There’s a bumper sticker out there that absolutely drives me nuts. I can handle all kinds of lame-brained political bumper stickers, but this one drives me over the edge. And when I see it, there’s a nasty side of me that wants to scrape it off, find the owner and shove a sermon down their throats. It reads: Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.
I know the intent of the saying is noble. It’s an attempt to counter all the self-righteous Christians out there who strut about the earth thinking to themselves that they are God’s gift to humanity. But in suggesting that the only difference between a Christian and non-Christian is the matter of forgiveness is dead wrong.
Scripture tells us that “Jesus became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor.5:21). This means two things. First, that Jesus died for us so that we might become right with God – for left in our natural state we are separated from God by our sin. So yes, forgiveness matters a great deal. But also secondly, Jesus died for us that that we might learn how to walk righteously before God.
“Call him Jesus,” the angel said to Joseph while Mary was still pregnant with Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins.” Yes, Jesus died on the cross so that we might have forgiveness. But that’s only the first part of what his death accomplished. He will also save us from our sins. The prophecy of Isaiah 53 tells us that Jesus “…was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Is.53:5) Jesus’ death brings us peace (forgiveness) but also healing.
What good is forgiveness, if when we come to Christ, we continue to do those things that require it? Forgiveness is just the beginning. After lopping off that massive tumor of unforgiveness that will drag me into hell if it’s left there, Jesus then reaches right into the very depth of my soul where the cancer of my sin nature festers and grows, and he performs a miracle. He plants the seed of salvation inside of me, and if that seed is allowed to grow, the sin in me will begin to get smaller and weaker, and over time I’ll begin to look like and act like Jesus.
This is the miracle of Christianity. The saying ought to read: Christians aren’t perfect, but they are forgiven and then given power to get moving in the right direction. (Which then will take up the entire bumper, so it will never be a sticker.)
Christians like to call this journey of spiritual growth discipleship. You can’t do a thing about the forgiveness part of salvation other than receive it. God did all the work. But you have a lot to say about the healing part. The growing part. It’s your birthright as a Christian to grow in Christlikeness. And it’s your responsibility.
This week we’ll unpack some ideas about how we grow up spiritually. But for now mull this one over: Jesus accepts us just as we are. But then he never leaves us that way. He loves us too much to let sin have its way with us.
Some questions to ponder: Are you growing as a Christian the way you would like? What are some areas in you that you think that Jesus would like to work on if he had the chance? What are some things you could do to promote more growth in your life?