The idea of God giving us a big “do over” is right at the heart of the Christian season of Lent. People who have set out to follow Jesus spend time reflecting on the state of our lives. We find we aren’t meeting the standard.
We don’t do this to beat ourselves up though. We are also meditating on the goodness of God. We know in advance that in Jesus God is pouring out love toward us, so it safe to look at ourselves. It is okay to tell the truth about what we see.
The mistake, though, is thinking God offers us what golfers know as a “mulligan.” You don’t like your shot off the tee, so you set up another ball and try it again. It’s against the rules, but hey, most of us aren’t aiming for the PGA.
God is not offering daily mulligans.
God is offering a total system reset.
When your computer is really stuck, CTRL+ALT+DEL doesn’t touch it. It’s time for the hard reboot.
How does a grown up human being do a total system reset? When Jesus was chatting with Nicodemus he called it being “born again.” Nicodemus was mystified. (John 3:3, 3:7)
The phrase “born again” has become a problem for a whole lot of Christians — and for a whole lot of non-Christians for that matter. When you compare the way it gets tossed around in our culture with its treatment in classic theological statements (or its biblical roots for that matter) there is little resemblance.
If being born again seems like little more than a mulligan it probably means we don’t remember what a painful and messy process it was to get born the first time.
When the Heidelberg Catechism (that 450 year old Reformed theological summary I keep blogging about) takes up the topic they present it as the only solution to a very serious problem.
8 Q. But are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil?
A. Yes, unless we are born again by the Spirit of God.”
I suspect a lot of people would find problems with the Question and never quite reach the problem in the Answer.
Totally unable to do any good? Inclined toward all evil? Me?”
Okay, it sounds extreme. But take note: it is a statement about measuring our lives by a very particular standard.
Back in question 4 the Catechism notes that God’s standard for human living is the pair of commandments of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, quoted by Jesus:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
If you imagine those standards like an archery target, and our lives as the arrow, we have definitely missed.
We love God — but with part, not all. We love our neighbors — some of them, some of the time, but never quite as generously as we love ourselves. There is always some mixed motive.
If an arrow misses the target, by a little or a lot, it hits something else. And if these commandments define what God wants of us, anything else is… well, that’s what the Catechism describes.
So this Lent, whether we are new to faith or longstanding believers, we need a total system reset.
If life has gone astray we need to start over. The good news is that being born into a new life is exactly what Jesus offers.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments: What does the idea of being “born again” bring to mind? What do you think of the Catechism’s diagnosis of the human problem?
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