Two weeks ago, I wrote about the oceans of pride in which we swim as part of our culture. I wrote it as much for me as for you. I am embarking on the beginning of a second career as the inevitable winding down of my first one begins. It is a vocation that requires much self-promotion, which is an anathema to me. A web domain with my name. Business cards. Networking at conferences. Pitches to agents and publishers about my work. Talk about being out of one’s comfort zone!
But I love to write and believe I have some insightful and beneficial things to say. So I am beginning to dip the proverbial toes in the waters of publishing. However, I do so with the understanding these waters can be dangerous. Pride is so subtle; yet it is so lethal. We just naturally tend to think of ourselves more highly than we ought.
As I have wrestled with this, it has refocused my concern for the American church and its need for humility before the Lord. The way to stay humble, to not think of ourselves more highly than we ought, is to recognize that we are each a sinner in need of God’s grace. It is easy, I think, for us to acknowledge this, but I am not sure that most Christians understand how offensive sin is to God.
There has been a trend developing for a while now where churches play up God’s love and downplay sin. The thinking seems to go that we’re all sinners and we all sin, so since it is so prevalent among us, it is really not that big of deal. Love covers over a multitude of sins, so let’s just focus on God’s love for us and our love for one another in spite of our sin.
Like most of the devil’s lies, there is some truth in this. Yes, the Lord loves us in spite of our sin. Yes, Jesus died on the Cross in order for our sins to be forgiven. But the Cross did not remove the abhorrence of sin, nor make it acceptable. When John wrote to his brothers and sisters in Christ, he said if we confess our sins, the Lord is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us of all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). But how much confession of sin is there today?
James writes of the importance of confronting our own sin, recognizing its seriousness, and coming in humility to God with a recognition of our desperate need for his mercy:
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:8-10)
There is nothing in the Scriptures that leads to the conclusion there is a one-off confession of sin and then we can move on in life, basking in the Lord’s abundant grace. Rather, sin is to be dealt with as it occurs in our lives; first through confession and then repentance. I recently heard someone talk about their sin in a way that made me uncomfortable. The person spoke of their own struggle with sin but said nothing about confession or repentance. I think this is very representative of the Christian culture today. We talk a lot about our struggles with sin in a general way, but rarely speak of the need to confess specific sin and then repent of it.
This goes back to our tepid view of sin. Because of God’s grace, we don’t really comprehend the seriousness of it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer described this view as cheapening grace. When sin no longer truly matters in day to day life, whether it be lying, a haughty attitude, unforgiveness towards another, or anything the Scriptures count as sin, when we brush it off as a mere struggle, then the grace of God doesn’t mean much.
We must remember how the Scriptures describe the consequences of sin—eternal death (Romans 6:23) and separation from God (Matthew 25:32-46). And the price paid to prevent us from experiencing these consequences was the cruel suffering and death of the Son of God. This is how seriously God takes sin.
Sin is also a slave master. As believers we have been freed from our slavery to sin (Romans 6:6-7). But like any bondage from which we have been freed, the purveyor of the bondage will seek to draw us back to our prison. Like the pimp or the dealer, sin is at the door seeking to lure us back, to once again gain a hold over us. As Paul tells us, we must be alert to the devil’s schemes.
Currently, our enemy is outwitting us. He has convinced many that sin is not as bad as some say. Grace has it covered, so what’s the worry? It is a grave mistake because unconfessed sin and lack of repentance hinder the power of God.
Have you ever wondered that with the abundance of churches in the US, why there is so little transformation in our culture? Multiple megachurches in the same city seem to have very little impact on the city as a whole. Could it be so because there is so little difference between those participating in churches and those who do not?
Imagine if churches were impacted by the Spirit of God in the same way as the Jews at Pentecost and the Ephesians when they heard about the power displayed by demons. When the Jews heard the preaching of Peter, they were “cut to the heart” and wondered aloud what they could do to solve their problem of sin. Peter told them to repent and be baptized in order to be forgiven. When the Ephesian believers heard about the beating some men took when they tried to cast out an evil spirit, they were terrified, for they had been dabbling in the occult. They came and confessed their sins and brought together their extensive and valuable library of evil writings and burned them in public. Both responses led others to follow the Lord.
Imagine if confession and repentance similarly took hold in the church today. Imagine people standing up and confessing an addiction to pornography or alcohol, or to an extramarital affair, to having a bitter spirit and unforgiveness toward someone. Or a separated couple came before their brothers and sisters owning their responsibility for the struggles in their marriage and making a commitment to rebuild it? What would the reaction be if some church members publicly confessed to their roles in a church conflict and sought forgiveness and reconciliation? Is it possible churches would be transformed and their witness to an unbelieving world dramatically strengthened?
What we see in the Scriptures is a template for spiritual growth and effectiveness. It begins with humbling ourselves before the Lord, taking the abhorrence of our sin seriously, and seeking to remedy it as quickly as possible through confession and repentance.
From my humble perch, it does not appear this is being taught or modeled in churches today. Rather, we have contented ourselves with avoiding the stark reality of sin in our lives. It continues to have a hold on us. It is robbing us of the power to be transformed in the way God desires. And it is preventing the world around us from taking notice of what a difference it makes to follow Jesus.
© Jim Musser 2018