Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Lord, give me more faith in Christ than in my sins

Today, for my quiet time with God, I prayerfully reflected on Luke, chapter 13. Two verses particularly caught my attention. Jesus is the speak in both:
"...unless you repent, you too all will perish." (v. 3) 
"...unless you repent, you too will all perish." (v. 5)
Jesus has evidently sensed the desire of the crowd surrounding Him for His take on two recent tragic events that people were talking about.

One the murder ordered by the Roman governor, Pilate, of Galileans (natives of the region in which Jesus was raised), who were at the moments of their deaths, offering sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem. (As I read this today, I found myself thinking of the Christians engaging in Bible study at the South Carolina church where a racist white man gunned the believers down last year.)

The other incident to which Jesus refers is one in which eighteen people were killed when a tower at a place called Siloam collapsed on them.

I infer from how Jesus couches His words in these verses in Luke's gospel, that He hears a note of judgment in the crowd's discussion of at least one of these events.

When horrible tragedies happen, people are desperate in their search for explanations, in their craving for orderliness, and in their hope that their own virtues will exempt them from the bad things that happen to people in this marred and imperfect world.

But Jesus tells them not to get any ideas about easy explanations or about their possessing a moral superiority that will make them bulletproof in the face of life's harshest possibilities.

Then, He tells the crowd, twice, that without repentance, they will perish. Of course, when Jesus speaks of perishing, He has in mind eternal separation from God, the only Source of life.

I feel chastened by this passage, not because I judge life's victims guilty for the tragedies that befall them. God forbid!

I know that bad things happen to faithful people. Job, in the Old Testament, was a righteous man. Yet he was hit by multiple tragedies. And personally, I've known many people--faithful, loving, believing people--whose lives have been dogged by tragedy and loss or who themselves, died too young.

Furthermore, Jesus makes it clear that repentant believers aren't exempt from pain in this life. "In this world," Jesus said once, "you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!" (John 16:33)

And He says that God "...causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45).

Sure that God isn't a monster who picks out life's "winners and losers," I would never think of blaming the victims of tragedy for their tragic circumstances.

But Jesus' words still caught my breath today. He chastened me by His serious, implacable, non-negotiable call and command that I repent.

I realized that sometimes, more often than even I know, I'm sure, I take God's grace so much for granted that I fudge on repentance.

I often offer perfunctory mouthings of confession with little intention of changing the way I do business from day to day.

Truth be told, at a functional, life-level, I can be more interested in God justifying my sins--"O, that's OK, Mark. Nothing damaged," I imagine the chump version of God I seem to sometimes erect in my mind--than in justifying, rendering righteous and new and horrified by sin, this clump of God-stuff, Mark.

The good news is that Mark can be justified. (You can be too.)

But to receive the justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, which is the central promise of Christian faith, bringing new and eternal life to all who trust in Christ, there must be a genuine brokenheartedness--not necessarily emotional, but real--for my sin.

There must be a genuine desire--not measured in goosebumps, but in the surrender of my will--for God to flush from my life, to rip violently from my existence, the sins of which God's Word and the Holy Spirit have made me aware.  I must cling to God and not to my sins!

No one is without sin, of course. No one can be aware of all of their sins when they lay themselves with honesty and transparency before God. And no one repents perfectly even when we do repent with a broken heart and a surrendered will. That's OK. God judges our lives on the grace curve as we trust in Christ.

But, here's the point: Freedom from sin isn't permission to sin.

Grace isn't a blank check to spit on the revealed will of God.

Jesus told the woman caught in adultery who He had protected from a judging crowd that had been about to stone her to death, "Go and sin no more" (John 8:11). I've preached and taught many times that, while that woman lived on this imperfect earth, she could never lead a sinless life. (Any more than you and I can.) But, I've also taught that, after Christ protected her from the eternal consequences of her sin--which is what God's forgiveness does for us--the intention of her heart, in light of such grace, should have been not to sin again.

That should be my intention too, every time I repent and know that I am forgiven.

Often though, after repenting, I turn around and commit the same sin for which I just repented, whether in word, dead, or thought.

I confess egotism and self-absorption, then think egotistically or with self-worship.

I confess coveting something, say "Amen," and covet again.

And so it goes.

Though I know better, I act as though I think some sins are more serious than others. It is true that some sins can have graver earthly consequences. In this world, murder brings worse consequences on the murderer than taking God's name in vain does on the speaker. In the civil realm, this is perfectly understandable and appropriate. But, in the eyes of eternity, all sin is equally horrible as violations of God's holiness and of God's will for me as a human being. I know that. But I don't always live like I know it.

Repentance isn't an onerous duty, of course. Repentance brings joy as the repentant, entrusting her or his sins to Christ, is set free from sin's power and enabled by the Holy Spirit to live in that freedom.

All too often though, I treat God's forgiveness as though it untethers me from the life-giving bond of love for God and love for neighbor that all sins violates. I misunderstand my freedom and I go from bondage to bondage, exchanging chains for chains, if I don't prayerfully and actively live in the freedom of forgiven sin.

Father, when I repent, help me to leave my sin with You. Holy Spirit, through the Word, through Christian friends, shout Your directions to me and give me more faith in Christ than in the momentary pleasures of my favorite sins. In Jesus' name. Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

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