In churches across America this week, there will be a time set aside to repent of your sins. A time to confess your sins. A time to seek God’s forgiveness. But is this the pattern for addressing sin in the New Testament?
Before we answer that question, let’s talk about why this matters. If you believe that you are completely forgiven, if you believe that there is no separation between you and the Father, and if you believe that you cannot stop the flow of love and grace that God is extending to His children, then any suggestion that God is holding your sins against you goes against all that we believe about our right standing with God. Complete forgiveness, no distance or separation, no stopping the love of God are clear teachings of the New Testament.
When we suggest that confession, repentance, and seeking forgiveness from God are necessary for believers to get close to or stay close to God, we undermine all of these promises. The cross worked, and any teaching of our current or besetting sins separating us from the Father is taking us back to an old covenant system of condemnation and separation; an old covenant system of sin management.
I have heard it preached this way. Think about your human relationships. When we sin against each other and don’t own up to that, there is a distance created in our connection. (This is absolutely true, by the way.) But the preaching illustration continues that it is the same with God. Just like in human relationships, our fellowship with God is damaged by our sin. A distance from God is created by our sin.
But this illustration completely misses a critical point. Our life with Jesus is NOT like any human relationship. It is founded completely upon His grace. He is beyond gracious to us in every way. Why? Because our sin was taken care of at the cross. Christ paid the price for us. There is no more sacrifice, offering, repentance, or penance required of us once we have believed the gospel message of Jesus. And teaching that there is more required adds a heaviness to our walk with Jesus that steals our joy.
Jesus said in many places that He came to make our joy full. How can we be joyful, how can we live at peace, how can we experience His rest when we are taught to always be looking over our shoulder for where we are messing up? Jesus taught what He taught, Jesus said what He said, and Jesus promised what He promised to bring us joy, peace, and rest. He did not come to bring us angst, sorrow, or condemnation.
Do believers commit sins? Yes. Do I sin? Yes. And when I do, I agree with God that it is a sin. This post isn’t about sweeping sin under the rug. I am sorry when I sin. I am sorry that I did not live into my new identity in Jesus. And I am thankful that I have an Advocate in Jesus Christ who has paid the price and that sin is already forgiven. There is no hand-wringing or promise of deeper commitment required. Growing in grace is what helps us mature and grow into walking more and more in line with who we are in Christ. Growing in grace helps us cooperate in godly ways with Christ living His life through us.
If anything in this introduction has cause a “uh?” or quizzical reaction, please stick with us for all five parts to this series. There is a lot to unfold and maybe a few things to unlearn. But I believe it will illuminate one more beautiful aspect of our freedom in Christ. So back to our topic at the top; why do church leaders embrace this confession, repent, and seek forgiveness practice? We will talk about it next time.