What follows is Chapter 3 of a five-part story stemming from just an hour and a half of time spent with God’s people, in God’s house, in response to God’s direction.
My sin doesn’t grieve me. I want it to. I think that if it does, that means I’m living a more holy life. But I find in reality, I can do something on Saturday I know is wrong, and then have an incredible time of worship with God on Sunday morning, only to think of it later.
For a long time, I hated this, and I asked God to convict me so that I feel horrible when I sin. I argued that if I didn’t feel convicted of my sin, I was taking the Cross for granted. I argued that if I sin, I should be separated from God until I fall on my face and cry out to Him for mercy and grace and forgiveness.
As I’ve talked with people from all walks of faith in many different settings, I’ve noticed two diametrically opposed views to how Christians should approach their sin:
- When a Christian sins, she should feel absolutely devastated that she failed to live up to God’s standard. She should weep and mourn over her sin, and be so grieved in spirit that she cannot function until she has laid her sin before God and claimed His forgiveness. She should spend some time feeling unworthy in the shadow of the Cross before she gets up out of the dirt and promises to honor Christ’s sacrifice for her a little bit better tomorrow.
- When a Christian sins, she shouldn’t worry about it. After all, Christ died once for all, and God has removed our sin as far as the East is from the West. Once an individual has asked God to forgive her of all her sins, and has claimed that forgiveness, she’s good to go. Yes, she understands she will still fail to meet God’s standards from time to time, but she is already forgiven, so there is no need for weeping, sackcloth and ashes every time she gives in to temptation. She’s forgiven. That’s all there is to it.
Within that broad spectrum, somewhere, is the truth.
I was wrestling with this on Sunday morning when I sat down for my time with God (before He interrupted). One of the Psalms of the day was Psalm 24. I stopped and spent some quality time with verses 3 and 4:
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully. (Psalm 24:3-4, ESV)
“God,” I said, “this is what I’m talking about. This, right here, is the life I want to live, and I want You to convict me when I don’t.” I read a bit further and came to verse 8:
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle. (Psalm 24:8, ESV)
And then I had a light bulb moment. The reason I was so set on feeling convicted of sin is because my focus was in the wrong place. Yes, sin is bad. Yes, I am responsible for my actions, and yes, when I sin, I should confess it to God and claim His forgiveness again. And I will need to do that almost daily.
But I wonder if maybe the reason I don’t feel the need to wallow in the dirt when I sin is found in verse 8. It is the Lord who fights the battle, not me. God knows I am human. He knows I will fail. And He already forgave me before I ever sinned. Maybe I don’t need to obsessively confess every sin, and spend hours asking God to reveal more sins to me. Maybe instead, I need to remember that the battle is won and that it was never mine to fight in the first place.
This is by no means carte blanche to do whatever I want and never give it another thought because I’m already forgiven. But it frees me from the weight of my sin and the guilt that can so easily envelop, breeding even more sin.
So here is where I have landed: Sin is a daily part of life. I hate it, but it’s there. God did not promise that when we accepted Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives we would stop sinning. He did promise, however, that when we confess our sin, He will forgive without reservation (1 John 1:9). If I am intently focused on feeling bad for my sin, I miss grace. If I feel free to sin without ever confessing, I take mercy for granted. I don’t need to feel guilty and convicted all the time, because if I do, there is no room for the joy of salvation. If there’s something in my life that God wants to work on, I am open to that. If I know I’ve just messed up, I will confess, thank God for His forgiveness and move on.
What I won’t do is allow Satan to make me feel guilty for not feeling guilty.
When I got to church on Sunday morning, one of the first songs we sang was taken right out of Psalm 24:3. “Give us clean hands. Give us pure hearts. Let us not lift our souls to another.” My pastor taught out of John 7:53-8:11 where the woman is caught in adultery, and Jesus, rather than convicting her, tells her to “go and sin no more”.
That is no coincidence. That is the joy of obedience. If I hadn’t gone to church, I might still be weighed down in my search for this piece of truth. Instead, I am free. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17b, ESV) God just makes me smile sometimes!
In what ways have you experienced the freedom that comes from forgiveness?