Psalm 3 is an affliction psalm, with some vindication thrown in. It’s not one I readily identify with. I don’t have hordes of human adversaries rising up against me (verse 1) nor are multitudes plotting to overthrow me (verse 6). These things were literal for King David when he wrote this psalm, so his plea, “O my God; surely, you will strike all my enemies across the face, you will break the teeth of the wicked,” seems understandable.
Yesterday, after reading a Facebook message from someone I had unintentionally hurt, my stomach was in knots.
When I shared both the Facebook message and my guilt with my husband, he looked at me in surprise. “Jen, why do you feel guilty? You simply weren’t able to do what he needed. It wasn’t possible.”
But I still wrestled with the feeling of guilt.
The guilt of being merely human.
The guilt of thinking I should be able to do it ALL (in other words, of thinking I am like God [the oldest sin of all]).
The guilt of forgetting that I am completely incapable.
To deal with this kind of guilt, I needed a broader definition of sin than the one that defines it as intentional actions, thoughts, and words that “break the rules.” That is a very limited—and unbiblical—definition of “sin,” and it didn’t help me deal with my Facebook situation.
The New Living Translation of Romans 3:23 defines sin as “(falling) short of God’s glorious standard.”
I fell short with my friend—not because I wanted to, not even because I had another choice, but simply because I had no capability to meet his expectations. I’ve “fallen short” in some other areas as well lately, and, for reasons only God knows, He has made me sit for awhile in the discomfort of my own inadequacy, my own “falling short.” I have tried to mute the message, tried to distract myself with writing and meal prep and people and the radio, but uneasiness has burrowed into my soul, and my thoughts circle constantly around my feeling of guilt.
So this morning I took a long walk in the thick snow at the dog park. Two women were there when I arrived, but they soon left, and I was alone—with my thoughts.
Round I walked, breaking through the snow crust, doing battle in my mind, swinging like a pendulum from excuses to accusations.
On the third lap, I stopped. “God,” I said, “I want to prove myself right in this situation. I want to ‘feel’ right. And I have been doing a whole lot of talking in my own head trying to figure this out. But I can’t–because I’m not capable. I fall short—both of a complete understanding of this situation AND of any ability to fix it. I am only human. Help me to see myself—and then see YOU—as I should.”
“Please, God, I need You!”
Then, finally, rest came. I could admit my own inability, my own “falling short.” And I could glory in the fact that the God who loves me has NO limitations. He is not bound by time. His strength is unlimited. He does not run out of energy or patience or goodness. He never forgets, not ever. He never fails—not at anything He does.
He IS the glorious standard.
And He is fully aware that there is no way I can reach His standard. In fact, I think He gets tired of my thinking I can.
So when I let go of trying to reach His standard on my own, I see HIM and His grace far better.
And I am awed by the Glory!
I continued my walk, joyous now, rejoicing in the beauty, and just before I left I did what I could not have imagined doing twenty minutes earlier.
I fell back into an untouched patch of snow, gazed up at the tops of the trees, and made a snow angel!
On the tree in the front yard hang the leftover berries from last fall. They were bright before frost, but now they look almost black against the snow. It brings to mind Isaiah 1:18. God says to the Israelites, “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.”
I think of scarlet and crimson as beautiful colors—like the berries before the frost—but God spends 16 verses describing the crimson and scarlet of the His peoples’ sins, and it’s ugly! “You’re rebellious,” He tells them. “I’ve loved you and cared for you, but you have rejected and ignored Me. All your ‘churchiness’ is nothing but show. You’re hypocrites, following an outward religion that has no goodness to it. In fact, you offer sacrifices to Me and then go out and live without love for others, abusing and neglecting the helpless” (my paraphrased summary)
“Do you think that’s what I, the GOOD GOD, want?”
The scarlet and crimson of verse 18, then, are NOT beautiful. These people are as far from the purity of white as they could be. The crimson and scarlet have set into the fabric of their souls, and they are irreparably stained.
We must remind ourselves that we are no different. OUR sins–collectively and individually–are scarlet and crimson. We, too, are irreparably stained.
This takes on deeper meaning when we see the terms “white as snow” and “white as wool” applied to Christ: Daniel 7:9 says, “…the Ancient One sat down to judge. His clothing was as white as snow, his hair like purest wool.” Revelation 1:14 describes Christ’s head and hair as “white like wool, as white as snow.”
