One of my prayer requests for the “core group” of our church plant (obviously including me) is for a deeper personal conviction of sin. What I mean is that we would be aware of, and regularly repent of our particular sins. Not just that we engaged in sin like gossip, lust, jealousy, envy, selfishness, self-righteousness, or didn’t engage in what we were called to (sins of omission), but why we did the things we did. Why chose to gossip (to tear down instead of considering how Christ builds us up) to lust (failure to see Christ as worthy of our gaze) or selfishness (failure to heed Jesus promise that there is more joy in giving life away). Why would a pastor pray for something like this for himself and Christ’s sheep?
If that seems like a strange request, I promise you it is a prayer that will bring praise to Christ, joy to the believer, and blessing/opportunity to neighbors/co-workers/friends. To repent of particular sins and recognize personal sin in general opens up the opposite of pandora’s box: the deep treasures of the gospel to you and others.
1.) For your neighbors benefit: The more you are aware of your own personal sin, the less self-righteous you become. You become the biggest sinner you know. You don’t look down upon someone else for doing _____. Instead you look sideways, seeing them as a fellow sinner, also in need of grace. The difference is…you have received grace, not that you’re a “better” person. Often you’ll find you aren’t! You become a better neighbor when you realize God doesn’t need your good works but your neighbor does (a la Martin Luther).
2.) For your benefit. Obviously you have to turn to Jesus, but if you have a constant recognition of your own sin, then you have a constant rest, appreciation, and joy that God’s love for you is grounded not in your performance but in the person and work of Christ. That is freeing and makes you want to make a joyful noise to Jesus. The flip side is also true: if you have little understanding of your own sin, you have little need for Jesus. Maybe you needed him back a few years ago, but now, not so much. What happens? You’ll find yourself becoming more and more self-righteous, angry, and bitter. Remember the “other prodigal son?” If not, check out how his self-righteousness made him and angry SOB (Luke 15:11-32). We miss out on joy and become more self-righteous by ignoring our sin.
We don’t repent from personal sin regularly so that God will give us more stuff (health and wealth gospel), but so that God will give us more of Himself. On the other side of the cross there was joy for Jesus so that on the other side of repentance, which is faith, joy will abound to us.
3.) For the sake of the Commission. A deeper understanding of sin led Isaiah into volunteering for a mission done got himself killed (Isaiah 6). And he volunteered for it! In the presence of God’s Holy throne he came undone (no it wasn’t because someone pulled the thread of his sweater as he walked away a la Weezer) because of a deep recognition of his own sins of the tongue. Once God cleansed and symbolically atoned for his sin, he said, “Here I am, send me.” His own sin, and the forgiveness by God, moved him toward mission. It moved him to sacrifice even his life for his neighbors. It move us to sacrifice comfort and convenience when we recognized that Christ has atoned the sins of our tongues (among a plethora of other sins). In contrast, a lack of personal sin is what led Jonah to self-righteously and unwillingly preach the gospel, and then actually, angrily hope for the worst (Jonah 4). Notice the difference?
4.) For the sake of Christ. One of the reasons we have been saved is so that we would praise God for the glorious riches offered to us in the in person of God the Son, with those promises sealed to us by God the Holy Spirit (Eph 1). Instead of morbid introspection where we spend time thinking how bad we are, we quickly turn from looking at our personal sin for the day or sin in general, and immediately cast our gaze upon Him who is already looking down from Heaven with a smile. When our countenance meets His, we burst forth in song, praise, and possibly dance (depending upon denomination or skill level). Regular, albeit brief glances at our sin leads to a panoramic view of Christ and His work.
The TV show Breaking Bad, probably better than any other show I’ve seen, reveals the cosmic affects of personal sin. But the gospel message and power invite us to live within a different narrative. Personal sin has/has had cosmic consequences, but personal gospel dynamics also have a cosmic redemptive affect.
If you’ve read this and think of someone else who needs to take sin more seriously, you’ve missed the point. If you’ve read this and think I’m writing this about YOU in particular, well there’s a Carly Simon song you might remember called “Your So Vain-I bet you think this post is about you.” But if you read this and have begun to recognize how messed up you really are, and then how perfect, righteous, gracious, satisfying, loving, merciful, powerful, holy, giving Jesus is, and that he offers all He demands, then you’ll have read this post correctly.
If you begin with your goodness, you’ll love Jesus and your neighbors a whole lot less. On the contrary if you begin with your sin, Jesus will be honored and your neighbors blessed. They may just thank you-even if they don’t understand exactly how such sacrificial love was kindled.