Last summer I went camping with six kids. I work in a group home, and every summer the kids travel to Northern Ontario and “rough it.” It was my first time ever camping, so I was able to pick up a few tips along the way, but going into the camping trip, I never would have thought I would be taught a lesson about sin. No, this wasn’t a Bible camp where we had mandatory morning devotions in the nearby chapel. Actually, the whole lesson took place in a matter of minutes—about four to be exact.
As I was making my lunch of noodles over our propane stove, I walked away from them for a few moments, only to have one of the kids call me over to tell me I had made a mistake. Unbeknownst to me, I had left the purple plastic fork which I was using to stir my noodles in the pot of boiling water. The prongs of the fork had now converged towards the center and were nearly melted together. We got a laugh out of it, which made it worth the cost of a purple plastic fork—but that fork got me thinking about sin. More specifically, what sin does to our hearts.
There in my hands was a fork, which I could no longer use because it was immersed in something it was never made to touch. Something it was never made to experience or created to encounter. Similarly, our hearts were never designed by God to be separated from Him—to experience sin. This fork representing the effects sin has on my heart was quite a wake-up call for me. I suppose I was used to thinking so much about God’s forgiveness for me and forgotten the reality of sin’s destructiveness.
The radical, unrelentless, immeasurable mercy and grace of Jesus Christ to forgive sin is completely unfathomable to me. I am at a loss to wrap my mind around how Jesus can love the Mother Teresas of this world as much as the Hitlers—or me, for that matter. Our human rhetoric simply can’t describe the immensity of the meaning of the cross: that God would allow His holy, wrath-filled, just, judgement to pass onto His Son, Jesus, so that His creation would not be required to endure it themselves.
Yet, although I marvel at God’s unrelenting forgiving heart towards us, I wonder if we are so quick to claim the truth of God’s forgiveness for our hearts. We have neglected to proclaim the equally true fact that although we can be forgiven of our sins, our sin still does terrible things to our hearts.
Amidst all the attention and emphasis that is placed on our “right” to God’s forgiveness as believers, maybe we are more prone to forget that sin slowly, deceptively conforms our hearts to the world’s mould. Sin screws us up, just as that plastic fork got melted by the boiling water and became damaged, unable to complete its original purpose. Similarly, our hearts were not intended to conform to the ruinous effects of continued sin, but to the heart of Jesus.
God never gave us the gift of His forgiving grace so that we could live like forgiven heathens (Romans 6:1-2). One of the reasons He provided His grace is so that we may conform to the image of Christ. So that God’s image in us may be increasingly redeemed and reflected.
“Cheap Grace” is what German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the lackadaisical treatment of God’s forgiveness in, The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer began the book by writing, “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the church.” He later described this cheap grace as:
… the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sins departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves … cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Although sin cannot change our identity as God’s children, it certainly has profound effects on our maturity as believers—who we are becoming. Our sanctification (becoming more like Jesus) is just as important as our justification (not having our sin held against us). For if our treatment of the death and resurrection of Jesus only includes the fact that we’re forgiven and are on our way to Heaven, it leaves little relevancy for the time we now occupy here on earth.
I have a suspicion when Jesus offered us life “to the full” (John 10:10), He wasn’t talking about a life on earth of waiting around to die so we could finally get to Heaven. It seems however, that a relationship with God is spoken about more in terms of a legally binding contract (like a “get out of Hell free” card) and less like a romantic, head over heels, madly in love marriage.
The 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “If Christians want me to believe in their Redeemer, they need to look more redeemed.” I find Nietzsche’s comment a refreshing reminder that I have a responsibility as a believer to display to others that I am more than forgiven. If you are a Christian, you are intended by God to be far more than “just forgiven.” You are also intended to reflect His image in your life (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
When we are so focused on the fact that we are forgiven, we forget what we were never intended for: the disastrous effects of sin. We also neglect to remember and emphasize what we were intended for: Jesus Christ. We live unhealthy and spiritually unbalanced lives which display little appeal to non-believers. Yes, Jesus is our Savior from sin—and that is so beautiful—but He is also our Redeemer to so much more: the very life and glory of Christ in our hearts.