The Joy of Repentance (Standing Near Lepers)

The Joy of Repentance (Standing Near Lepers)

Sin is infuriating. I hate it. Not others’ sin generally as observed in society, but my sin. Not what others do, but what I do. Our outrage is too often directed at certain segments of our society, or particular sins. But there is enough sin in our little finger to condemn us before God even now (were it not for Christ.) Strange then that our confessions are usually generic, vague and sparse. So, what I have in mind is individual depravity and its effect on us personally. Especially, it’s corrupting influence and unpredictability. When – from out of nowhere – it hijacks desires and leads us toward something for which no desire existed moments before. How it catches the faint scent of the forbidden on the wind and hounds it until it’s unearthed. Or, how it suddenly spins you around to face the opposite direction of your true affections. How the slightest creak of temptation wakes slumbering evil. It pounces on you like a menacing troll. In seconds you’re trying to convince yourself that something you know is wrong and painful is right and good. It’s you and not you at the same time. That part of us which longs for good is bound and gagged under the floorboard of our suppressed consciences. All that remains is a muffled sound of resistance.

I hate how sin can make a hand puppet of us. How its boney fingers lodged deep in the soul pulls and twists threads of passion turning us here and there. We watch – almost helplessly at times – as our members yield to motives that seem to defy our actual motives. Paul described this effect in us as a rogue principle. A virus downloaded at our conception infecting the operating system of our hearts. We do what we don’t want to do. We don’t want to do what we want to do. Is there any more frustrating malfunction of our persons than at the level of want?

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now zit is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Romans 7:15-20)

I hate how sin humiliates us. There is no shame greater than to be left in the wake of sin’s lies. To be surrounded by the mob of our own conscience. Or, to be seemingly powerless against its force after having made such a long resistance. Sin is a recurrent bully lurking around the corner demanding our desires like so much lunch money. There is no way home but this dark alley. It always seems to find us cornered, alone and defenseless. Wrenching a treasure of peace and hope from our clutches leaving us penniless and pathetic. The sublime wasted on the meaningless. The final indignity of sin is the knowledge that we have done this to ourselves. That’s me standing over me. We are victims and not victims simultaneously. We are assailants and assailed at one time. The saddest tales always include an element of self-inflicted misfortune. Innocence and guilt stand in the very same spot.

I hate how it justifies itself. It is never us. It’s always misdirecting. Others sins are always worst. Like when we read the opening paragraphs of this essay and think, “Wow! This guy has real problems. I wonder what he’s hiding? I’m glad I’m not so susceptible to sin’s power?” Sin is sly like that. We always seem to find the leper in the room and stand just close enough to go unnoticed. Near something so foul we smell clean. Envy, anger, covetousness, ingratitude, gossip have a way of ducking behind immorality, drunkenness, anger and theft. There are sins just large enough for us to hide our “keesters” behind. And if we can’t hide it we can cloak it with more acceptable sins. We can easily turn slander into “facts” and gossip into “prayer.” Sin rarely takes responsibility for its own actions. It automatically points the finger. We might hold the half eaten fruit in our hand but someone else ate it. There is always a reason and it is reluctantly us. Our sinful hearts are like a child standing by a broken vase. “How did that get there?” “It was not me.” “A wind came suddenly through the dining room.” The only thing more discouraging than the destruction we cause is the delusion we live in. Prophets have to spin tales of ewe lambs (1 Samuel 12:1-13) and Apostles must set theological traps before we will confess (Romans 2:1-2).

I hate how sin is an assault against God’s glory and a denial of His supreme goodness. Ironically, our self-destruction and delusion are an echo of a previous splendor. We fell a long way. We cram everything we can find into a space where only our Creator fits. Only man does the opposite of his nature. Only man rebels against why he exists. All other creatures in God’s kingdom act exactly according to nature and instinct. Dogs do what dogs do no matter how domesticated they may be. There is a seamless consistency between what they were created to do and what they actually do. Man, on the other hand, suffers the constant indignity of denying the very purpose for which he was created. These sentient creatures were meant to know the Creator. As the hollow bones of birds were meant for flight, the self-consciousness of man was meant for worship. We worship anything but what is best for us. Such is our insanity. At base, we’re stupid. And insane. This is why redemption is ultimately a vindication of God’s glory by the restoration of the creature to His creator.

In all this, repentance for the Christian has become a sign that something is wrong. An abnormality. But, in reality the infrequency of repentance is the real indicator that something is amiss. We’ve gotten things backwards. Luther’s very first thesis read, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” Turning from our sins and to the righteousness of Christ is a daily relief of the pilgrim. “Come unto me all ye who are weary” could not have been a one time offer. The roles of confession and repentance in the Christian life are almost foreign to us. The former is occasional. The latter is a “one and done.” Both are for the really long gone sinner. How did this happen? We’ve been trained to hide our sins. We’ve been convinced that our struggles will progressively fade away. When this does not happen (because the depth of sin becomes more obvious over the course of our life), we are left to bear them alone. In the modern church sin is like some secret tragedy that haunts a small town. We walk past each other pretending it never happened. The historic faith knows of no such denial.

And though they may, through the temptation of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins, and for a time continue therein, whereby they incur God’s displeasure and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to have their graces and comforts impaired, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded, hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves, yet shall they renew their repentance and be preserved through faith in Christ Jesus to the end. – 1689 London Baptist Confession, Chapter 17.3

It’s crazy. At its base, Christianity is at least a confession of unworthiness and inability. The confessed need of a righteousness outside of ourselves. For goodness sakes, our designated emblem is the cross. Basically, this is what I deserve as a human being, but did not receive. Someone substituted himself for me and that’s the only reason I roam free. We have made repentance sound like a trip to the dentist rather than a trip to the candy store. Those who know it know sweet relief.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up* as by the heat of summer. Selah 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. Selah (Psalm 32:3-5)

 

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