This is part of a syndicated series for Lent 2019 with Harvard’s Christian Journal Ichthus. Visit Ichthus at http://www.harvardichthus.org
By Allen Lai ’20. Allen is a junior in Quincy concentrating in Chemistry and Physics.
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all the day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Psalms 32:1-5
Sin crushes. Sin makes us act in shame and guilt, crippling our ability to live out fully the freedom of our human identities as the image of God on earth. It takes away our focus from the service of God, and moves us away from being attentive to his voice. It diminishes our quality of life in every way, and living with sin is truly akin to a slow, wasting death. How can we be free from its tyrannous rule?
Whenever it comes to the topic of sin, there are two different reactions, and people will fall somewhere between these opposite extremes on the spectrum. The first response is pride, a pride towards others’ sinfulness or a pride that blames God when things do not happen in the way that one expects. I want to briefly caution against anyone who thinks that he is without sin. First I am reminded of Christ’s parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18. Christ reminds his religious listeners, “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt”, that it was not the self-righteous Pharisee who went home justified, but rather the tax collector who merely pleaded for mercy from the Lord. Moreover, there are the statements in I John 1:8 and 1:10 that “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” and “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” All people need to turn away from their sin towards God, i.e. repent, and we will be forgiven as in the psalm.
The other extreme is for us to beat ourselves up, to wallow in despair. We might be so afraid of God’s judgment that we don’t dare to approach him. We might wrestle with our weaknesses alone, afraid to reach out to God or others. We try and we try and we try again, but maybe we don’t see any progress. Then we may start to think, how could I have done that again? I’ve done much that God could never love me. I don’t deserve to be forgiven.
This latter response is, I think, something that more and more people experience as Satan assails the children of God with reminders of their weaknesses. And the strength of this attack is that, as with many of the devil’s schemes, it has an element of truth. For even Scripture tells us that we have all sinned (Romans 3:23), and that all sinners deserve the penalty of death (Romans 6:23). To return to the question from the opening paragraph – how can we be free from sin’s tyrannous rule? – the only solution to sin is death. But all is not hopeless, for that is why Jesus Christ came – to take on our penalty of death in our place, and be raised from the grave, overcoming the power of sin forever. Romans 6:7-8 says this: “For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we also will live with him.” The 2018 song Living Hope describes the work of the cross and our response beautifully:
Who could imagine so great a mercy?
What heart could fathom such boundless grace?
The God of ages stepped down from glory
To wear my sin and bear my shame
The cross has spoken, I am forgiven
The King of kings calls me His own
Beautiful Savior, I’m Yours forever
Jesus Christ, my living hope
David’s response to sin was a sign of his sensitive conscience, an awareness of what pleases the LORD. Though he does not disclose here what particular sin was weighing upon him, we see that he was plagued and burdened by the weight of carrying it. So far, all of that is good. But rather than beat himself up endlessly, he chose to follow the only way he knew he could be truly free from his sin: he offered it up to the Lord. And he writes, I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. How simple, yet impossible for us to accomplish in ourselves! The words of the hymn remind us:
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer
Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer
When next we flagellate ourselves over sin, remember Christ and remember grace. We are not meant to fight alone, we have Christ and also the body of Christ in this world, the church. It is written that “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). Trying to take on sin on our own is an impossible battle. Others may worry that accepting grace means letting go of the struggle to fight sin. Absolutely not! But rather the words of Scottish preacher Robert Murray McCheyne teaches us how we can push out the world and the fleshly temptations of Satan:
“For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ … Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.”
Finally, an encouragement to you from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians for every true Christian who continues to valiantly struggle against sin:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. II Corinthians 4:16-18
Christ has promised us an eternal body and eternal glory, to which all of this world’s heavy sin will seem like light momentary affliction. So do not lose heart! Remember that Christ has overcome the world by his death to sin and resurrection. Take heart! He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers Christ will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.