What if you could have a clean slate? Perfectly clean. No blemish. Completely forgiven. You can start all over, and everyone in your life gives you that freedom and grace.
Yesterday and today are Muslim’s equivalent of Christmas: Idul Fitri (Eid al-Fitr). They have just completed the month (29-30 days) of fasting, Ramadan, and are now celebrating the completion of the fast. The fast requires that one does not eat, drink, smoke, have sex and other defiling acts as outlined by the Imam (local pastor) or sect when the sun is up. Breaking the fast every night is a big occasion for which lavish meals are prepared to eat at sunset.
Muslims live with no assurance of forgiveness. Saying the Shahadah (the declaration of god’s authority and Mohammad’s role as prophet), prayers, giving alms, making the pilgrimage to Mecca and lastly, keeping the fast are the ways that one can earn merit with Allah and pay off sins. But working on a scale system and with an unpredictable god means that one can never truly know if/when he will get to paradise. It is up to Allah.
However, perfectly keeping the fast and prayers during the fast are believed to wipe the slate perfectly clean. On the holiday following Ramadan, Muslims will visit their friends, family and neighbors to ask forgiveness for sins committed and sins internal, or thought. The slate is wiped clean between friends, family members and neighbors. It is believed that the sins were cleansed for keeping the fast, and so making peace between one another is exemplary of the merit that has been earned before Allah. The goal is unity. This is the only day of the year that it is forbidden to fast and extravagant meals are prepared and snacks are available at every house one visits to ask forgiveness.
Many Muslims will tell you that if you were to die after keeping the fast perfectly and making peace with your neighbors, that you have a blank slate and would go directly to paradise. The only other guarantee of direct access to paradise, to many Muslims, is to die on the Jihad: service to Allah.
This might sound very foreign. Many of us in the United States have limited knowledge and exposure to Islam, so the concept is lost on us. However, many of us who have been brought up in Christianity function on a self-written system of merit earning, rather than the grace of God. Some sects of Christianity teach that when one sins, he must say a certain number of prayers, he must punish himself, he must confess to a man. Some sects of Christianity believe that our sins can be washed away, as long as it is not that sin (divorce, adultery, having a child out of wedlock, homosexuality, whatever).
Some of us do not consciously realize that we are trying to justify ourselves with our actions. We might say that we believe that:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
– Eph 2.8-9
But yet in the same moment we consider ourselves to be “a pretty good person” and not deserving of damnation. We think God owes it to us to forgive us because we only tell an occasional white lie but we give our tithe, we go to Church, we are involved in a Bible study…
Here is the beautiful hope. God, through the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, does not give us a blank slate. He does not let us start all over. A blank slate would do us no good, because as long as we are in our flesh, we have a sinful nature and we will sin (Gal 5.17). Not only that, it is not a blank slate that glorifies God. It is a righteous and holy slate. A life lived in accordance with His Law and unto His glory. If a sheet of brownies is made with a tablespoon of dog poo, the entire batch is contaminated. Even if we were capable of living a perfect, God honoring life, one small sin like eating a piece of denied fruit would damn us to Hell, as it did Adam and Eve. Did you ever take your sister’s toy? Cheat on a test? Tell your parents you were going somewhere and you went somewhere else? If so, then you are guilty.
But Jesus, knowing our incapability of keeping the Law, even if given chance after chance, clean slate after clean slate, took the punishment that you and I deserve and in exchange gave us His righteousness.
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
– 2 Cor 5.21
Being forgiven is an elementary understanding of the transformation that happens at the moment of salvation. Yes, our sins are counted to us no more. But that is because they were appointed to Jesus and punished in His death. We were given Spiritual life (Eph 2.4-5). We were given a new heart (Ez 36.26). We were made as new creatures (2 Cor 5.17). We became the righteousness of God, by trading places with Jesus (2 Cor 5.21). So now, when God looks at us, He sees Jesus. He sees righteousness and worth. We, by no merit or action of our own, may approach Him and are welcomed to spend eternity with Him (Heb 4.16).
So you can be forgiven. And made new. And given a new Spirit and a new heart. But more importantly, you can be covered in Christ’s blood, and you can stand before God on His merit: He who did keep the Law perfectly and He who alone can enter into Heaven. Stop trying to earn it. And obey in thankfulness and love.