, forming us more and more into the types of people who can’t stand the presence of God.
New Frames with a New Aim
Is this what God is like? Is this what he rescued us for? A life of continuous self-improvement projects that makes us feel worse than before we “got saved.”
I want to advocate that we were made and even saved for union with God and others. Our fundamental problem is not that we’ve broken laws. It is not that you can’t get your act together. Following Jesus is not primarily about using unearned forgiveness as a motivator to try harder next time. Listen, good behavior is very important, but as my friend Matt Tebbe says, “We can avoid sins, like adultery, and not necessarily love God more.”
The aim of being human, the very telos of our salvation, is full participation in the life of God. It is about learning how to live all of life in the love of God and you don’t have to deal with your sin problems before you can start living into this. The gospel reveals good news of a God who meets us where we really are in Jesus. No one cleans up their lives before they are able to come in contact with the love of God revealed in Jesus. Lepers don’t heal themselves. Sinners don’t forgive themselves. Jesus meets them where they are, in the midst of their pain, and meets them with grace and truth. Even more, his aim is not simply to heal or forgive, but to connect relationally with them. His desire is that they share in his life and love.
An Unexpected Meeting Place
What does this mean for you and me? It means that the sin that causes us to feel estranged can be transformed into a meeting place to encounter the love of God revealed in Jesus. Our sin is not something that we need to “deal with” before we can meet with God, experience his transforming love, and begin the process of faithfulness. Instead, we can be present with God and offer our brokenness as an offering. Sometimes this is all we have to give; our disordered desires and our aching heart. Our honesty and our willingness to trust in his love is a sweet aroma to God. The sin that blinds us to God’s love can be transformed into an altar. Literally, a meeting place where Jesus meets me with grace and truth. Why? Because God’s aim is to live in union with us and God only meets us where we really are. Not where we think we should be or where we think God thinks we should be.