Thursday, August 23, 2007
WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR SINS
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
God... commands all people everywhere to repent. Repent, and believe the good news. Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Yet even now, says the LORD,
return to me with all your heart...
Return to the LORD, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Turn, then, and live. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.
[The Lord] does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord,
that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God,
for he will abundantly pardon.
So they [the disciples] went out and proclaimed that all should repent... They should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8,9; 2 Peter 3:9; Acts 17:30; Mark 1:15; Revelation 3:3; James 4:10; Joel 2:12-13; Ezekiel 18:31,32; Acts 3:19,20; Psalm 103:10-12; Isaiah 55: 6,7; Mark 6:12; Acts 26:20. Psalm 51:1,2,10.
A COMEDIAN, Dan Leno, used to open his act saying, 'Ah, what is man? Wherefore does he why? Whence did he whence? Whither is he withering?'
Who am I? As our first three chapters disclose, I am a special person made in the image of God, but whose image has been scarred. I am like God, and like the devil. I am good... and bad. I am a delight, but my sins are a horror, both to God and to myself.
How bad am I? There are two opposite errors in some replies to this question. 'Too bad' you might say. Wrong. 'Not bad enough' - again, wrong. Pascal once wrote: 'There are only two kinds of people - the righteous who believe themselves sinners; the rest, sinners who believe themselves righteous.'
We are all are equally guilty - not just those the law calls 'criminals'. Indeed it's people who think they're good enough who are in the greatest peril. Most people in the Bible who were asked to repent were religious people. We cannot offer our righteousness to God (we'll never have enough), only our penitence.
You will sometimes read about the doctrine of 'total depravity' in connection with our sin. This doesn't mean that humans are as bad as they can be, but rather that no part of us has escaped the pollution of sin.
C.S. Lewis explains the old prayer-book phrase about being 'miserable offenders' by analyzing the situation of those who don't realize they're miserable. Passengers on two trains speeding towards each other on the same track may be reading magazines, dozing over a drink, or laughing boisterously. They don't feel miserable. But in fact their situation can be described as utterly miserable. Tell them they're miserable and they'll laugh at you.
John Bunyan's classic Pilgrim's Progress opens with 'a man clothed with rags standing in a certain place with his face from his own house, a book in his hand and a great burden upon his back.' 'How camest thou by thy burden?' this pilgrim was asked by his companion, Mr. Worldly Wiseman. He replied, 'By reading this book in my hand.'
The book, of course, was the Bible, a book with an accurate diagnosis and cure for the human condition. The problem: you are a sinner. Cure: 'Repent!' If you check a concordance you'll find 'repentance' is an idea mentioned as often in the Old as in the New Testaments (eg. Ezekiel 18:31, Luke 13:3, Acts 3:19). Jesus' first recorded preaching was about repentance, so was his last.
So repentance isn't funny, like the little old men in cartoons with sandwich boards shouting 'Repent, the end is nigh!' Or the mourners' bench in Charlie Chaplin films. Byron was wrong in his opinion that 'The weak alone repent'.
And the cynic who said
Christians are people who feel
Repentance on a Sunday
For what they did on Saturday
And intend to do on Monday
could not be more wrong!
Repentance is about radical change. It means coming to your senses, waking up to yourself! It means turning from your sins to God.
Repentance isn't the same as 'doing penance': inflicting pain on yourself isn't the way to go. Christ died for your sins: his sacrifice was sufficient. Repentance is more than feeling sorry, though it includes sorrow. Judas felt remorse for betraying Jesus, but apparently he didn't truly repent. (His greater sin was not to betray our Lord, but to refuse to go to Calvary for a pardon). Repentance is more than feeling guilty: guilt can be a form of self-hatred. You should hate your sins, not yourself.
And repentance is not superficial. The bucks stops with you, the penitent. You can't blame anyone but yourself. Repentance has no room for excuses, putting the blame somewhere else. Sigmund Freud, probably more than anyone else in the twentieth century, has done a lot to help us understand ourselves. He located many of our personality disorders in the early experiences of infancy. These, he said, are repressed into our subconscious and come back later to haunt us. Now this may be true, but it could lead to a 'blame-oriented' approach to life. Many who have never heard of Freud still blame their parents for who they are. Repentance is the opposite of blaming. It's you taking responsibility for who you are and what you've done.
