Today I passed by a church that had the following announcement on the sign outside the building: “Imposition of Ashes – 7:00 pm”. Throughout the Bible, ashes are connected with grief, sorrow over sin and repentance. When Job was in great sorrow concerning all the losses in his life, he sat in ashes. When the prophet Jonah preached the word of judgment to the city of Nineveh, the king himself repented in sackcloth and ashes. But what really caught my attention about the sign was this word – imposition.
Imposition – an excessive or uncalled-for requirement or burden.
In that one word the spiritual condition of our nation is summarized. We don’t want to be imposed upon by God to think anything about ourselves is wrong or needs to be changed. The ashes that are to be an outward expression of the inward repentance of the heart, like so many other things, have become nothing more than a religious ritual with no real spiritual significance to most who participate in it.
Repentance, the turning of a heart toward the Lord Jesus and away from sin, is a beautiful thing. The apostle Peter actually describes it as a blessing:
To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.” Acts 3:26
Paul says in Romans 2:4 that it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. Why? Because from our repentance comes times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19). What a welcome thing this is to those who have experienced it!
Repentance is no burden, but a proper and necessary response to the dealings of God with our life. It is through our repentance that we agree with God about the weakness of our flesh, our ever falling short of His glory, and our continual need for His strength and cleansing. In repentance my heart can rejoice that I serve a God who is unwilling to leave me the way that I am, who is committed to conforming me to the image of Christ, and who is always working to remove those things from my life that hinder this goal.
I won’t be getting any ashes on my forehead tomorrow. Instead I choose to live daily in the fiery presence of a God who changes me from glory to glory.