Lately I have been thinking about my sin. Don’t panic. I haven’t done anything stupid. It’s just that I rarely think about my sin as sin. Let me explain.
I know I am far from perfect. I make mistakes. I confess that occasionally, I sin. And when I sin, God corrects me.
So why am I telling people God never convicts us of our sin? What am I? Some kind of hypocrite?
As I have explained elsewhere, there is a huge difference between conviction and correction. The word “convict” found in our English Bibles implies the declaration of guilt, which is something God never does to the guiltless. You have been justified through faith in Christ and have peace with God (Rom 5:1). Justification means just-as-if-I-had-never-done-it. Even if you have just done it.
You are one with the Lord and as he is, so are you in this world (1 Jn 4:17). In Christ, you are as righteous and holy as he is.
But from time to time we make regrettable choices. When we do the Holy Spirit will seek to bring about a life-giving course correction. He doesn’t do that by applying the rod of correction or scourging us with sickness. Instead he steers us away from danger and back towards the way of life. Let me give you two examples:
Example 1: Ugly parenting
As a father of three small children (Update: make that four children!) I am regularly stretched beyond my coping abilities. I get tired and frustrated and when I do I become a grizzly bear. I frighten my children and say things I regret. If you are a parent, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
How does God respond when I act this way?
First let me show you how grace doesn’t work. Grace doesn’t tell me, What a lousy father you were today! I already know that. I don’t even need the Accuser to tell me. Grace doesn’t expose my ugliness but reveals his beauty within me.
How does that happen?
For some grace might manifest as a mental picture of themselves parenting really well. Others might be reminded of a scripture that imparts life into a stressful moment. For me, the most common experience is I find myself abounding in supernatural love.
This doesn’t happen automatically. And it certainly doesn’t happen when I am walking after the flesh and leaning on my own strength and understanding. But if I make the choice to ask my Father for help, grace comes. For me that often means I begin to see my kids just as my heavenly Father see me – as dearly loved.
It’s hard to explain but everything changes. Suddenly their noise and energy no longer bothers me. It’s like my shoulders get widened. Instead of being flattened and overwhelmed I find myself wanting to stoke the fires of their youthful exuberance just to see what happens next. Do you see? By the grace of God I become a better me. As I allow Christ to reveal his kid-loving character through me I am transformed from grizzly papa into the best dad in the world!
The same thing can happen to you. The next time your kids drive you around the bend, draw aside. Ask your Father for help. Grace will come. Then give those kids what God gives you.
Example 2: Self-pity
Several years ago I was so overwhelmed by a problem that I began to indulge in self-pity. Self-pity is huge sin. It’s far more serious than some of the sins we warn teenagers about. Self-pity is the sin of unbelief in the goodness of God. It is saying, “God, I don’t believe you can handle this situation.” Never give into self-pity because it will sink you faster than the Titanic.
But on that dark day I gave into it. I began to feel sorry for my pathetic self. What did Jesus do in response to my sin? Did he stand before me like Nathan the Prophet pointing the finger? Did he warn me like Elijah of fire of heaven? Of course not! Jesus is nothing like that.
I remember it clear as day. I was sitting there in my little funk with my head in my hands and suddenly, in my mind, I could see Jesus on the chair beside me. He was sitting in the exact same posture as me. He had his head in his hands and he looked worried. As long as I live I’ll never forget what he said:
“You’re right Paul, this is a big problem. I don’t know what I’m going to do about it.”
Then he threw back his head and laughed and laughed at the absurdity of such a thought. Instantly, I was set free.
Do you see what he did there?
Jesus took my problem in his massive hands and laughed at it. He showed me the utter ridiculousness of the lie that I had bought into. How foolish I was to think that Jesus hasn’t got this! By seeing Christ I was set free from the lie that had held me captive. I began laughing so hard I nearly fell off my chair.
Jesus brought me back on course without using either guilt nor condemnation, just laughter and joy (Is 12:3).
Ask the right question
“Does God see our sins?” “How does God deal with us when we sin?” These are the wrong sort of questions for they miss the Father’s heart.
God is just not interested in recording your sins or assigning guilt and blame. Our sins surely grieve the Holy Spirit – they make him sad – but he doesn’t withdraw, condemn, or convict us in response.
In the example I gave you, Jesus dealt with my sin of self pity without even mentioning it. Do you see? Your sin is not the issue. Your sin was dealt with 2000 years ago at the cross. What really matters to your Father is you, and you are not your sin.
Those who worry, “Does God see my sin?” are living under an old covenant mindset. In the new covenant a better question is, “How does the Good Shepherd deal with us when we go astray?” The answer is: gently (see Heb 5:2). When you stumble and make a hash of things, Jesus deals with you gently because he knows what it’s like to be human.
No doubt some serious folk will be offended by the idea of gentle Jesus. They will write to remind me of the Revelation churches. They will say, “Jesus wasn’t exactly gentle with the Thyatirans and the Laodiceans, was he?”
It’s true, some people in those letters got rebukes. But don’t you find it interesting that before dealing with those churches Jesus reminded them that he “loves us, has cleansed us from our sins and has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father” (see Rev 1:5-6)? His correction is always motivated by love for us.
I’m not diminishing the seriousness of sin. Sin can kill you. I’m saying God does not deal with us as our sins deserve (Ps 103:10). Rather, he deals with us on the basis of love.
It’s not about your sin
I know this may be hard to process. We have been raised to beware sin, to resist sin, to run from sin, to overcome sin. With so much emphasis on sin, guilt, and shame, is it any wonder so many of us are sin-conscious instead of Christ-conscious? We need to be set free from this unhealthy obsession with sin!
I said at the start that I rarely think about my sin as sin. Yes, I make mistakes. It’s just that I don’t think about those mistakes in the language of sin and guilt. Paul said, “Reckon yourself dead to sin” (Rom 6:11). How can I engage with something and be dead to it at the same time?
Since I met Jesus I no longer speak the faithless language of sin and death. I choose to live by the law of the Spirit of life. My mistakes are not sins, per se. They are far more serious than that. Rather, they are death-dealing wounds I inflict on myself and others (Gal 6:8). They are missed opportunities to receive and impart life.
“Paul, are you saying you never repent and confess your sins?” I do but probably not in the manner you’re thinking.
True confession is not listing your sins like they did in the old covenant – it’s agreeing with God. And repentance is the same thing – it’s not looking down at your navel but up at Christ who is your life.
By all means confess and repent in the old fashion if it helps, but understand that doing so can actually deter you from the main thing which is getting back on course before you smash your boat on the rocks of life.
When Jesus shows up to laugh at the folly of your distrust, you can either (a) put on ashes and sackcloth or (b) laugh along with him. When the Holy Spirit shows you how to be a better parent, you can spend the next hour either (a) repenting for being a bad parent or (b) being the better parent.
I say “Choose life!” Make the choice that releases his life into your situation. Typically this will mean lifting your eyes off your sin and onto him. It’ll mean praising him for his goodness instead of harping on about your badness.
Anyway, that’s just me. Perhaps you think my “sin” stories are unspectacular. There was no alcoholism, drug abuse, or pornography mentioned because those haven’t been issues for me. But most of our sins are little ones and it’s good to experience freedom even in the everyday aspects of life.
You’ve heard my stories; now I want to hear yours. How has God dealt with you when you stumbled? Do you have a story of Jesus gently bringing about a course correction in your life? Will you share it in the comments below? I’d love to hear from you.
Paul’s new book, The Silent Queen: Why the Church Needs Women to Find their Voice, is coming out soon! Here’s a sneak peek.