Clarice, thank you for the coffee-shop conversation that sparked this blog post. I am, as always, indebted to you not only for your music recommendations but also for your wisdom, humility, and steadfast friendship.
If you have a well-developed sense of sin, you are not alone. All my life, I’ve been taught – rightly – that sin lies, destroys, and corrupts. The harmful words that spill out of my mouth, the ways I knowingly deceive others, the times I’ve treated my body in a way that completely ignores its role as the temple of God – I know my sin, and it is ever before me.
I spent years trying to get rid of sin in my own strength. I had been taught grace, but I didn’t understand it. I thought that as long as I did good things and loved people and followed my own man-made laws, I didn’t really have to worry about it. And over and over again, my legalism left me crying behind closed doors and resolving to do better next time.
But the Gospel did not, and does not, leave me there – and it doesn’t leave you there either. Rather, knowing sin increases our understanding of grace. I have known that I am far from sinless and that walking in sin is walking in darkness since I started memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism at the age of three (nope, not joking – it’s a fun party trick). However, it’s only recently that God has impressed a third truth on my heart:
God’s grace is bigger than our sin.
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:5-10
If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth…If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
We are far from sinless. As much as we would like to present a perfect face to the world, we can’t. Though justified, we are not yet sanctified, and to pretend otherwise does a disservice to ourselves and to the people around us.
I’ve often thought to myself, “I’m not the kind of person that does that in college/a relationship/my job/my life.” If you’ve thought that too, let me ask you what I’ve had to ask myself: Well, what if you do? Where will your identity rest then? Are you the girl who doesn’t do X, Y, or Z, or are you the girl that follows Christ?
By pretending to be sinless, we say to Christ, “Thanks, but no thanks. I didn’t really need you to die on the cross for me. I’m fine. I got this.” When we inevitably come face to face with our sin, armed with this attitude, we are in for a big and potentially damaging shock. We need to acknowledge our sin instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.
But let’s be clear: Acknowledging our sin does not mean making peace with it. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. Grace is not an excuse for sin (Romans 3:5-7, 6:1-2). There is no excuse for unrepentant patterns of sin carried out in willful disobedience of God’s Word. To say “well, good thing there’s grace!” while sinning cheapens the cross.
This side of heaven, we sin. We fall into idolatry, gossip, anger, slander, and maliciousness. We do not walk in love. We covet, steal, lie, disrespect, hate, and lust. At some point, we will find ourselves on the other side of sin, overwhelmed and frustrated, crying out with Paul that we do not do the good we want (Romans 7:19). And what then?
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin…If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Every time that God has brought me to my knees is evidence of His kindness. That doesn’t mean that it’s fun. It’s not. To read the words “foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” and know they’re about me (Romans 1:31) is far from enjoyable. But how could we ever hope to walk in the light if we don’t know what the darkness looks like?
As Robert Murray McCheyne wrote, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” When knowledge of your sin threatens to consume you, preach the Gospel to yourself. You were created in the image of God. Sin corrupted you and made it impossible for you to be reconciled with Him. But by His death and resurrection, not because we are good but because God so loved us, Christ defeated sin and redeemed us to Himself. Now, we are children of God!
Don’t allow sin to send you into a spiral of defeat. It no longer owns you (Romans 6:14). There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1), and if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Whether you are just discovering your sin or have been wrestling with it for decades, no matter what you did, no matter how it overcame you, no matter what your heart feels like right now, know this: God’s grace is abundant. It is bigger than your sin. And it is sufficient for you.
When sin threatens to overwhelm you, bring it to God. Lay it before Him humbly and repent. He promises to forgive you, because His Son bore the punishment you deserve. And more than that, He calls you His child. You were a sinner, and now you are a child of God.
That’s it. End of story.