The Bible makes a wonderful promise to Christians who sin. He says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).
Sounds great, but what about the next time it happens? And the next? If I confess something, and God forgives and cleanses, then why do I keep doing the same foolish thing? Isn’t it supposed to be cleansed from my life?
While there could be other answers, it seems to me that when this happens, I’ve not got to the root of the matter. I’ve confessed symptoms rather than the disease, the actions rather than the deeper attitudes of my heart.
This is a spiritual danger. It happened to God’s people in the days of Jeremiah the prophet. He spoke to them about their unrighteous behavior, and it sounds as if they covered up their sinful wounds with a bandage, but the mess didn’t heal under that; it festered and erupted again and again.
“’For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,’ says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 6:13–15)
The danger of this light confession of only actions is that after many repetitions of the same sin, I no longer take it seriously. I might think this is just who I am, or that I’m stuck with it, or ‘everyone has problems’ or ‘no one is perfect.’ Instead of going for the deeper causes, I just leave it alone.
The going deeper part is not easy. Just as cauterizing a wound or removing proud flesh produces agony, asking the Great Physician to clear a persistent sin will hurt. A Christian who dares to do that must realize that God will answer that prayer, and the Christian must be persistent and not give up during the cleansing and healing process.
Sometimes this feels like punishment not healing. Sometimes God reveals things that bring horror to the heart, horror that my sin is so awful and horror that I have had such resistance to His everlasting love and forgiving grace.
Another reason that change is so difficult is that God often uses trials and difficult challenges to bring it about. The suffering can be external circumstances. It can also be satanic attacks that turn my pride into weakness and a desperate need for renewed faith. It can also be the suffering that comes when I feel helpless against my own sinfulness. Yet under suffering and having my heart tested beyond measure, God does His transforming work.
Thankfully, He never abandons His wayward ones. I can be persistent in my disobedience, but He is more persistent to change my heart. I can suffer, but God can use suffering to profit me and produce the change I long for. This is why He says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:6–11)
At times I hear others say that people never change, but I do not agree. If that were true, then the promises of God mean nothing, promises like the one above and promise like, “ . . . For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son . . . .” (Romans 8:28–29)
He is using everything, including pain and suffering, to transform me. Yet I fully understand why many people resist change. When God is doing it, it hurts like nothing else.