What if our practice of confessing sins is the equivalent of the Pharisees’ tithing? Those disciplined religious leaders gave a tenth of their spices—mint, dill, and cummin, but neglected the weightier God-issues like justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Various streams of American evangelicalism have codified their litany of sins to be confessed. For some, it’s dancing, smoking, playing with “devil cards,”and drinking; for others, it’s lying and taking home office paper clips. For some, it’s sanctioned speech which whistles many words out of bounds and vigorously opposes heavy metal music and tattoos. You get the drift. What if Jesus could care less about this petty reduction of sin? Did I just type that? Yes, and I mean it.
We imagine that our newly “washed in the blood of the Lamb” life is like a white board. We get bad marks on it as we go through the day. But “if we confess our sins,” voila!, the board is washed clean again. So convenient. What if the core issues to God are not the bad marks on the board but the driving reasons why we are going through our day in the first place? (No, I am not condoning petty sins, as if they don’t matter at all. They matter, but they don’t matter first.)
The gospel of Jesus the Christ, the gospel revealed in the Bible, does not begin with us. It isn’t worried about our sins. At its heart, the gospel is not even about us. I’m trying to see Mark’s Gospel with new eyes, pondering the epic opening (Mark 1:1-13). Mark immediately casts us into a vast story; a deep and pulsating back story. The gospel that Mark introduces focuses on “straight paths”and “the way of the LORD.”
The New Testament gospel is not about what you did today—lied, lusted, lipped off—but why you lived today. When the people from Judea raced to John the Baptist in the wilderness of Jordan, when Jerusalem’s streets were silent and empty because “all the people went out”to John, they did not confess that they cheated on their taxes, or too aggressively spanked their kids, or did not read all the pages required for that assignment, or only gave an eighth of their cumin. The gospel repentance wasn’t about the things they did. What mattered to the coming One was the very way they lived.
We may obsess with getting the specks out of our eyes, while Jesus sees the logs. The danger in this is that we can fool ourselves about being kingdom people even as we walk the American way right into hell. One of the most lethal ways is aligning the U.S.A. and the Christian faith. Civil religion is, indeed, the opiate of many Christian people.
Until our soul is cross-shaped and not a tidy white board, we will be blind to the variety of ways our culture is leading us by the nose. Get out of the matrix. Flee to the wilderness. Join Jesus with the wild animals and attending angels (Mark 1:13). Unplug. Go minimal. The cross-shaped life is not only about being washed in the blood; it’s about embracing a new way of life. The cross is the primary pattern of “the Way.” The new humanity the gospel creates is not about me or you at all; it’s about Jesus and his Way. His Way has the powerful knack of knocking us out of the center of life. It’s about learning that the city streets of Jerusalem or Chicago, Grand Rapids, Dallas, San Diego, Knoxville are not as fulfilling as a long residence in the untamed wilderness with Jesus.
You may be thinking, “Are you kidding me? I can’t just drop everything—my family, my job, my favorite TV shows—and get my wilderness on.” Oh, yes, you can. You must. The first place the Spirit seeks to lead you is the wilderness. A cross-shaped soul is a vast inner territory. A wilderness is in it waiting. Get your compass and find it. “How?”you ask. If you really want to, you’ll find it.