I don’t believe there is a clearer mirror reflecting our understanding of the work of Christ than our reaction to being caught in sin. People go to great lengths to hide sin, whether they act as if sin is no big deal, actively seek to obscure it in Christianese language, shift the blame to another person or circumstance, or dismiss it as sin altogether. This is when theology meets reality, for though we would often like to pretend we would have better stood against the temptation of our adversary in the Garden, the truth of the matter is that we likely would have taken the forbidden fruit even sooner than our federal head, Adam.
Sin is not just a work that is manifest in our actions, it is a position of our being. We are sinful by nature; we most naturally choose that which dishonors God and makes a mockery of His grace and goodness. We give way to our sinful inclinations and desires and pretend to be caught unawares when that desire comes to fruition in action. Our minds and hearts join in perfect harmony as we present ourselves as victims of this fallen world. In reality, we are the perpetrators. It is the rare exception to the rule when one is literally forced into sin, yet far too often we build arguments around these exceptions and give room for idolatry.
We entertain our sinful desires, whether by buying into the system of belief this world holds dear, or perhaps by flirting with it at a distance. Maybe you won’t approach another person to engage in sexual activity, but perhaps find it nobler to watch simulated sex on screen in popular movies and television. Perhaps you’ll even formulate contrived arguments where you posture around the proposition that one can watch titillating things, yet not become aroused by them or lust after the individual(s) you see. Better yet, you’ll make an evangelistic enterprise out of the thing and claim it gives you a window into another’s life who needs Christ. You can even find a few scripture verses to pepper the statement with so it appears noble and good, all the while deadening the conscience.
The point in this excursus is simply that all of us, myself included, make exceptions and room for our adversary to have a foothold. We give room for our own wickedness to grow rather than instill boundaries and willingly place ourselves under accountability. No matter who you are, there are certain sins you might be more inclined to than I, and vice versa. It is the fool though, who makes light of this predicament by obscuring the position of their soul. We mustn’t minimize sin and likewise, we mustn’t minimize the need for repentance from these sins. We mustn’t minimize the standard the Lord has clearly given in His Scriptures – yet far too often, this is precisely what professing Christians do. Time and again then, we find ourselves returning to sin like a dog unto his own vomit.
The Nature of Repentance
True repentance and acknowledgment of sin takes a particular form. It is evidenced in the same manner, though our respective pet-sins might evidence themselves differently. It finds root, first and foremost, in our recognition that it is sin. We submit to the Scripture’s teaching on the matter in that we do not find freedom to entertain and indulge in things which put Christ to the cross, thus, we recognize we must turn from these things.
Authentic repentance is evidenced in genuine, godly sorrow, in recognition that the primary One whom we have sinned against is the Lord. This means we aren’t remorseful over being caught, but that the sin we return to brings us sorrow and grief, as we’ve yet again partaken in something displeasing to God and broken fellowship with Him. We don’t pretend we are wounded; we don’t blame-shift toward another person or thing by saying they were the reason why we sinned. We own it, fully, without qualms or excuses.
Genuine repentance then, also evidences itself in life change. This, in particular, is a gradual process for most – yet it nonetheless remains a process wherein the general trajectory is in putting this sin to death. You may find times where a particular sin creeps back into your life because you let your guard down, yet rather than despair, you get back up and persevere in fighting this ever present battle against your flesh. In this, we must acknowledge it is not sufficient to simply stop a sinful activity – we must then move forward in putting on righteousness and fruit of the Spirit.
If you are a thief, you no longer steal – but work so that you may give to those in need. If you are given to anger, you put off malice, strife, envy, and then put on graciousness, patience, and peacefulness. If you are given to lust, you no longer view the opposing sex as an object of your pleasure or entertainment, but an image bearer whom you can serve in the bonds of peace and love. If you are a liar, you put away falsehood, and put on the truth.
Rebuilding the Wall of Defense Against Sin
Think of it with respect to Proverbs 25:28, which states, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” The obvious implication being that the one without self-control is left without defenses to protect himself. There is no watchman even, for he has no vantage point from which he can assess potential danger. Any passerby can simply waltz in and wreak havoc in the midst of the night.
Yet secondarily, the implication is that the man with self-control is not like a city without walls. If we are without self-control, let us set about the task of rebuilding that wall. It is no menial task; therefore, we ought not to be surprised in finding much can still penetrate our defenses as we set about this work. When one layer of brick is down, even rodents can still scale the wall. However, we must continue to build, brick by brick. Soon the wall is knee-high, yet invaders can still easily come over the wall and devastate the city. Nonetheless, we continue to build, brick by brick, until we’ve formulated an impenetrable fortress.
For the Christian, this work is vital to our growth in Christ – for how might we bear His likeness and walk in truth if we do not seek repentance? Secondly, how do we demonstrate we understand the devastation sin causes if we neglect to apply these truths? Finally, how do we show evidence of our affection for Christ when we deduce we know better than He by defining sin differently, or we outright reject certain actions as sinful?
The Disastrous Consequence: Minimizing Our Savior
When you minimize sin and the need for repentance, you minimize the sanctifying work of Christ because you are evidencing you don’t truly believe sin needs to be taken seriously. Furthermore, you evidence the object of your affections is still sin and its concealment rather than Christ, who alone is deserving of our affections. Yet most importantly, you deny the reality of the cross, in that His death and resurrection purchased you for service to God and has brought you to new life; a life freed from slavery to sin, but a life now bound to righteousness.
When we excuse sin rather than own it, we will be hard-pressed in seeking genuine repentance. Perhaps this is why so many have been subject to falling into the same old sin time after time, thereby grieving the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this is why so many lack discernment in knowing the will of God – for though they might have a knowledge of what is pleasing to the Lord, they choose instead to dabble in divination to ascertain His hidden will. Thereby, many seek mystical signs and experiential highs, yet they only reveal they have become bored by the unglamorous nature of a plain, pious, Christian life.
Frighteningly, this seems linked to why so many are plagued with doubt about the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the forgiveness offered to them: they think trite thoughts about God, His holiness, and the Scripture’s call to obedience. Or maybe, even more frighteningly, they take exception to the whole notion of needing salvation, finding Christ only to be sufficient for what they feel we need rather than what mankind truly needs: reconciliation to the Father and the restoration of our whole being, through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ.
Grace then is evidenced in the one who sees their sin for what God has defined it to be, confessed it in recognition of the need for repentance and the gospel’s sweet application, and partakes in the process to not only put it to death, but put on the righteous standard God has established. When sin and repentance are not minimized, Christ is magnified, as He is ultimately the only means by which forgiveness and repentance can be had. Only Christ has the glorious power and might to defeat sin, death, and Satan in one fell swoop.