The matter of extending forgiveness and asking for it is one that most Christians agree with but we really don’t grasp. For so long, I felt like it was a vulnerable and super spiritual thing to acknowlege that I had “sins” to be forgiven. Then, I got a little bolder and would confess things like “pride” and “not loving well.” Its not that these weren’t true nor was it that I was trying to be vague and evasive, but I just didn’t see it any more clearly than that.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. 1 John 1:8-10
If I am blameless in my relational conflicts, if every irritation I feel toward family, friends and those I encounter in the course of the day is the other person’s fault, I am deceived. And, lets be clear, I am frequently deceived. I get so focused on how wrong they are, on what a clear case there is to be made against them, on the nodding of heads from my supporters when I report the offense, that for one, I can’t see my own self-righteousness. I am so focused on my rightness, my victim-ness, that I cannot see the situation is also revealing where Jesus is absent in my heart (the truth is not in me) and my perceived need for His rescue even from my own sense of innocense is almost zero.
Innocense is really the problem. I genuinely believe myself to be innocent most of the time. Even if I know that technically I wasn’t perfect, the circumstances clearly explain why I did what I did and who after all could blame me? The more determined my will and heart become to stand on my own innocense, the less in need they are of standing on the innocense of Jesus alone. It’s why my stories of conflict always paint me in the most innocent light and the other party as treacherous villains. I can’t see myself as the party involved sees me at all, which likely, isn’t in the same innocent light I like to imagine.
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him. Matthew 21:31-32
Its popular to talk about how Jesus is a lover of the prostitutes and tax collectors, but I forget to look at why they were lovers of Him. They had less deception about their status in His eyes. They wore their sin publicly and their shame was always before them. I on the other hand, not a prostitute or thief, feel pretty good about my self. The truth is not in me when I cannot recognize how indebted I actually am and what shame should be felt by the condition of my heart. The way of righteousness isn’t through my external rightness but through the perfect, completed law fulfillment of Jesus. I can’t add to that, but like the Pharisees of Jesus day, I just refuse to believe that my righteousness is from Jesus alone and not my own law abiding self.
Why is it so hard for me to really see the details of my “sin”, “debt” and other general words I use to check confession off my list without really feeling the sting of it? I think it has to be because I don’t really believe I’m all that in need of redemption which itself is because I actually believe I’m really close to innocent most of the time. I think it also has to do with the fact that I don’t really trust He has credited me with His righteousness and taken all of the details of my sin. If His innocense isn’t enough, than I have to increase mine. If my guilt isn’t so much, my need for Him to handle it decreases.
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrews 3:12-13
Because I do have a sinful, unbelieving heart that is not just “prone to wander” but actively turns away from desperate need for the living God throughout the course of any given day, I need to be encouraged daily to see my need and believe that He meets it fully. There are no middle-class believers, no pulled up from our boot straps spiritual giants, no self-made Jesus images. My deep down belief, inherited from Adam and Eve, that I can be my own god and can be considered blameless by my own good deeds and good intentions places me in greater debt than the ugliness I deny already had me. May I see this more clearly today, and replace my unbelief with trust in the One who has covered my shame (so I don’t have to deny it anymore) and replaced it with His righteousness.
However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” Romans 4:5-8