Repentance involves a radical change of heart, and mind, and behaviour. It is a U-turn, not merely a course correction. The story of the prodigal son and the waiting father (Luke 15:11-32) is about repentance. The boy felt sorry for himself, then sorry that he'd wronged his dad, so he decided to go to his father and confess: 'I have sinned against God and against you'. He was instantly forgiven, welcomed back into the family, and his homecoming was the occasion for great rejoicing. There's feasting in heaven, Jesus said, whenever a sinner repents. If you have repented did you know you caused the angels to throw a party?
The Bible encourages us to confess our sins to God and to another human being (1John 1:9, James 5:16). Be careful to whom you confess: that person must be able to keep a confidence, and to pray a healing prayer for you.
You are saved from the penalty of your sins (though their effects may lnger). So confess them and forsake them and then don't carry their guilt with you: 'own and disown' them. God has truly, completely forgiven you. It's like being sick, then well: don't keep thinking about your sickness; enjoy your health!
A Christian evangelist was asked, 'How is it that your religion has been around for 2000 years and hasn't influenced more people?' His reply: 'How is it that water has been around for thousands of years and many people are still dirty?'
A final serious word: the refusal to repent is worse than the sin for which one ought to repent. The question really isn't 'Shall I repent?' but 'Shall I repent now, when it may save me?' Jesus had some awesome things to say about one's repentance being one's punishment... So...?
The biblical view of the history of mankind and of each individual is contained in the first three chapters of Genesis. We are created to serve God by loving him and each other in freedom and joy, but we invariably choose bondage and woe instead as prices not too high to pay for independence. To say that God drove Adam and Eve out of Eden is apparently a euphemism for saying that Adam and Eve like the rest of us made a break for it as soon as God happened to look the other way. If God really wanted to get rid of us, the chances are he wouldn't have kept hounding us every step of the way ever since.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, London, Collins, 1973, p.55-56.
I went back to the New Testament, to the Acts and the epistles, to Peter and Paul, who were the first ones to preach the gospel to a pagan world. What does it mean to preach the Christian gospel to such a world...?
Christ, after his resurrection, said... `Now that the resurrection is a reality, now that forgiveness of sins is accomplished in this new covenant, go out to all the earth and preach the good news of the forgiveness of sins to all the nations'...
That is good news, to the Masai, to the guilty man cast out of his community, to the sinful son and to the offending family. I do not have to convince them of sin. They know of sin. What they did not know of was forgiveness. It has touched the earth. This is where Christianity parts company from Judaism and from Hinduism and from paganism. Sin is a conquered thing. This is a redeemed world. One wonders if one should dare talk to pagans about sin - apart from Christ, until they know Christ.
The job of a missionary, after all, is... to teach the forgiveness of sin.
Vincent J Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered, London, SCM, 1985, p.61-62.
Jesus describes sinfulness as more than just doing wrong things. When we fail to do what's right, it's as bad as doing wrong. You can be totally law-abiding and not give a thought for anyone else. Sin is basically four things: 1. Failing - in our thinking, saying and action - to do what is right. 2. Trying to find meaning and fulfilment without God's love, relationship and guidance. 3. Rejecting and rebelling against God. 4. Missing out on the full and creative life God intends for us...
[Repentance] begins with being sorry enough to quit the past... It begins with: * changing directions * changing sides * changing what is important to us * changed alliances * changed intentions * changed commitments... There should be changes everywhere - enough for it to be noticeable: * at home * at work * at sport * in relationships * in lifestyle * in attitudes * in thinking.
Sin incriminates. To be a sinner means to be guilty before God. Guilt is that aspect of sin which belongs to the past, and is well expressed in the words from Fitzgerald's Omar Khayyam,
The Moving Finger writes; and having writ
Moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.
As Paul would say, 'the handwriting is against us', and this is something that no merely human means can ever remedy...
The late Archbishop Temple once wrote, 'A great deal too much attention has been given to sins as compared with sin. And so, if it happens that I cannot think of any particular wrong thing that I have done, or any particular good thing that I might have done and neglected, yet still I must ask God to be merciful to me a sinner, for I share the common sin of [humankind] and make myself in a host of ways the centre of the world. I think like a human and not like God.'
James Philip, Repentance: Its Meaning and Implications, London: the Tyndale Press, 1963, pp. 12-13,20.
