In 1899, a famous healing evangelist named John Alexander Dowie founded a Christian city north of Chicago, Illinois named Zion City. His desire was to create a modern-day Utopia by removing every temptation that could lead the city’s inhabitants astray.
In fact, in the city charter he outlawed sin. Really!
Zion City eventually grew to 6,000 people under Dowie’s leadership, but they were never able to achieve their goal of eradicating sin. Zion, Illinois exists to this day, but it resembles any other city.
The season of Lent tends to direct our focus to our sin. And why wouldn’t it when our sins were the reason Jesus was nailed to the cross on Good Friday? Traditionally, Lent commemorates the 40 days Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. So yes, Lent does expend a significant focus on sin.
Like all of you, I have spent a lifetime trying to rid myself of my earthier side. No matter how hard I try, no matter how much energy I expend, I often find that my efforts only make things worse.
Obviously, none of us will completely rid ourselves of our sinful condition until we pass through those pearly gates, but there is a better way to fight the ongoing battle with sin.
Abide in Christ.
Sounds overly simplistic, but it’s true.
The Best Way To Identify An Idol
When I make the focus of my life the eradication of sin, I make sin my focus. I’m actually abiding in my flesh—that part of me which craves sin. So it’s no surprise that I become further entrapped by it. Whatever we abide in, we become.
If I’m struggling with lust and trying not to think lustful thoughts, what am I focusing on, or abiding in? My lust.
Whatever I focus on becomes an object of worship. An idol. If I make finances the focus of my life—maybe I’m not making enough, maybe I just want to make more—then finances become my idol.
Ironically, it works the same way with love. If I focus on becoming a more loving person, who or what am I focusing on or abiding in? Ultimately it’s myself. And in the end I simply become more self-absorbed and more frustrated because I’m not becoming a more loving person.
Jesus said, “He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV).
Anything good, anything fruitful that comes out of us isn’t the result of our efforts, but because Christ did it through us. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing.
The fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—is the fruit of the Spirit’s work in our lives. In other words, you can’t produce the fruit of the Spirit on your own.
Stop Working On Your Sin!
So what part do we play? It doesn’t come by struggling with sin or trying to be more loving. Making laws outlawing sin like Alexander John Dowie did with Zion will never be successful.
All we can do is abide in Christ.
The word “abide” means to remain, stay, live, or dwell.
Abiding is not a matter of reading your Bible and praying nor does it mean white-knuckled obedience. It’s a matter of being. Believing.
To abide means to make your abode, your home with Christ. To live with Christ. You don’t have to always say something to Him. But you know He’s there. You acknowledge Him. You enjoy fellowship and communion with one other.
Abiding in Christ means I take my mind off myself and my problems and onto him.
Steve McVey writes in his book Grace Walk, “The Christian life is not about Christ. It is Christ. It is God’s purpose to bring every Christian to the place where he no longer lives for self, but where Christ is allowed to live His life through us.”
That’s the paradox: You can’t become more loving by trying harder to love. You can’t become patient by trying to be patient. You can’t overcome your addiction to porn by focusing on overcoming your addiction to porn. You don’t become like Jesus by trying to become like Jesus. You might as well throw away that WWJD bracelet.
We become like Jesus by being with Jesus. By communing with Jesus. By allowing Him to live His life through us. Loving through us.
And that is what Lent is all about.