It’s a fairly commonly used phrase, that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; yet, as much as I hear this phrase, I routinely see Christians living under a cloud of guilt and shame that provides no freedom and joy in their Christian walk. On one hand, it seems good that someone cares enough about their spiritual walk that it bothers them deeply when they sin; but on the other hand, it can’t be good for us to live under such a yoke of bondage, never feeling worthy of being used by God–of living up to our potential.
Here’s a fact: There isn’t a person among us who is truly worthy of the rich grace that God consistently bestows upon us. From the pulpits to the doors, from the parsonage to the gutters, no one deserves to take upon themselves the name of Christ, or to experience the blessing of His presence. Yet, we do. So, what gives?
We have a tendency to think that our generation is the only one that has struggled with these types of issues. Surely, those who came before us weren’t quite as bad as we are, so they Crimes Against Humanity don’t know the magnitude and quantity of things we have to repent of constantly. Scripture can’t really speak to us in a way that’s relevant and relate-able, can it?
Actually, it not only can, but it does. We fail to realize that with all of our technology and advancements, we really haven’t invented new sins. We’ve only created new and inventive ways to go about doing it. Internet porn is just porn via a new outlet; but the Romans were drawing porn in books and on frescos well over 2000 years ago. Prostitution is commonly called the oldest profession. Murder dates back to the second generation of humans. In fact, guilt and shame go back as far as the first humans, Adam and Eve, who hid in shame after sinning against God’s single command. So, we definitely don’t have a monopoly on any of this. Surely then, Scripture addresses the matter in a way that can help free us from this cloud.
Some of us from a holiness tradition (Pentecostal, Apostolic, etc.) may assert that the way to be free of guilt and shame is to stop sinning! Their emphasis on “living right”, though not in error, often skirts the reality of sin–that it shall persist both in the world and in our individual lives until “this corruptible put on incorruption, and this mortal puts on immortality” (1Corinthians 15:53), i.e. until we are transformed into morally perfect beings at the end of this age. So, although we must all pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14), what do we do when we screw up, especially when it happens more often than we’d like to admit? What do we do when we continue to have to ask forgiveness for the same things over and over again?
Once again, there are those who would claim that if we continue to sin in the same way again and again, we must not truly have repented. But, I beg to differ. Repentance is, by definition, a change of mind. To repent of sin means to change your mind about it, or to turn your back on it. But, just because you’ve turned your back on something in your heart does not mean that your flesh is not still weak and susceptible to it.
For example, you could be promiscuous and repent of it, yet your body can still crave sex to the point that you give in repeatedly, even though it’s the last thing you want to do in your heart. It doesn’t make your repentance insincere, and it certainly doesn’t mean that God has stopped forgiving you. It just means that you need to start building up the discipline that it will take to overcome sin in the practical realm, so that it can align with how you’ve already overcome it in the spiritual!