Your intellect says, 'I accept Christ,' your emotions say, 'I love Christ,' and your will says 'I will follow Christ.' In true repentance all your powers are diverted and channeled through Christ. It is not just giving mental assent, it is not just an act of volcanic emotion, nor is it an act of will power alone. True repentance is bringing all of our being - mind, heart and will - under the control of Christ.
Billy Graham, 'The Meaning of Repentance', a sermon preached on 'The Hour of Decision', Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Box 779 Minneapolis, Minnesota 55440, 1967, pp. 8-9.
Repentance must not be mistaken for remorse. It does not consist in feeling terribly sorry that things went wrong in the past; it is an active, positive attitude which consists in moving in the right direction. It is made very clear in the parable of the two sons (Mt. 21:28) who were commanded by their father to go to work at his vineyard. The one said 'I am going,' but did not go. The other said, 'I am not going,' and then felt ashamed and went to work. This was real repentance, and we should never lure ourselves into imagining that to lament one's past is an act of repentance. It is part of it of course, but repentance remains unreal and barren as long as it has not led us to doing the will of the father. We have a tendency to think it should result in fine emotions and we are quite often satisfied with emotions instead of real, deep changes.
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, 'Meditation and Worship', in John Garvey (ed.), Modern Spirituality: An Anthology, London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1986, pp. 35-36.
Ignatius sums up as one single and fundamental principle (in other words, his First Principle and Foundation): our end is God; therefore what helps towards God is good, what gets in the way is bad. Things are not good or bad in themselves, but only in the effect they have on our relationship with God. We can recall Augustine's classic, rule-defying pronouncement: `Love, and do what you will'.
Margaret Hebblethwaite, Finding God in All Things, London, Fountain Paperbacks, 1987, p.35
Repentance is a gift... I do not have to live into fearful defensiveness in relation to my past... I can learn things today that shed a whole new light on yesterday's conclusions, and this is precisely what I hear Jesus encouraging us to do in his call for us to repent and believe the Good News. He is affirming that God is more interested in growth than innocency, in how much we have learned from our mistakes rather than how many mistakes we have made. Is not that the crucial point in the way the father of the prodigal son responded to his return from the far country? He was more concerned about what the lad had gained in terms of self-understanding than about the money and time he had lost in coming to that wisdom.
John Claypool, 'Growing and the Gift of Repentance', a sermon preached in Northminster Baptist Church, 3955 Ridgewood Rd., Jackson, Mississippi, on August 31, 1980.
Repentance, metanoia, is the turning of the mind, and with the mind the imagination, the affections and the will, away from self and sin and towards God. It is within an act of Godward-turning that our self-examination happens. We look towards God in gratitude for his loving-kindness, towards Jesus in his death for our sins, towards our own true self in what it is meant to become. The examining of our consciences will be thorough, and while it means a looking into ourselves it will not be an introspective self-scrutiny, for it will be mingled with the looking up towards God and the exposing of the self towards him. But the preparation will be thorough. It is not a matter of naming those sins which seem to be 'big' or which worry us specially, for it is necessary to confess all the ways in which our attitudes and actions have been contrary to the Christian way. That is important. It is a confession of the whole self, and the attitudes and actions which we may sometimes think to be small may be a decisive part of the self's orientation.
William Ramsay, Be Still and Know: A Study in the Life of Prayer, London: Collins (Fount paperbacks), 1982, pp. 107-8.
Oh the comfort,
the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person,
Having neither to weigh thoughts or measure words
but pour them all out just as they are
Chaff and grain together,
and a faithful hand will take them and sift them,
keep what is worth keeping,
and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away
George Eliot ?
The most noble strategy for dealing with guilt is the way of self-punishment. Do you remember how T.S.Elliot's Celia said, `I feel I must atone for this'? This is a very deep impulse of the human spirit - to conclude that because a wrong has been done, some price needs to be paid or some equivalent action taken. At least in this approach there is a recognition of the seriousness of the situation and of the individual's responsibility. However, the problem with self-punishment is that one never knows how much is enough; we can spend all our lives scourging ourselves and still feel no sense of absolution. Soren Kierkegaard's father, as a shepherd lad out on the freezing Danish slopes, once cursed God, and the memory of that act of blasphemy haunted the man for the rest of his life. He never stopped punishing himself for this misdeed. He gave lavish sums of money to the church, even lacerated his own body, but he was never able to believe that the debt had at last been paid. Any attempt to design or effect our own atonement is bound to end in uncertainty and failure.
