I love bumper sticker theology. These rolling evangelism tracts say a lot about the popular theology of the church.
Some are amusing. One bumper sticker that I've seen recently is the one that says, "Be patient, God isn't done with me yet." Amen.
Some are thought provoking. Take for example the bumper sticker that proclaims, "God is my co-pilot." If God is the co-pilot, who's in charge? If God's not driving, stop the bus, I want to get off.
Others, while well meaning, are downright troublesome. Consider the following: "The Bible says it, I believe it, that's the end of it." Theologically close, but no cigar. If the Bible says it, that's the end of it.
However, one popular Christian bumper sticker speaks to us all. It's folksy and it's true. "I ain't perfect, just forgiven." The Christian life is one of eternal forgiveness and temporal sanctification. God isn't done with us yet but He's not holding it against us either. In Christ, we stand justified already and we are to become more like Him every day.
Unfortunately, just as many car owners use bumper stickers to cover up the rust on their vehicles, many Christians use God's forgiveness to cover up the sin in their lives. The argument goes something like this: I have asked Jesus into my heart. God has forgiven me. All my sins are covered. If I sin again, God will forgive that, too.
Now, every word of that may be true. However, it's the attitude of the heart, that human propensity to justify our own sins by claiming the justification of Christ, which is problematic. It's not that God's grace cannot cover our sin. It's that we presume upon God's grace so that we may sin. Thus, contrary to Paul's warning to the Romans, we go on sinning hoping that God's grace may abound.
God, of course, is surprised by none of this. He predicted the spiritual demise of His people. He knew they would rebel again and again. He knew that they would repeatedly turn their backs on Him, all the while assuming that as God's people they were secure. Knowing all that, He offered the only known remedy for backsliding in 2 Chronicles 7:12-16:
Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: "I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.
In this great text on revival, God lays before His people a gracious offer of spiritual renewal. Here He promises restoration. And, He defines the conditions upon which His offer is incumbent.
The first requirement God sets before us is the necessity of humbling ourselves. We must recognize our great sin, our great need, and our great God. We must see ourselves in the light of God's glory and bow before His holiness. Until we see things as God sees them, we'll never see His forgiveness.
The second and third requirements build logically on the first. Having seen our sins from God's perspective, we are then to take our case before God in prayer. We are to seek His face and call upon His name, admitting that He and He alone can restore us to our proper place. We are to depend upon His grace.
The last requirement that God places upon His people is that of repentance. God is not looking for people who are sorry that they've been caught in their sin. Lots of people feel bad when they're caught. He's looking for people who are sorry they've sinned. He's looking for people who will see sin as He sees sin, who will reject their sinful ways, and who will, by His grace, never go that way again.
If we truly want to see a great revival in our generation, to experience spiritual renewal in our churches, and to know God's blessing in our lives, we must agree to God's stipulations. There's no other way. So, let's stop trying to cover our sins with pious platitudes. Let's stop presuming upon God's grace. Let's admit our sins and throw ourselves on the mercy of His court.
Then, and only then, will we see the church revived again.
Peter Beck (Ph.D. Southern Seminary) is assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina and a former Senior Pastor. Dr. Beck also writes at his Website, Living to God.