Un-Masked: Lenten Musings

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” ~  1 John 1:8,9

“You can hide nothing from God. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before him. He wants to see you as you are, he wants to be gracious to you. You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers, as if you were without sin; you can dare to be a sinner. Thank God for that; he loves the sinner but he hates sin.”[1] ~ Bonhoeffer

The masks we wear, that I wear, are heavy and deceiving. Do you know these masks that I speak of? We all wear them, Christian and non-Christian alike. These spiritual masks – acting as though we are thriving when, in reality, we are dying inside; pretending sin is foreign to us even though it is alive and well etc… –  lie and tell us something real is accomplished by our wearing them, that we’re better, healthier, more spiritual than we really are. And by that deception, we are, in reality, kept from truly knowing God; we live at a distance from his promises and remain under the burdened-yoke of our controlling impulses.

Lent is a season focused on ripping off these masks in all their various forms. Lent seeks to move us from deception of clothed-religion into the freedom of naked-spirituality, a spirituality centered on the person and work of Christ. Only when the masks fall do we forsake pretentious piety and welcome authentic relationship with our Creator God.

So how does this happen? How do we begin to wade into the waters of authentic Christianity? Through confession and repentance. Oh, those dreaded words, those feared practices. Why the dread and fear? Could it be because they are the God-ordained devices by which we put to death our pride, our ego, our “self?” Perhaps so. But it is through this painful rending that the beautiful realities of the gospel are applied to our souls, to our entire lives. Confession and repentance help to place us directly beneath the cross of Jesus where we are then able to gaze upon that instrument of execution, the worldly-weapon that puts on display God’s full justice and grace, that place where we as sinners are made clean, and are reconciled to a holy God. These two primitive, yet essential, exercises thrust us out into the wilderness where we humbly acknowledge the wickedness of our own heart – the pride, ego, selfishness – and gladly receive the unwarranted grace and forgiveness of our heavenly Father through Christ’s humble, self-giving sacrifice on the cross. In other words, confession and repentance posture us in such a way that we no longer need the masks of phony-piety, because we have encountered the living God on his own terms. And it is through that encounter, by way of humble confession and repentance, that we have become daughters and sons of the heavenly Father, sisters and brothers of Christ himself and members of a new family.

And while it is a beautifully marvelous truth that Christ hears our confessions, that He is indeed our intermediary, we must not allow our confession of sin to remain only an exercise between Him and us. Confession must regularly be practiced within community, with a brother or sister who is, as God’s design should have it, Christ-to-us.[2] But, why, you ask, should we risk the embarrassment and discomfort of airing our dirty laundry with other people when Christ is a sufficient intermediary? I give to you, Dietrich Bonhoeffer,

…if we do (find it easier to confess our sins to God
rather than to a brother or sister), we must ask ourselves
whether we have not often been deceiving ourselves with
our confession of sin to God, whether we have not rather
been confessing our sins to ourselves and also
granting ourselves absolution.”
[3]

Christian community is God’s help to us in ensuring we do not remain wandering about in the deception of a mask-wearing religion. Bonhoeffer continues,

Our brother (and sister) has been given me that even
here and now I may be made certain through him/her
of the reality of God in his judgment and his grace.
As the open confession of my sins to a brother/sister
insures me against self-deception, so, too,
the assurance of forgiveness becomes fully
certain to me only when it is spoken
by a brother/sister in the name of God.”
[4]

In other words, we practice confession and repentance alongside our brothers and sisters so that we might enjoy the fullness of life offered in Christ alone, a place where no masks of any kind are allowed.

I don’t know about you, but I want the real thing when it comes to Jesus and his gospel. I’m sick and tired of parading around with these masks on…it is exhausting! Let us, in this Lenten season, come to God on his terms through confession and repentance as a people who are weak and needy, a people humble enough to admit our pride and selfish impulses. And let us remember that we do this – this Lenten journey – alongside one another, not alone. May this 40 day journey lead us, by God’s faithful guiding hand, into the deep, rich realities of the gospel, of un-masked relationship with our God and his people.

* Originally posted during the 2017 Lenten Season by Justin Doyle.

 

[1] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2012-06-20). Life Together (Kindle Locations 1314-1319). Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. Kindle Edition.

[2] By this I do not mean that Christians literally become Christ, but that, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, Christians are the physical representatives of Christ in the world.

[3] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2012-06-20). Life Together (Kindle Locations 1381-1383). Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. Kindle Edition.  

[4] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2012-06-20). Life Together (Kindle Locations 1392-1394). Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. Kindle Edition..”

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