In the Book of Deuteronomy, as Moses comes to the end of his life and mission, he recites the Law which God had revealed for the Hebrews. After spelling out the consequences of obeying or rejecting the covenant, Moses concludes with these words: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live” (Deut 30:19).
This theme of choice runs throughout the Bible, from the temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden to the very last page of the New Testament, where we read: “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done” (Rev. 22: 11f).
Obedience and disobedience, faith and unbelief, repentance and hardheartedness, life and death, good and evil, virtue and vice. The Bible insists that these choices are real, and the consequences are real. We believe that every human life is unique and unrepeatable, and that eternity will seal what we have chosen for ourselves in response to God’s call and his offer of mercy and grace.
Lent 2015 will soon be upon us, and we will hear again the first words of Our Lord’s public ministry: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). His parables about the sower, the wheat and weeds, the net, the two sons, the wedding banquet, the talents, the 10 virgins, the sterile fig tree, good and bad stewards – all of these are about making right choices in the light of eternity. He teaches us to look beyond the passing things of this world for the sake of the things that last forever.
And when we are oppressed by the evil and weakness that are ours as members of a fallen race, Jesus assures us that he is the way that leads to life; he is the truth that sets us free; he is the light that heals our blindness: “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. He who rejects me … has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day” (Jn 12: 46ff). “He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.… If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, throne into the fire and burned” (Jn 15: 5f).
Lent is an opportunity for us to reflect on the Lord’s teaching that if we truly love him, then we will keep his commandments; that if we are his followers, we must share his cross; that we cannot be his disciples without surrendering our attachment to material things, human bonds and our very selves; that once we say yes, there can be no thought of dividing our heart or turning back.
Given these radical demands of the Gospel, is it any wonder that repentance is a lifelong work? With the passing of years, we are either growing closer or farther from Jesus and the kingdom of God. No matter how far along we have gone in either direction, there is either greater holiness to attain, or the hope of turning around if we are far from where we should be.
Sadly, in America today, “choice” is exalted as the freedom to do whatever we want. Like Adam and Eve, we claim the ability to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong, regardless of God’s commandments. We see this now in all spheres of life, even in the advocacy of things like assisted suicide. That is certainly not the freedom of which the Bible speaks. True freedom is the grace which Christ has won for us to throw off the shackles of sin, and to do what is right and good even when it involves suffering and a cross. No longer slaves of the evil one, we can live as true sons and daughters of God, in Christ.
My hope and prayer is that we will renew our determination this Lent to choose the right path, to grow in holiness and virtue and to arrive at Easter with a renewed sense of what it means to die and rise with the Lord.