May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:1-14
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. Psa 130:4
As the phone rang, tears began streaming down my face. I'd contemplated the call, and what I'd say to get the specific response I wanted, but as I picked up the phone everything changed. I was calling my nephew and nieces to ask forgiveness for my harshness with them that afternoon...hoping to use that as a teaching moment for them and provoke a similar apology from them.
Bloop, bloop, bloop, went the keys on my phone and my heart was broken by my own pride. Then, all I was concerned with was that I had sinned and I needed to be forgiven. I spoke to each of them, and each seemed unphased by my previous behavior or my current emotional state, and readily forgave me. Not one asked for forgiveness, as I'd planned and hoped...and not once did that bother me. I was doing what I believed would glorify God the most in that moment and that was all that mattered. I was compelled...for His sake, not mine.
Despite my bad beginning, and my sin, God was very gracious to me in that phone call. I was overcome with grief over my sin, how that reflected on my God, and how I'd hurt these precious ones, but all of them were very happy to hear from me. As I was speaking to my nephew, I could hear my oldest niece in the background, saying "Let me talk!" When my youngest niece got on the phone, she immediately said "Hi TiTi!! I love you!"
I made a somewhat unintelligable reply as I began to cry even harder.
I had sinned, and that grieved me...but I was also forgiven, by those I'd wronged and by my Father, and that knowledge was a bit overwhelming.
I knew I didn't deserve to be forgiven. My first steps into the phone call were filled with pride and a strong sense of entitlement. In seeking to be forgiven, I wanted to be asked for forgiveness and was (mercifully) broken en route. In seeking to teach about forgiveness, I was taught. And I am grateful.
But not all at once.
My default setting is condemnation. Often, too often if I'm honest, my sin is bigger than God's grace. I am guilty of much and tend to carry the weight of my guilt around, somehow thinking that I can make things right or make up for my mess ups myself. This is nonsense, of course, but it's the truth of it. It is equally true that condemnation is stupid...but how often do we walk in it?
In one of his messages at New Attitude, John Piper touched on condemnation, and the responses we often have to it. First, we are joyless...burdened by our sin, which has already been borne and atoned for. Second, we attempt to atone for it ourselves somehow, perhaps by punishing ourselves, denying ourselves something, or suffering in silence. Third, we try to pay back the grace we know has covered it by doing good works...trying to do better. None of these responses require us to do the one thing our Lord tells us to do.
In his devotional book, "My Utmost for His Highest", Oswald Chambers says:
"Our Lord's words are not "Do this or don't do that," but "Come to me."
Come? Sin-filled, dirty, vile, corrupt, rebellious...behaving as an enemy; a debtor who cannot repay one percent of what is owed, an unworthy servant?
Yes. This is what the Lord says. Come to me...just as you are...and I will give you rest.
Rest is what we all want, right? Rest, peace, contentment, quietness of spirit and mind. It's what we really need in this life, isn't it...not ease of circumstance or a bunch of "perfect" things/people/situations. But we won't find it flaggelating ourselves or in self-inflicted solitary confinement or in adhering to a checklist of do's and dont's. We will only find it with the Lord.
So if condemnation is a trap we frequently find ourselves in, and we know the Word tells us to come to Jesus no matter what state we think our hearts are in (because truth be told, the true condition of our hearts is often far worse than our own estimation), how do we get out of the trap or avoid it, circumventing the process and going directly to our Lord?
I think it may be different for each of us, which is one reason it is so wonderful that we have a personal God. But two things the Lord has given me, which have been a great help are:
"His mercies are new every morning."
"Life is fleeting, it blooms and withers like a flower in the field. Sin my last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. His anger is but for a moment but His love is from everlasting to everlasting."
Each morning dawns with fresh mercy and fresh grace. God gives us this guarantee in His Word. If we believe that to be true, we have to also believe that, though for us hours of guilt and grief and suffering can feel like a lifetime, the truth is that our lifetimes are a moment to the Lord. His anger is but for a moment in our life time. But His love for us is eternal. It was birthed before time and will continue beyond the end of time. So, our sin, in this matrix of time is like a sliver of a moment. More than that, it is paid for and forgiven. God still hates it. His anger is real and right. We should feel its sting, because He is holy and our sin led Him to the Cross. But, we shouldn't let the sting linger longer than God's anger. Conviction is not meant to be the vehicle for condemnation; it is meant to be the vehicle that leads us to our Lord, who says to us: "Come unto me...you will find forgiveness and rest."
Oh how I pray I will heed that call more readily! for, "where sin and sorrow stops and the song of the saint starts." (Chambers), and I SO want to sing more!