Years ago, my husband put on one of those very ugly, creepy soft rubber masks and tried to give me a hug. The mask freaked me out. No matter how much he tried to act like his normal self, I still wanted to run away. He had to remove the mask before I wanted to get close to him.
Act the part or try harder is common advice given when relationships don’t work or other failures occur. However, when trying to be a godly person who overcomes sin, trying harder is terrible advice. It doesn’t work.
Instead, God has a different way. He says when we sin, trying harder only adds to the problem. Instead of relying on the grace and strength of God, trying harder is trusting myself. Trusting myself is the root of sin in the first place. Instead, the Bible says…
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5–8)
When I fail, it was my own understanding that led to that downfall. Why then should I trust my own understanding to get me out of trouble? Trying harder will only multiply the problem, not fix it.
Instead, the solution to failure is confession and repentance. Confession is agreeing with God that I messed up. It can be as simple as getting angry in traffic or as complex as years of bitterness against someone who hurt me. Yet no matter the sin, God wants me to call it what it is. His response is always amazing.
Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)
Confession is important, but so is repentance. This includes renouncing sin, but repentance is more than that. I can admit I did something bad, but keep on doing it. Instead, God wants me to forsake that sin. Try accomplishing that without help! Just as trying harder does not keep me from sin, trying harder does not help me forsake it. God’s solution for sin is far more radical. He first forgives, then cleanses, then replaces.
Forgives: When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions. (Psalm 65:3)
Cleanses: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Replaces: You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22–24)
In the kingdom of God, the children of God are never to wear masks. God asks us to be transparent before Him and before one another. We cannot conceal our sin before Him and why would we try? He offers atonement and mercy, forgiveness and new life. He also gives us the Holy Spirit that we might have power to say no to sin and yes to righteousness and holiness.
Pride makes me want to try harder, to do it myself. But I’ve tried harder against sin, in dieting, in keeping an exercise routine, in teaching, using other skills, even in keeping my house clean. None of that works. Just as I cannot overcome sin by myself, I cannot do anything without the help and grace of God. Others might call this a crutch, but I’ve learned that using crutches is far better than wearing a mask.