“Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” — 1 John 2:2
I always brush my teeth before going to the dentist for a cleaning. I’ve wondered, over the years, if doing so is necessary or just redundant. A Google search I did about five minutes ago confirms that brushing before a dental appointment is a good idea: it improves the efficiency of the cleaning. While efficiency is a good reason to brush before going to the dentist, it’s not really why I do it. I brush before going to the dentist because I want to make a good impression. I want to show up to my appointment all cleaned up and put together, so I won’t be embarrassed, and so I can demonstrate my good dental hygiene. It’s not unusual for us to want to “show up” to the stuff in our lives looking all put together. We do some light cleaning around the house to get ready for the professional cleaners arrive. We aim to lose a few pounds before joining a gym. Sometimes this instinct is harmless; sometimes it really gets in the way of our progress.
Have you ever felt like you need to get yourself cleaned up before you can approach God? I have. Like if I just behave a little better, sin a little less, read my Bible a little more, get my bad attitudes in check, do a few more acts of kindness—then I’ve earned my right to pray. If I just get my act together, then I can expect God to listen to me. I can finally expect God to love me a little more.
But, of course, that approach to God is totally backwards.
Today’s passage reminds us that our access to God—to God’s forgiveness and acceptance—has nothing to do with our own goodness or efforts. Our access to God has nothing to do with how “put together” we are. Our access to God has everything to do with Jesus. Jesus is the active party. Jesus is the one who’s already done the heavy lifting. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we can, and should, turn to God just as we are: broken, messy, sinful, doubtful, confused, tired, regretful, hurting…you name it. There is no amount of tidying up you can do that will make God listen more, forgive more, or love more. God is already doing these things to the full. And no amount of cleaning up we do comes close to the washing away of sins that Jesus has already done, once and for all, for you and for the whole world.
When we feel we need to get our act together before we can start following Jesus, we miss the point. It is in following Jesus that we can enjoy being wholly ourselves: wholly loved and wholly forgiven.