February 23, 2015

A carefully considered confession of sin

Leviticus 14
John 8:31–59
Song of Solomon 7:1–4

Anyone who continually beats themselves up for doing the wrong thing needs to know that when we confess our sins, God forgives our sins. Whenever I’ve repeated words like, “Why did I do that?” or “Am I ever stupid,” people might tell me that I need to forgive myself, but that isn’t what God says. I’ve learned that such talk happens because I am hung up on me. I’m proud. I could have/should have done better. I’m not as sinful as God’s Word says I am. I have the ability to not make any mistakes. This is pride. God says to humble ourselves and if I don’t, falling into sin usually does it for me!

However, the opposite problem can occur (after all, we are creatures of extremes). I can be flippant about sin too. That is, I do the wrong thing and flip off an “I’m sorry, God” and go on as if that is all there is to being a forgiven and cleansed person. Like a seminary professor once said, “There is a balance here someplace . . .  I see it every time I swing past it!”

The Bible helps with the balance, particularly for my flippant extreme. Today’s Old Testament reading is about offerings for those coming to the Lord with their sacrifices for sin: “The priest shall offer the sin offering, to make atonement for him who is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. And afterward he shall kill the burnt offering. And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.” (Leviticus 14:19–20)

In this passage of thirty-two verses, the phrase “him who is to be cleansed” is repeated twelve times, whereas the words that say that person “shall be clean” are repeated only two times. This tells me something about the process of dealing with sin. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I know that He is my sacrifice and when I confess my sin, I am forgiven and cleansed, BUT if my heart is not in it, that cleanness doesn’t happen as quick as the confession.

There is something about these verses in Leviticus that speak to me about taking time with confession, thinking about what I have done and about what God has done. I am the person to be cleansed. This is not God touching me with a magic wand so I can merely go on as I was going before. Maybe I need to think about what I was doing and why. Maybe I need to pay attention to the attitude that I have about the sin, the temptation, the God who died for me. Whatever it is, the ‘who is to be cleansed’ seems to warrant much more attention than I give it. This is not about beating myself up with, “Why did I do that?” and “What is wrong with me?” but considering the process much more intently than merely feeling sorry for myself because I need the process.

The NT reading fits in several ways. Jesus is talking to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Notice that word ‘abide’ – it means to stay put, to read it and consider it, give it full attention.

However, all they heard was the word ‘free.’ They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31–36)

“Practicing sin” might mean continuing in the same sin that was just confessed. Or it might mean exchanging that sin for another one – being flippant toward God and taking His forgiveness for granted. Or it might mean doing that ‘poor me, I blew it again’ thing, which is not confession but self-pity and just another kind of sin – that enslaves me also.
Does all this mean that God is being picky about how I confess my sin? Yes, I think so. But He does it to set me free, not partly free but free indeed. He wants to look at me like the lover Solomon looked at his bride, and to enjoy an intimacy that is free from my pride and selfishness.

Jesus, my Lover, may not say these words: “How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O noble daughter! Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand” (Song of Solomon 7:1), but He does bless me with a transparent and trusting relationship through an honest confession of sin. As that happens, not only am I forgiven and cleanses, but He is free to adorn me with His purity and make me feel like His lovely companion.

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