“The point of the cross isn’t forgiveness. Forgiveness leads to something much bigger: restoration. God isn’t just interested in the covering over of our sins; God wants to make us into the people we were originally created to be. It is not just the removal of what’s being held against us; it is God pulling us into the people he originally had in mind when he made us. This restoration is why Jesus always orients his message around becoming the kind of people who are generous and loving and compassionate. The goal here isn’t simply to not sin. Our purpose is to increase the shalom [goodness of God] in this world, which is why approaches to Christian faith that deal solely with not sinning always fail. They aim at the wrong thing. It is not about what you don’t do. The point is becoming more and more the kind of people God had in mind when we were first created.” (Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, pg 108).
I suppose this quotation could be somewhat controversial. After all, the cross, in my understanding, is about forgiveness. However, I agree with the larger point of Rob’s belief. The problem with the cross focusing on not sinning is that we miss our larger role in the world. Not sinning is important because we don’t want to grieve the Holy Spirit, because there should be some difference in us, and because if we truly love God we should despise sin. However, if our focus is not sinning, we’ve missed the opportunity to grow into the messengers of God’s good news to the world.
Because not sinning is great, but if we’re not growing, if we’re not becoming closer to the people God wants us to be, we’re missing out. The point of the cross is to get beyond sin so that God can improve our character. Paul encourages the Philippians in this way:
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling and disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. (Philippians 2:12-16, emphasis added)
The cross is about more than forgiveness because we are continuing to work out our salvation to allow God to work “His good pleasure.” Later in the letter, Paul talks about not achieved “it” yet, but continuing to press on to the call of Christ. This implies that the Christian walk is so much more than just “not sinning.” It’s about pursuing God’s call in our lives. It’s about wanting to be what He wants us to be. And it’s about doing what we can, through the Holy Spirit, do get there.
“Not sinning” is somewhat passive way to pursue a life with Christ. It does take a lot of effort to deny our flesh, by all means. Sin is enticing to us. But “not sinning” means that we’re just meeting the minimum standard. To actively pursue God’s will in our lives, to active pursue what discipleship means to die to the flesh daily, to humble ourselves before Him, and to surrender all the things that we think are best so that we can do what He wills in our lives.
This is going to be my pursuit in 2010. I don’t want to meet the bare minimum. I want to be holy as God has called me to be holy:
but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16).