Last week I tried on a pair of jeans I hadn’t worn in several weeks and discovered they were a bit tight. That prompted another thing I hadn’t done in awhile: I stepped on the scale.
It was certainly not the result I was hoping for. (By the way, weight loss is NOT the focus of this blog post.)
I stepped off the scale and thought of the week ahead of me—a week full of baking and sweets for three of my kids’ birthday parties.
Not a good week to try to cut back.
So I came up with a self-control strategy: I would wear those slightly-too-tight jeans to remind me that I needed to resist.
It didn’t work.
In fact, it had the opposite effect: I felt slightly depressed, and chocolate seemed like a good antidote. After scraping brownie batter from the mixing bowl into the pan, I eyed the spatula in my hand and the leftover batter on the sides of the bowl. I shifted my jeans with my free hand and thought dark thoughts, like, “Oh, why not? It’s not like these are ever going to be completely comfortable again.”
Today I went back to wearing my comfy, stretchy jeans.
And I had a complete change in attitude! I felt good, relaxed but also confident. Yes, you CAN say no to that, I told myself when I pulled rolls hot from the oven. You can have an apple instead.
I’ve realized there is a correlation between my tight-jeans strategy and my attitude toward my sinfulness.
I’ve been writing about my sin a lot lately. I find that the closer I grow to Jesus and the more I study Scripture, the more aware I seem to become of my own sinfulness—that it’s not just actions or even thoughts but a selfish focus rooted deep in my core.
I identify with St. Anselm, who said, “My life affrights me. For when carefully reviewed, its whole course shows in my sight like one great sin; or at least it is well-nigh nothing but barrenness. Or, if any fruit is seen in it, that fruit is so false, or so imperfect, or in some way or other so tainted with decay and corruption, that it must needs either fail to satisfy God, or else utterly offend Him.”
I don’t think I would have understood Anselm’s quote as a young believer. I used to think I was okay, not such a bad person, but now I see my faults much more clearly. And I know that as I grow older, my sinfulness will grow even more apparent to me.
I understand that Christ’s death was the once-for-all payment for my sins: past, present, and future, but how do I deal with this growing sense of my sinfulness?
The answer is this: I repent—again and again, like the first of Martin Luther’s 95 theses: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said, ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
“Repent”: to turn from sin and turn to God. It has TWO parts, but all too often my approach has been like my wearing the too-tight jeans last week: I stay, at least subconsciously, halfway between the two. “Oh, I see that, deep down, I am not patient. I am not kind. I am mean and self-centered, and even my goodness is NOT good—not true GOOD.” I turn from my sinfulness in horror, but I don’t complete the “turning to.” I stay in between in a state of guilt and shame.
It’s not true repentance if only do the first “turn.”
Hudson Taylor, the founder of China Inland Mission, regularly asked his believing friends, “Have you repented today?” Now obviously Taylor was asking if they had done some self-examination, if they had asked the Holy Spirit for conviction. But Taylor didn’t want his friends to stop there. He didn’t want them to mope through their days, laden down with a consciousness of their sin. I know this because I’ve read Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret. It took years of spiritual self-beating for Taylor to realize Christ’s finished work and CLING to the cross as full payment for his shame. He wasn’t about to suggest that his friends go down that same path. No! He knew that wallowing in an acknowledgement of sin is not good! This becomes a denial of Christ’s amazing work.
Taylor wanted them to fully repent: to turn from AND turn TO.
I have several Biblical examples that help me understand complete repentance: Isaiah was “undone” by the contrast between himself and the Holy God; Peter was crushed by the realization that he had denied his beloved Jesus; David wrote, “…my sin is ever before me” after Nathan confronted him with his adultery and murder; and the Prodigal Son said, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
Yet all four were quickly restored. Isaiah’s mouth was touched with a burning coal and moments later he was jumping up and down, saying, “Send me, Lord, send me (to do your work)!” After only a short (though very meaningful) conversation, Jesus restored Peter and charged him: “Feed my sheep.” Three verses after his proclamation of sinfulness, David asked, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness… restore to me the joy of Your salvation.” The Prodigal Son’s Father ran to him, embraced him, kissed him, and threw a party in his honor.
Then, turn TO.
And find that GOD is turned to US.
Because of Christ, He has arms wide open, ready to embrace us and draw us into His limitless love.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9