I recently witnessed a debate that quickly ended up getting very nasty. One group of people called a certain sin, a sin. Another group were deeply offended and angry that anyone should judge them.
I sat on my lofty perch, and judged all concerned, the sin and the sinners, the accused and the accusers. It’s so easy to do, when that is not my particular brand of sin. Then I forced myself back to playing that oh-so-condemning Romans 2 game, which I wrote about here. Basically, it’s this: if I judge this particular sin, in what instances do I find myself committing it? It’s a broad-brush sin finder, so the classifications get widened to incorporate general categories of that sin instead of narrow issues.
Self-justification is a constant temptation. We are all too easily given to excusing our sin or putting lipstick on it, instead of acknowledging it and repenting of it.
So, self-righteous me, who judges pornographers; do I watch unedifying movies? I, who judge adulterers, should I not take Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 to heart: that anyone who looks on another with lust has already committed adultery in their hearts? I, who get angry with my family, friends or strangers, should I not remember that such anger is murder in the eyes of the righteous God? I who judge those with habitual sins, should I not look at the specific sins I struggle with most in my life, and unpack those, to see how they torment and pursue me? This is why we do not judge: because in judging we condemn ourselves. These examples ought to lead me to have a repentant, empathetic heart, and to lament as St. Paul did, "Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24)
Martin Luther’s last words on this earth were purportedly, “We are all beggars,” and we are. We have nothing to boast of except the righteousness given us as a free gift. We have no business letting that righteousness make us feel superior in any way. In fact, it should humble us since it belongs to someone else - Christ. It is truly an alien righteousness given my and your natures, and completely unmerited.
This righteousness is found throughout scripture. We are told that Noah was a Preacher of Righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). We find Abraham being declared righteous, not because of any act of his, but because he believed God’s promises (Genesis 15:6). We find Lot being described as righteous, despite his numerous sins (2 Peter 2:7). David was called a man after God’s own heart. This was certainly not because he was sinless, he was an adulterer and a murderer! Yet, one of his most beautiful psalms is the one in which he repents of these sins, and finds himself forgiven and redeemed by our just and mighty God:
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
(Psalm 51:10-17 ESV)
We must not be frightened of unpacking and confessing our sins. In fact, our Lord Jesus tells us to come to terms quickly with our accuser (Matt 5:26). The Lord is fully aware of our sinful condition, even more than we can ever be. We shouldn't be afraid of confessing and repenting, remember what the Lord promised us in Isaiah 1:18, though our sins be as scarlet, He will make them whiter than snow. There is joy and peace in confessing our sins and knowing we are washed clean by our Lord. There is torment in hiding from our sins and our refusal to acknowledge them. There is strife and ill will in thinking others are sinful and that we are not.
For me, the most wonderful part of my week is the beginning of our church service, which begins with corporate confession and absolution. The following comes from CPH’s Lutheran Service Book:
This message of forgiveness is so clearly and easily available to us that we might be inclined to take it for granted – to sin much so that grace may abound. Let it not be so, especially when we think we have the moral high ground. Most of all, let us call sin sin, and then take it to the Lord since Christ died and rose again for the sake of casting our sin as far as the east is from the west. So we cling to His promise of salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation in Christ alone.