Our crimson stains and Christ’s white purity are as unalike as possible. We drip with sin, as if we have been dipped in a vat of it, formed in it (Ps. 51:5). Now let’s look at what is in the vat. It is not simply liquid color—a straightforward red dye. No! To understand how God sees this crimson sin, we must go to another verse in Isaiah: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). The polluted garment is–to be as graphic as Scripture is–like the underclothes a woman would wear during her menstrual cycle. They would be permeated with a bodily fluid that stunk and stained.
THAT is the crimson, the scarlet.
God the Pure One cannot condone and “coexist” with our stench. He would cease to be perfect, sinless God if He said that our disregard for Him and our injustice toward our fellow man was “okay.” Though He longs to hold us in His arms, that is not possible as long as we are stained and dripping with this crimson.
We have tried, over and over through the centuries, to fix this problem ourselves. All religions are simply our efforts to make ourselves fit for communion with God, worthy of his approval. But we cannot do this, though we claim to. But any “god” we can reach through our own efforts must be a god of our own making–and therefore not truly Divine.
So we must be changed, somehow made pure. Some outside agent must be applied to go over our stain. That’s exactly what God did in Christ. Christ, unstained and pure, took on our human flesh, a body that was stained with the effects of sin, that would suffer and age, that had the same bodily functions ours do, with emotions and frailties. He was “in all points like we are…”
“Yet without sin.” That needs an exclamation mark! He had no inner stain and He kept Himself unstained!!! THAT enabled Him to do an amazing thing for us. His death allowed us to be covered with new garments–HIS complete, utter goodness, white as snow.
“Though your sins are like scarlet”–permeating to our very core, as much a part of us as dye becomes part of a garment when the garment is dipped in it–“I will make them as white as snow.”
With the covering of Christ’s purity, our stains—past, present and future (God is not bound by time)—are overwhelmed, and God the Good can draw us near to Himself. His Spirit enters our hearts like a bleaching agent, and begins transforming us from the inside out, a process that will end (oh, Heaven!) with us being LIKE Christ. Selfishness and pride will never again seep from our hearts. We will be pure not only in standing (with Christ’s covering) but in practical actuality.
I am thankful I opened my curtains yesterday and noticed the shriveled, darkened berries and the gleam of snow behind them. I am thankful for this reminder because my gratitude is in direct proportion to my realization of my need for Christ.
“For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).
Too often I tell God what I want Him to do with me and for me. I guess there’s an acknowledgement of weakness in these kinds of prayers—I am, after all, admitting that I can’t make these things happen—but there is also a sense of pride. I may not have the strength to carry this out, but I know what the best course of action is.
Today I discovered I even tell God what to do in regard to my sin. This morning I prayed, “Lord, reveal my sin to me. Help me to know the ways I am straying from you.”
I’m not knocking this kind of prayer, and I’m trusting that the Holy Spirit interprets it for me, but as I studied a passage in Isaiah today, I realized that this prayer is based on a lot of ignorance. If God really DID show me the depths of my sinfulness, I would be crushed, as Isaiah was when he was in the presence of God. Overwhelmed, his only understanding in that moment was of his own dirtiness in the presence of the completely clean and holy God. “Woe is me! For I am lost;” he said, “for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Regarding this passage, R.C. Sproul comments that this is a rare occurrence: God does not often crush us with a full picture of our sinfulness. Instead He reveals it bit by bit, in His own time and plan, as it is necessary and good for us.
That leads me to examine the motives behind my “Show me my sins” prayers. Am I asking, perhaps, out of a heart that still hopes to do penance, to somehow pay for my own sins, to show that I am truly sorry for them, and in this sorrow, to gain some acceptance?
Again, Isaiah’s example helps me. Isaiah was not asked to do penance for his sinfulness. Instead GOD sent an angel with a burning coal to purify Isaiah.
He did the same for me, with the death of Christ. I cannot accomplish my own purification, and therefore, He doesn’t ask me to. He did and does that Himself.
“…your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
Even knowing this, KNOWING that Christ paid for my sin, I have a tendency to grovel in it. I mistakenly think this is true sorrow, when it is really self-serving.
But that’s also not what Isaiah did. After God pronounced him clean, God immediately asked if Isaiah was ready to go to work. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
And Isaiah didn’t respond as I often do. “Hold on, Lord, I’m still processing how awful I am. I’m still overwhelmed with what I did (or said or thought).”
No, Isaiah IMMEDIATELY answers, “Here am I! Send me.”
This is not only a statement of willingness but of confidence. Sproul writes that if Isaiah had said “Here I am,” he would merely have been making a statement of readiness, but the inverted structure—“Here AM I!“—speaks of Isaiah’s new view of himself. The Lord had taken him through an understanding of Isaiah’s own unworthiness and the Lord’s grace, and Isaiah came out of that with a new sense of self-worth as a creation and servant of God.
