At this point, some may complain: Why does God need me to grovel at his feet and say “I’m sorry!” before he’ll take me back. Why doesn’t he just do it?” Remember that repentance is not something God requires to take us back…it is simply what turning back to God looks like. To say that we want to turn back to God without repentance is like saying that we want God to take us back without going back; that we want to be free of our sins without being free of them; that we want to love God without really loving him.
The point is, there is no getting around this turning back, this repentance, this death of ourselves. We need to do it…but because of our sin, because of our hardened hearts, we can’t do it. As Paul says, “I can will what is right but I cannot do it” (Romans 7: 18). We need God’s help…but is there help from God? We should be encouraged by the fact that God is helping us all the time. We can think…only because God has put a little of his reason into us. We can love (John says) only because he first loved us, and puts some of his love in us. But now we need God to help us die to ourselves, and turn back to him! How can God help us do that? God doesn’t need to repent (his goodness is perfect) and God can’t die (God is eternal)! But what if God entered our human nature and did for us what we had no desire to do…what if God went to the lowest place, the darkest place and gave himself for us even when we did not know him or love him?
|Father Maximilian Kolbe|
The second way his life is spread to us is through Copying Christ. "No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness…but present your members to God as instruments of righteousness,” says the Apostle Paul (Romans 5: 3-5; 6:13). If we want to play basketball like Michael Jordan, we have to do more than wear his jersey and his brand of shoes, we have to present our members, our eyes and ears, legs and arms, our entire bodies to physical conditioning, daily drills, passing, shooting, learning defensive and offensive strategies and, in general, copy the things that he does. Copying Christ, or the imitation of Christ (read the famous book by Thomas a' Kempis) is no different. To grow in Christ-likeness, we must practice. We must cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the development of new habits, directing our bodies toward the things that Jesus himself would do if he were us: things like worship, prayer, knowing and living God’s word, helping others, working for what is just and good. But again, even the power to do this…is a gift, a miracle of his grace. Therefore, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” says Paul, “for God is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2: 12-13).
The third way that his life is spread to us is by Uniting with Christ in Baptism and Holy Communion. “We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). The Sacraments remind us and in a special way communicate the Spiritual presence of Christ. They are important because we can’t do them for ourselves, they are done to us. Just as a baby cannot wash or feed herself, so we do not baptize ourselves or prepare the meal at the Lord’s Table. It’s a sign of the cleansing power of God that only he can do. Lewis has a beautiful illustration of this cleansing work…but before I share it with you, I need to address one final question.