How Long Oh Lord?
I constantly find myself wishing that my sinful mind and heart were fully destroyed immediately. Oh the joy I would be filled with if this gift were given to me this instant! Yet God found it wise and pleasurable that he might make a Christian’s life one of purification and growth in the Holy Spirit. The reasons I must wait to receive this gift of total sanctification I do not know now as fully as I will, but I suspect it can be our chief motivation to long for the return of Christ. Furthermore, our constant need for additional sanctification can keep us close to the cross of Golgotha.
The Morning After
Since sanctification is a lifelong process, and not an overnight gift, we will find ourselves constantly discouraged by sin, and consequently we need to have a theology that is willing to answer the question, “What now?” when our evil desires lead us to choose evil after being tempted.
“Wait Jesus. You want me to drink your blood in communion?” Yes. “Ok, Jesus, so this suffering is a gift that you want me to rejoice during?” Yes. Jesus offers and delivers fantastic spiritual gifts to his disciples by the Holy Spirit. They can be wonderful, powerful, and edifying gifts, but at times they can be downright strange. Speaking in tongues? Strange gift. Martyrdom? Strange that you would call this a gift.
Another odd gift that Jesus gives by the Holy Spirit is the gift of conviction. Many of those who are not regenerated do not have that all-too-familiar pang of guilt that comes after sinning. Some unregenerate have a measure of guilt that is at least manageable. For others, it even drives them to suicide.
First Things First
The only kind of sin that can be conquered is forgiven sin. If your conscience is sharp, but your theology is week, you will try to bargain with God, thinking that maybe you can make it up to him. This is an insult, because Jesus died to forgive sins, so you would be equating some human activity of equal value as Jesus death on the cross. Therefore, rather than making some kind of promise to God, or trying to think of some way to repay him, simply start with confession. Admit to God in prayer that your sin was sin. Do not put a nice construction on it to make yourself look better. The good news is that while we were still sinners, at the right time, Christ died for us. Therefore we can approach God with confidence, bearing full ownership and responsibility for our sins, because we know that Jesus will never turn away a repentant disciple. God did not spare his own Son but gave him up freely for us that we may be forgiven in full for even the wickedest sins.
Kill the Pride
It is brutal irony that Christians can be prideful even in confession. The humblest act imaginable, confessing your sins, can be an oh-so-subtle opportunity to exalt ourselves by taking the edge off of the wickedness of our sins and flatter ourselves. Can we fool God? There is simply not a single excuse for sin, ever. God did not call you to be obedient when you are in the mood, nor does he grade you on a bell-curve to see how you stack up with your church or peers. God did not say, “Love the Lord your God with some of your heart, soul, mind and strength.” God did not say, “If you are suffering or have been sinned against, I will overlook your idols.” Therefore, we must come to Jesus without excuses, explanations, or even an emotional spin that makes our guilt sting a little less.
How then should we confess? Like a tax collector. “God have mercy on me, a sinner!” Confess your actions. Confess your motives. Confess your ungodliness. When you are done, confess like a Pharisee. Confess your pride. Confess your tendency to think of yourself as good. Confess your hypocrisy. Confess the judgment of others. Finally, confess Christ. Confess Jesus as Lord, Son of God, perfect sacrifice on the cross, raised from the dead. Confess the Holy Spirit, asking him to purify you, to heal you, to cultivate you. Confess Gods perfect ability to save you, and trust in his power.
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Do you believe this? If you don’t, you are not being humble, you are claiming that Jesus is a failure. Jesus was not a failure. If Jesus were a failure, he would not have risen from the dead. Jesus is alive and well. Likewise, as sure as Jesus rose from the dead, he will forgive those who confess to him.
Entering into Joy
When you find yourself forgiven by God, you have no cause for sorrow, only joy. Rejoice that Jesus would take the nail in the hand which you deserve. His head would be sliced open with a crown of thorns because of your sin. This is the way that you are loved, that Jesus would die for you. Rejoice in the wonderful love that has compelled God to forgiven you, and treasure him, in thankfulness.
Fighting Your Next Fight
After, and only after your sin is confessed, you may now strategize your next battle with temptation. Consider the sinful action you have committed and ask yourself, “What was my heart longing after while I was sinning?” There is some kind of idol behind this longing. Your sin problem is actually a worship problem. If you are a perpetual drinker, go deeper than the alcohol. You’re worshiping the alcohol because it brings you joy, but the real problem is not the alcohol, but your view of God. Alcohol has been exalted to the place that God belongs, your source of joy, and alcohol is making a very bad God. Maybe your problem is self-righteousness instead. You worship your reputation, and find your joy in others thinking highly of you. You love to smugly be satisfied with yourself so that you do not have to worship Jesus. Whatever your problem is, get to the heart of the idolatry. Find out what you sacrificially serve to receive joy or security, and recognize that Jesus belongs in that role. Finally, preach to yourself the good news of Jesus, crucified and resurrected for your sins. Go into detail if you can. Meditate on the fact that Jesus died for you while you were yet a sinner. The Holy Spirit will work and produce tremendous joy in your heart that conquers idolatry and grants true freedom. Bathe this fight in honest prayer.
Prepare to start winning battles with sin. Be quick to confess because confession will bring you joy. Be quick to fight sin because victory will bring you joy. Be quick to pray, because communion will bring you joy. Be a Christian hedonist, fighting for joy, and fighting your sin, and loving the Lord your God. May God’s grace shower these blessings upon you and God’s joy rule in your heart abundantly.