one of the devil’s many but most effective lies

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise.

Psalm 51:7-15; MSG

I don’t know why this is not included online, but this is Eugene Peterson’s rendering in The Message Bible of the ascription given to the psalm, part of the inspired text or not, but certainly steeped in tradition: “A DAVID PSALM, AFTER HE WAS CONFRONTED BY NATHAN ABOUT THE AFFAIR WITH BATHSHEBA.” This may well have been written by David during that time (2  Samuel 11-12). Whatever the case, the psalm itself lends its voice to whoever and whatever. It is general enough, that it includes all who have sinned grievously in big ways, as well as perhaps small yet willful acts which also need repentance and God’s cleansing, saving work.

One of the devil’s big lies, which we need to learn to recognize and reject is the lie that certain sins put people beyond the pale of usefulness to God. I know when a pastor falls there is disagreement as to whether after repentance and time for restoration he or she can be reinstated to their pastoral position. I tend to think so myself, but that’s not specifically what we’re dealing with here. There’s no doubt that such sins can haunt the one who is guilty as is evident in Psalm 51 itself, and that there will be fallout or consequences from it, as we see in the case of David (see 2 Samuel 13-15, also 12:10-14).

But we need to get rid of the notion and again outright lie for sure that such a person can no longer be useful in God’s service in love to others. I know this is old covenant, but David himself was not stripped of his position as king, nor of honor as we see Jesus himself called “the son of David” as not just a fact, but as likely an honorific title. How much more in the new covenant can such a one be restored?! I think of this passage about an erring sinner in the church:

Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.

The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church. So if you forgive him, I forgive him. Don’t think I’m carrying around a list of personal grudges. The fact is that I’m joining in with your forgiveness, as Christ is with us, guiding us. After all, we don’t want to unwittingly give Satan an opening for yet more mischief—we’re not oblivious to his sly ways!

2 Corinthians 2:5-11; MSG

We need to get rid of the notion, yes the lie, once for all that when a person sins bigtime there’s nothing left for them, except forgiveness of their sin when they confess it. Surely they should live in deep humility the rest of their lives. But they also need “to inhabit [others’] forgiveness and God’s forgiveness,” to accept that as a matter of fact and reality.

This truth must never be abused to mean that I can do what I please, even though it’s sinful, knowing that in the end full restoration will happen. That is both dangerous to the person doing it, who may in fact not see fit to repent, not to mention the damage that occurs. We can’t have both our way and God’s way. At the same time, we also must not set aside God’s amazing grace for all sinners, including those who have abused this truth, who return to him in genuine repentance, not just sorry about the consequences of their sin, but that they sinned against God and against others.

In and through Jesus.

accepting one’s guilt (to receive forgiveness)

Without airing one’s guilty laundry, which is hardly ever appropriate, and if done should be done with much care looking for the needed wisdom with prayer, one ought to accept the fact that they are guilty when such is the case, and forget about trying to smooth the way so as to lessen or avoid consequences. That can be easier said then done since people often are not merciful. Of all people on earth, Christians or followers of Christ should be merciful. We do know that our heavenly Father is merciful, which is evident in and through the revelation of his Son, Jesus Christ.

The cross is our pardon in and through Jesus, upon our repentance and faith. Mediated to us through Christ and even through Christ’s body, the church. Jesus’ death is for the forgiveness of our sins; in that death atonement for our sins and for the sins of the world was made. So our forgiveness is grounded in a salvation that is in Jesus himself through his Person as the God-Human, and his saving work for us. And so our sins can be forgiven as we confess them; God being faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

There is only one way we can receive forgiveness from our guilt. We need to accept our sin for what it is. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that we air it for all to see, or allow it to beat us down. Instead we accept the fact of our guilt as well as accepting God’s forgivness through confession to God and when appropriate to each other, especially to one we sinned against. As we look forward to the day when all sin will be gone forever and true righteousness and justice will reign in the love of God through King Jesus.

the Lord’s convicting work

Oftentimes many of us humans are more than ready to simply mark ourselves off as “no good,” and therefore perhaps unwittingly render ourselves outside the pale of God’s good convicting, correcting work. Or we may be quick to accept any thought of correction to us, whether from someone else or more likely from within ourselves, as viable. So that we are quick to accept it, make a point of doing so, and then go on with little or no change. Or we may struggle over pride, not wanting to give into something we’re either too proud to admit, or else not completely sure of. Whether or not what we’re thinking or being told holds water. It may be that our entire context is skewed, and what concerns us should be of no concern at all. The good that could come out of this is that we’re brought to reflect on the error of our ways in comparing ourselves with each other, which Paul tells us is not wise.

The Lord’s convicting work may take some time, and come over time. But it will become clear. We will not be taken on some guilt trip, in which we feel guilty, but are unclear as to what we’re to do about it. God’s word talks about a repentance that is worldly and leads to death. Judas would be a case in point. He even confessed his sin to the religious authorities who wrote him off. Something was wrong.

The Lord’s convicting work clarifies, and we won’t be left wondering. I am one of those people who naturally critiques what I do as well as what I fail to do over the course of a day. And I can end up on some sort of guilt trip. But one in which I only have some vague sense of what is wrong. I have found that I need to go to God in prayer, spend some time in the word, and keep at it. The Spirit in time will make something clear to me, even if it is that I should have no concern at all over some matter.

Of course the Spirit’s convicting work will always be in line and in harmony with the word that came by the Spirit (i.e., God’s word, scripture). But the Spirit will give a sense of clarity and peace, no less than the Presence of God himself. Or indeed the Lord may convict us so that we are clear as to our wrongdoing, and confess it to him, as well as to anyone we may have offended, or hurt.

This is not to say we are ever sinless. But it is to say we must beware of the accusing finger of the enemy, who is called the accuser of our brothers and sisters, accusing them day and night before God, and we can be sure accusing them to others and to themselves as well.  The Lord’s convicting work is one of love in which we are grieved over our sin, drawing us in, in love. A matter of the heart. And one that is clear. We should act only on the Lord’s convicting work, and on nothing else.

And we should covet and seek that convicting work, especially if and when we’re uneasy about something. But I believe on a regular basis as well. An important part of the tradition of Christian worship is to pray a general confession of our sins, during which we can become specific before God, and to another. And receive God’s forgiveness. Even pronounced over us by another. We need that, and my tradition is the poorer for not practicing it, though I’m thankful we do so in our church.