“Lord, I am Yours. Reveal to me what you want me to know, not so I can grovel but so that You may direct me in the ways You want me to go. Bottom line, Lord, here am I, Your creation, purified, qualified, and commissioned. Do Your will, Your best, with me.”
At this morning’s first church service, I read the Scripture passage for the Advent: “John 10: 10-18, ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.’” Man, I have a good reading voice. “’I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.’” I wonder if anyone out there is thinking, “What a nice reading voice she has?”
Seriously, it happened. Maybe a bit more subtly than the way I wrote it above, but it happened. Darts of pride and self-awareness were shooting at me—and not from outside—from within! I had suddenly become the enemy.
I used to watch middle-aged-and-up women (and oh-my-word, I’m one of them now) in church and think: They have it! By it, I meant that they had “arrived,” that they had conquered sin habits and lived in a state of constant peace and faithfulness.
Well, if my own journey is anything to gauge it by, that’s not the way it works. I heard a preacher say recently (Rick McKinley at Imago Dei Church in Seattle) that Christians in their twenties haven’t yet discovered how truly sinful they are.
It’s true! In my twenties (and a little beyond) I remember taking stock of my sin problems and thinking it was only a matter of time and maturity before I had them licked—with God’s help, of course! I would add.
That makes me laugh now! With every passing year I discover more darkness within my own heart. The image I get is of roots going deep into the ground. I dig and dig—and find more and more, tiny tendrils (or not so tiny!) shooting out in all directions, growing faster than I can chop them off, going down into depths I can’t even see.
But I’ve made another discovery lately, this one far more hopeful: every sin root I find is an evidence of—and an opportunity for—GRACE!
I am often shocked by my sin. Seriously! I didn’t just think THAT! Maybe Satan planted that idea in my head; maybe I saw something that triggered it. That couldn’t come out of ME!
But it does, and God’s reaction to my sin is very different than my own. He is not surprised by it. He also doesn’t have my false levels of what is ok and what is not. He does NOT say what I sometimes imagine He does: You did what, Jen? That may be the last straw for you. That’s a new low!
No, He’s not shocked. In fact, He knew about it all along and is revealing it to me at just the right time. Last year a good friend told me, “I’ve learned to thank God when I recognize a sinful pattern in myself because it’s an area where He is leading me into growth. I can’t grow if I don’t see anything wrong or lacking.”
He knew about it all along (so it’s evidence of His great grace—loving me even though I’m far worse than I ever thought I was), AND He wants to use this new recognition I have of my sinfulness to help me to grow, i.e. OPPORTUNITY!
I limit and demean God’s grace when I am shocked by my sin AND when I try to deal with it on my own, wielding my trowels, shovels, even pickaxes in self-powered attempts to dig out the new roots I’ve discovered. Contrary to that, there’s great freedom in saying, as God gave me grace to do this morning, “Wow, Lord, You can see what I am wrestling with here. I confess that I’m struggling with some pretty nasty pride. I confess that it comes from me because I’m just as human as anybody else, and this is who I am in my human state. I’m so grateful You’re not blindsided by this, and I admit I need Your help to chop this root out. I know this won’t be accomplished immediately or even quickly—because it goes a lot deeper than I can see—but I ask for Your help in turning to You again and again when it pops up.”
This allows me to keep going (in this morning’s case, to keep reading) because I realize that my guilt-wallowing doesn’t accomplish my sanctification. I’m NOT saying I shouldn’t acknowledge my sin OR that I am not responsible for turning from it. Scripture uses strong language regarding sin in the lives of believers; “Put them to death,” it says”(Col. 3:5-8). But when I wallow in guilt, I resurrect the sins. I do the same when I try to pull the roots in my own power (oh, that awful “I got this” mentality). I choose either guilt or independence because it feels like I’m doing something, but both are counterproductive. I’m actually giving life to those sin roots.
So how do I pull them out/separate them from a power source? Well, God didn’t say to “put them to death” by myself. He wants me to cry out to Him. He WANTS to help me. And I have to acknowledge that I CAN’T to do that.
The battle is really a constant “setting aside” of self-sufficiency, a “putting on” of dependency that involves a deeper and deeper knowledge of who I really am without Christ.
Again, it’s paradoxical. Growth does not necessarily mean I struggle with sin LESS; it means I see more of it and I bring it to Christ again and again. As I do this, I grow more aware of my inability to deal with sin on my own.
And I also understand more deeply how God loves me—just as I am AND with a commitment to my growth.
“6And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you” Philippians 1:6 (Amplified).