Ash Wednesday: The Mark That Matters

By February 18, 2010 culture, faith No Comments

While on the treadmill today at the gym, I was scanning the various television shows for distraction as I listened to my iPod. [One of my favorite treadmill diversions is proofreading the closed-captioning text—as great a service as that is, it produces some funky errors!]

So at some point, the closed captioning for Live with Regis and Kelly caught my eye—Regis and Kelly were discussing Ash Wednesday. Both were feeling awful for not getting their ashes yesterday.

I was reminded of a man I saw Wednesday with an ashen smudge on his forehead. He was at his job, going about his day—all the while marked. I noticed it immediately. My eyes lingered on him, seeing him work, wondering how early he went to church to get that done before his workday began. I wondered if this man loved Jesus—if this man knew how much Jesus loved him. I hoped that was the impetus for his ashen brow. Whatever the reason, he looked marked—meaning, his countenance seemed aware of his brow, aware that something was different about him. He was, might I say, radiant.

The distinction between these two cases is striking. Two people feeling immense guilt for not getting smudged; one person seemingly radiant, with smudge in place.

Now, perhaps this marked man is always radiant, and it wasn’t just a matter of being set apart by the ashes. This I will never know. But the potential for guilt over failing to perform and satisfaction over successfully performing is evident. Whether you got your ashes yesterday or not isn’t the basis of being a good Christian. Apart from Christ, however, we tend to berate ourselves for failures and congratulate ourselves on our successes . . . all the while missing the point of being a Christian or observing Ash Wednesday and Lent or loving others and living life.

We forget to rest on the finished, all sufficient work of Christ on the cross for canceling the debt of sin that separates us from the Father. Nothing but the blood of Jesus makes us a Christian. Only Jesus puts us in good standing with God.

So do we need to be marked to have favor with God? Actually—yes, we do.

But the mark isn’t one made by our own human hands (see Colossians 2:6–12). We cannot earn it ourselves or get it by the hands of another human. It’s the mark that God Himself places on us when we turn from our sins and ask for His forgiveness found only in the cross of Jesus Christ. It’s a mark that cannot be washed off and will not fade away—nor can it be lost. It’s the mark of Christ living in us by His Spirit.

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” —Ephesians 1:13–14

By the mercies of God, be sure you are marked this Lenten season—just be sure it’s the mark of Christ on a soul that’s redeemed. That’s the mark that matters for eternity.

Read this post for a restful, joyful, God-glorifying approach to Lent.

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