John Claypool, The Light Within You, Texas: Word, 1983, p.188.
The practice of confession and absolution is central to the teachings of the Christian church. Throughout the pages of Holy Scripture the reader encounters a variety of forms and procedures reflecting an understanding of and support for confession and forgiveness.
Luther struggled to restore the proper practice of individual confession and absolution to the church... His writings reveal that he allowed... six types of confession: (1) confession in the heart (secret confession); (2) general or public confession in the liturgy; (3) public confession made by an individual before an assembled congregation; (4) reconciliatory confession (based on Matthew 5:23-24)); (5) the 'mutual consolation of the brethren'; and (6) private (individual) confession.
Walter J. Koehler, Counseling and Confession: The Role of Confession and Absolution in Pastoral Counseling, St. Louis: Concordia, 1982, pp. 38, 39.
Confessing one's sins to another human being... makes a public expression of my sorrow... It is an act of humility wherein I accept the authority of the Church as guardian and guide to the holy things of God. I accept my fellow human being as someone better able than myself to make a judgment of where I stand, of my guilt - and of my goodness; and I accept through his word the promised forgiveness of God, who knows me through and through. This practice brings peace of mind and soul, a deeper trust in God, and a facing of the reality of sin in my life as something to be tackled in the future, once it is clear that the past is no more a burden, that guilt does not remain, that there is nothing to hold me back.
Michael Hollings, Hearts Not Garments, London, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1982, p.50.
The seven capital sins are pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth...
What am I proud about?
What are my ambitions?
What does sex mean for me?
Have I shown anger and if so was it constructive?
Have I suppressed anger in any areas of my life, and if so is it doing damage?
What am I dependent on in food and drink?
Have I got professional jealousies, or jealousies in relationships?
What am I lazy about?
Or, if we turn our minds to the corresponding positive qualities:
What is the gift of humility?
What would it be like to be less concerned with better status and possessions?
What would it mean to have a sexual drive directed towards the real purpose of sex?
What is the virtue of gentleness?
What is best for my health in eating and drinking?
What would it be like to desire the well-being and success of others without envy?
For what causes would it be good to be able to work tirelessly...?
`God works with those who love him... and turns everything to their good' (Romans 8:28). And St Augustine adds, `even my sins'.
Margaret Hebblethwaite, Finding God in All Things, London, Fountain Paperbacks, 1987, pp.158, 142.
O Lord, our God, grant us the grace to long for you with our whole heart, and that so longing we may seek and find you; and that so finding you we may love you; and that so loving you we may hate those sins from which you redeemed us for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Anselm, cited in Praying with the Saints, Dublin, Veritas Publications, 1989, p.12.
Lord, your 'need' is to love, mine to be loved by you. Your 'need' expressed itself in my creation, my being made an object of your love. I am a masterpiece of spiritual, emotional and physical engineering, with a spirit yearning to relate to you, the living God; a soul and mind and heart and will to relating lovingly to others, and a body to relate to a dynamic cosmos.
Your love, Lord, expressed itself ultimately in the life of Jesus, and now in the life of Jesus-in-me.
Lord, when I think back on my sins, my feelings range from sadness (for what might have been) through regret (either that I was found out by others or found out who I was really was myself) to anger (that I could have been so destructive and stupid). Perhaps also fear: what will almighty God do to me for what I've done?
So out of my darkness, sorrow and night, Jesus, I come to you. I receive your gift of forgiveness, and ask for your help to live in the future a life of commitment to yourself and obedience to your word.
I am not worthy to come to you, or belong to your eternal family, Lord. But apparently that's not the point: your invitation is not conditional upon my goodness, but simply upon my acceptance of it.
A Benediction: May God, who in your conscience has already graciously given you an awareness of your sins, give you also grace to repent, grace to accept his complete forgiveness, and then grace to forgive yourself! Amen.
John Smith, 'When Love Comes to Stay', Care and Communication Concern, 1990, pp. 5,7.
By Rowland Croucher, GROW: Meditations and Prayers for New Christians JBCE, 1992, Chapter 4