Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What Bothers Me Most When I Sin

The thing that bothers me most when I sin, whether my sin is overt rebellion against the will of God or failure to do the good God wants us to do, is how it may hurt the faith of others.

How do I, as a Christian, damage the possibility of others knowing the incredible happiness and power that belong to a follower of Jesus Christ? Long after I've repented for my sins and have been forgiven for them, they leave a mark on those who have observed my hypocrisy.

We're all hypocrites, of course. No one measures up to the fine ideals to which they expect others to live...and which, they think, in self-delusion, they fulfill. That's true of everyone, to some extent--cynic or Christian, Buddhist or democrat.

But I view my hypocrisy as a Christian with special...the only word is, dread. I dread how my ill-chosen words, attempts to be clever, or ill-conceived actions, all of which I've decided to do not because they pleased or honored God or helped others, but because I wanted to be liked, or wanted to please myself, or wanted to elevate my self-esteem at the expense of someone else, have hurt or stopped the development of faith in Christ in those who have watched or heard me.

Today's Our Daily Bread devotion is based on Matthew 15:7-20, where Jesus says, in part:
"You hypocrites! [Jesus was addressing the good Bible-believing people of first century Judea]. Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.'"
Jesus goes on to say that what defiles is not the things that go into us. (He's speaking spiritually, not physically or medically here.) What defiles us is what comes out of us: our actions and words, all rooted in our thoughts.

It's these things that show our hypocrisy.

God has been pummeling me with thoughts along these lines over the past two days.

Yesterday, I met in Chillicothe with pastoral colleagues. We gather each month to look ahead at the appointed Bible lessons for the succeeding month, each of us making presentations and leading the discussions of the texts. This month, I was assigned the lessons for September 27, including James 5:13-20, from the Bible's New Testament. There, James urges believers to confess their sins to one another, not in a sick display of reality TV-style narcissism, but as an antidote to our own hypcorisy and as a means of having the healing grace of God's forgiveness pronounced over us by others. James says:
...confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.
Here, I don't think that James is speaking only of physical healing, but of the healing of our spirits, the beating back of our sin, the life-giving forgiveness of God.

After all, it's our sin--our hypocrisy, our misuse of others and of the world and of our bodies and minds--that blocks life, true life, from us. It's God's forgiveness, which unleashes God's Spirit in our lives every time we receive it, that gives us life, now and in eternity.

I don't believe that every time we confess our sins in the presence of other Christians, be it during public worship, in conversation with Christian friends, or with a pastor, we need necessarily catalog every sin. Confession in the presence of others is not the same as an appearance on Dr. Phil's show.

But I do value the Confession of Sin and Pronouncement of Absolution that are part of our weekly worship in most Lutheran congregations. There is something humbling and life-giving about all of us standing before the Lord and admitting that we hypocrites, we sinners who pretend--sometimes even to ourselves--that we don't sin, that we really are "in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves."

When we confess our sins to God, even in private prayers uttered in our rooms, in the shower, on the way to work, or while walking down the street, God forgives. James says God brings us healing, which I take to be more than simple forgiveness, but also renewed power to fight our inborn tendency toward hypocrisy.

We need that power because, this side of the grave, we have an overpowering impulse toward sin and self-delusion. We can create all sorts of rationalizations for why, ordinarily, we should love God and love neighbor or why, ordinarily, we should care for own bodies and minds or the world in which we live, but that this time is an exeption. It's easy to fall prey to hypocrisy as a Christian--confessing one thing with our lips and living another way.

But forgiveness granted in the Name of Jesus Christ, makes us right with God, right with God in fact, is what the word righteous means. Not perfect. Not flawless. Not without a penchant for hypocrisy. But forgiven and helped by God as an act of grace by God, given to repentant believers in Christ. Righteous.

I don't want to hurt the faith of others who see my hypocrisy. I don't want to be far from the God Who came into our world and died and rose to give us new life. I don't want to be a hypocrite.

I want to be right with God and, in spite of all my many flaws, I want others to see the goodness of God.

God forgive my sins and hypocrisy. Live in me and help me to rely on You alone. Amen!


Spencer Troxell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Spencer Troxell said...

I think you're too hard on yourself. One of my biggest complaints about various iterations of different religions is the kind of neurosis they can cause in those who would seek to follow them. I'm not suggesting we shouldn't aspire to be good people, only that we should have pragmatic expectations regarding our likelihood to consistently embody our ideals. I would also suggest that the concept of sinfulness is counterproductive.

you're a good person. You are living an examined life, and that comes with a certain amount of anxiety. There is no shame in imperfection.