“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:25).
In the Name + of Jesus. AMEN. The trouble with marking out Ash Wednesday as a time to consider our sorrow about sin apart from private confession and Sunday morning is that we may become so preoccupied with our sins that we get no further than our resolve that we really must do better. Those who think of Christianity as nothing more than a moral renovation program tend to think of sins as individual pieces. They tend to think you can keep a checklist of sins as if at 11:15am this morning they did a sin. ‘That sin was outstanding, but I have not done that sin since.’
Particular sins are symptoms of a disease. You sin because you are sinners. You are not sinners because you sin. A diseased tree produces poisonous fruit. The tree’s fault is not that its a tree but in its being diseased. What is wrong with you is not that you are human but that you are gone wrong. You are curved in on yourselves. Preoccupied with yourselves. Perpetual navel-gazers. You are sinners.
You got your sins, I’ve got mine. You do your thing, let me do mine. Nobody judge nobody. There isn’t anything to go by except the Yes and No of each person’s tastebuds. That is how it is when there are no standards. Nothing but the oughts of the community in which you abide. Some things are socially obnoxious, but as long you’re not being a nuisance to anybody you can do as you please. When you itch, you scratch yourself. It’s nobody’s business but your own. Here we are still dealing with individual standards of behavior.
Such people God will shatter with His Law. Look at commandments four through eight:
Honor your father and your mother
You will not murder
You will not commit adultery
You will not steal
You will not give false testimony against your neighbor
Have you kept all these? Look at commandments nine and ten, then the first three:
You will not covet your neighbor’s house
You will not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or dinkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
You will have no other gods
You will not misuse the Name of the Lord your God
You will remember Sabbath day by keeping it holy
Face up to the holy God, the generous Creator God whose furious anger is on all ungodliness. Sin is ungodliness. Sin says No to God. Sin makes you think you are in charge. God doesn’t matter, I do. Then… He doesn’t exist at all.
When you throw yourself against God it’s not God who falls to pieces. You do. Instead of wholeness, you have pieces. Christ came to put the pieces together. They cannot stick together unless washed. Forgiveness washes clean and puts together, just as sin divides, separates, and shatters. Separation first from God, then separation from others. Finally separation going to pieces yourself. We see an example in the Old Testament: 1) Adam separates from God. 2) Cain kills Abel. 3) Cain is torn with guilt and fear. 4) God spares Cain.
Here we run into trouble. Individual pieces resist being put back together. They push their way forward, away from forgiveness, from Christ. You have your pride. Anything held back from Christ, from forgiveness, makes its claim and can enslave, warp, and disintegrate you.
This takes us back to where we began with sins being regarded as individual pieces. As if Christ did not answer and die for the whole of you, but only for six or seven of your juiciest sins. The tragedy is when you meet someone who hugs one sin as an individual piece — isolated. They can tell you the time and the place it happened. This sin is outside forgiveness. It’s too big. It’s too dark to be forgiven. Great stretches of your life can then be overshadowed, warped, twisted, enslaved by that sin. Some sink even lower. They attempt to pretend that the particular sin was not sin. As long as you are dealing with pieces you are exposed to this sort of damnation. Perversity and pride can lead you to insist on your suffering for selected sins. This one, my special sin, I am going to make atonement for. This is a denial of Christ and Calvary. There is nothing of you that He left out of His atonement for you. Nothing left out of His forgiveness. Christ died FOR YOU, the whole of you. He would make you whole. You are forgiven. You are righteous with Christ’s righteousness that He freely gives to you. He counts FOR YOU. You are justified.
The primary and ultimate fact about you is established by Christ on Calvary. You are forgiven. You are made God’s holy child for Christ’s sake. That fact is as solid as Christ and Calvary. But it is not magic. It is not “Abracadabra” and all is well. The drunk that has rotted his liver is not, because he repents, supplied with a new liver. Virginity surrendered cannot be restored. The damage done by a tyrannical father or a bed-hopping mother does not instantly disappear. The words that crush someone’s chance for happiness cannot be unsaid.
Sin carries its damage with it. You may not see the healing of the damage, but the sin can be forgiven. It’s dominion broken. Sin can no longer destroy you. It can no more destroy you than it can destroy Christ. He has answered for it all. You are free. When you go to Calvary, do not hide in your hip pocket or your purse some special sin that you think you can deal with yourself. Your sin is not this or that piece. You sin is you in alienation from God. The man on the cross at the center of it all is there FOR YOU — all of you. AMEN.