Joan of Arc is recorded as having said “I would rather die than do something which I know to be a sin, or to be against God’s will.”
If you’re a Christian, I assume we’re agreed that sin is a bad thing, something we would want to avoid. The trouble is it’s not always easy to define. So much has become culturally acceptable that we can be blind to what sin really looks like. On many issues, even Christians don’t agree on what’s acceptable and what constitutes sin!
We’re especially bad at seeing our own sin. In the same way that our eyes adjust to gradually falling dusk, we can fail to notice the gloom of sin drawing in around us. The baby steps we take in a certain direction may each seem perfectly justifiable, but we can easily end up half a mile down the wrong track before we even realise.
The great news is that there is a way to illuminate the wrong things in our lives:
‘But everything exposed by the light becomes visible–and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”‘ Ephesians 5:13-14, NIV.
When we really let Jesus into our lives, when we immerse ourselves in His word and start real conversation with His Spirit, God’s light shines right through us and even the darkest parts of our hearts are exposed.
But if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t always want to engage with God’s searching light. Our natural reaction to our own sin is to hide it (think Adam and Eve hiding from God in Genesis 3:8). We fear exposure by God’s light, but the truth is He’s seeking to heal. It’s like the little light the doctor shines in your ear. Imagine having a throat infection but refusing to open your mouth because you don’t want the doctor to see it! That’s basically the equivalent of trying to hide your sins from God!
God isn’t out to blame us for our sin, any more than a doctor blames us for our illness. There is no need to fear reprisal from God; we’re told that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). God’s love and mercy are astonishing, way beyond anything else we can experience, and there is absolutely no sin that God will not forgive you for. Whatever you’ve done, you’re not too bad for God. Your sin doesn’t shock Him. And you’re certainly not unforgivable – Jesus died on the cross so that ‘unforgivable’ no longer had to be a word in your dictionary.
But it all starts with us actually baring our sin before God. In Psalm 32, the psalmist complains:
‘When I refused to confess my sin,
my body wasted away,
and I groaned all day long.’ NLT.
Not a good way to live! Unconfessed sin eats us up from the inside. Like any sickness, it stops us functioning at our best. Even if we’re not writhing in guilt to the same extent as the psalmist, we know if we’re harbouring sin we’re sitting outside God’s will, and that is a place we will never fully flourish.
And it’s not only us that suffers for our sin. If you’re a Christian, you’re part of the body of Christ. And you can’t damage one part of the body without affecting the functioning of the whole. No matter how ‘private’ you think your sin is, your heart is where your choices and actions flow from (Proverbs 4:23), and darkness that starts there has no trouble propagating itself throughout your life.
Our groaning psalmist knew what to do:
‘Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.’ NLT.
When we push through our shame, lay aside our pride and truly repent, God removes our guilt from us. But further than that, He removes the very sin itself:
‘He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west.’ Psalm 103:12 NLT.
Once God has forgiven us, we never have to go back to that dark place again. God doesn’t just cover over our sin, he pulls it up by the roots so it doesn’t have to keep springing back. That’s not to say that it’s necessarily easy, just that we have a choice about whether we conquer it. Before, we were slaves to our sin (Romans 6:17), but we’ve been handed power over it through Christ.
And because we know that God has forgiven us, we can also forgive ourselves. Philippians 3:12-14 demonstrates a great attitude for us to take:
‘I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.’ NLT
We are not perfect, put we press onwards anyway.
It’s not possible to head in the right direction if you’re always looking back over your shoulder. When you confess your sin and turn away from it, God forgives you, and you can start to forgive yourself and move on.
And all of this starts by you opening up your heart to Christ’s searching light, being humble enough to accept that you aren’t always able to recognise the extent of the sin in yourself, and not being afraid to let God show you things that might not be entirely comfortable.