As a boy I grew up believing that, for the Christian, repentance and forgiveness were tied together in a dangerous, never-ending cycle of back-and-forth. The dividing line between the lost and the saved was, I believed, one that a Christian crossed many times in a single day. According to this belief, every time a Christian sinned, he crossed over to the “lost” side of the page. As soon as he repented and asked for forgiveness, he crossed back over to the “saved” column. Thus, when I stubbed my toe and blurted out a word I won’t write here, I crossed over to the “lost” column—until I asked God to forgive me for my potty mouth and crossed back to the “saved” side. Under the burden of that kind of thinking, life becomes a dangerous game of “last ball” where the Christian is always terrified of dying without a cry of forgiveness to move him back to the safe side.
There’s one big problem with that kind of thinking, as Bro. Payne pointed out. In keeping track of all that crossing back and forth between columns, we lose track of the Cross. We are saved not by the ritual of asking for forgiveness from God, but through the sacrifice of God’s son on the cross. As Paul told the Romans, “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Rom. 6:6-8). We aren’t called to repent of each individual sin—we’re called to repent of a sinful life. And for those who bring that sinful self to be crucified with Christ, God exalts us with Christ to new life.
Training our focus on the cross keeps our mind where it belongs—on Jesus rather than ourselves. When we Christians fall, we still must acknowledge our sin and lay it aside. But praise God that our salvation doesn’t depend on our getting it right. Jesus has already gotten it right, and offers us the wonderful gift of eternal life through his blood. What joy.
Copyright 2004, New York Avenue Church of Christ