“And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” 1 Peter 2:24 (NASV)
Not too long ago, I was speaking with a trusted spiritual mentor about an area of my life in which I had been dealing with a lot of defeat. This was one of those old, ingrained, destructive habits that are often so difficult to break. Being a prayer minister myself, I recognized that the reason I was experiencing such a lack of victory in this area was because there was a deeply rooted sin that I had committed and never really brought before the Lord to be dealt with. I had never even confessed this thing to another person. It was causing me significant hindrance in growing into the person God had created me to be, and it was keeping me from living out the calling that He had given me. I knew all these things, and had sought out a trusted member of the body of Christ to help me deal with it.
However, as I spoke with this person and confessed all that I had done, she responded by explaining that what I had done was not really my fault. I was only reacting to events that were outside my control, and that I had done this thing because I did not feel that I had other viable options. I left without feeling comforted or at peace. The person I had gone to cares very deeply for me. She had every intention of helping me, and indeed, she thought she had done so to the best of her ability.
Is that not typical of the way we handle sin these days? The American Church has developed a reactionary doctrinal stance of avoiding the unpleasantness of sin altogether, because we are afraid that we will offend people, hurt them, and push them away. The problem is that we are confusing judgment with condemnation. Though we do not have the right to condemn someone by telling them that they are worthless or bound for hell, we are called to accurately judge right from wrong and to speak out against sin. We are even tasked with going to our brothers and sisters in love to warn them of sin that we see. If we deny the concept of sin, we must throw away the very thing that made Jesus’ sacrifice necessary. We must dispose of the thing that causes His death to make sense. In throwing away the concept of sin, we make Christ’s atoning work null and void!
My friend wanted to extend me grace and ease the burden of guilt and shame that weighed upon my shoulders due to the sin that I had not dealt with. However, we must take care that we approach guilt and shame from sin by applying a Scriptural, theologically based doctrine of healing.
I propose that the only thing that eases the burden of guilt and shame–the only true grace–is absolution, and there can be no absolution without confession. We cannot offer the promise of Romans 8:1 (“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”) without going through the step of 1 John 1:9 (“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”).
To be completely honest, when I went to my friend and mentor, and I confessed what I had done, she wanted to give me grace. However, what she felt was grace in that situation felt like excuses to me. I was not seeking self-justification or justification from others. The thing my heart really longed for was absolution. What I really wanted to hear was not, “It’s ok; you didn’t mean to.” I wanted to hear the words, “in the Name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!”
That is where hope lives. The world is no longer looking for a Christianity that is void of the dynamics of sin and forgiveness–the kind of religion that looks like the gospel, but denies Christ’s power to break the bondage of sin. The sentimental form of Christianity that tells us everyone is “okay” no longer works. People’s hearts ache to be cleansed and set free, and denying the problem of sin keeps that from happening. We must offer the one thing that will loosen the grip of sin’s curse: the forgiveness we have in Christ.