September 14, 2013

After seeing the horror of sin…

When rattled with a problem or a temptation, the Lord takes me back to the basics of the Gospel. That is biblical. I’m to live out my faith in the same way as it began…
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6–7)

Today’s devotional was written by Martin Luther many years ago, but the principles of how to deal with sin are the same today as they were in his day. First, he points to the reason Jesus died…

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities… he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. (Isaiah 53:5, 8)

Yesterday’s piece was about looking at the suffering of Jesus and feeling the horror of sin. However, Luther warns that being terror stricken in my conscience can be terribly negative and leave me in deep doubt — if I do not cast my sin on Christ.

When I first read his words, I’m thinking, “Of course” but then realize that it is possible to confess sin and then brood about the fact that it was committed. In the brooding, there is no joy, no release from guilt, no sense of being forgiven and cleansed. This is an emotionally worse place than before.

Instead, I am to think about and believe that my sins are His wounds and suffering. He carries them, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). This and other passages like it must come into focus and replace the deadly weight in my conscience. As Luther says, if I deal with my sin in my conscience and let the horror of what I have done continue in me, it is a form of cherishing the thing in my heart and soon enough it will become much too strong for me to manage and will live forever.

Yikes. I understand that statement. Such activity is usually accompanied by agonizing thoughts such as, “How could I ever do such a thing?” or “This is wrong… why am I even interested…?” Instead of dwelling there, I need to say, “Jesus died for that sin. It was placed on Him at the Cross. Jesus has forgiven and cleansed me by His death and resurrection” and so on.

Of course, those Gospel thoughts must be believed. It is a fact that in Christ my sin is washed away and powerless. Romans 4:25 says that Christ was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification; that is, by His death and resurrection He makes us righteous and free from all sin.

Luther adds this most startling statement “… even if we believe differently.” I understand that too. If my house is on fire, it is on fire, whether I believe it or not. Christ died for my sin; it is a fact. Luther says if a person is not able to believe it (generally for salvation or for a specific sin for sanctification) then that person should pray to God for faith. This matter is in the hands of God. Faith is entirely free and He bestows it; I cannot conjure it up.

Luther says I must now stop looking at the suffering of Christ. If being at the cross has done its work to literally put the fear of God in my heart and make me hate the sin I loved, then I must “press through all difficulties and see how full of love His heart is toward” me, a love that compelled Him to bear the heavy load of my conscience and sin. In this, my heart is assured of forgiveness and my faith is made stronger. I am drawn to the heart of God through Christ and more deeply understand His goodness and love. My faith and my conscience are clarified, and I stand firm in the One who died for me.

This is the Gospel in action, of course for salvation, but also for ordinary life when ordinary sinners, saved though they may be, get pushed against the wall by temptation and sin. I must look at the cross to see the awfulness of my sin and foolish foibles, but then must gaze at the immense magnificence of my Savior and God. 

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