This sermon is part of the sermon series "Wicked". See series.
Last week we started a series called "Wicked." We're attempting to wrestle with one of the defining realities of our life: we screw up. We fail. We do the wrong thing. We don't just make mistakes. If you're just a mistaker, you just have to do better. But we aren't just mistakers; we're sinners. We intentionally do things we know we shouldn't.
That creates a problem. It does for us, and it did for the people in the Bible. The Apostle Paul writes, "I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do …. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing," (Rom. 7:14-15; 18-19).
Have you ever been there? I have. Actually, I'm there right now. If you are, too, it raises all kinds of questions, like these:
How do I live with my sin?
How do I understand it?
What do I do with it?
Why do I sin over and over again?
What is it doing to me?
Where is God in my sin?
How does he look at it, feel about it, react to it?
Is it okay if it's one time, but after a while—particularly when it's the same sin, over and over, does he give up on me?
Does he turn away in disgust?
Does he withdraw himself from my life?
Is my relationship with him over?
As I've wrestled with this in my own life, and worked with others wrestling with it in theirs, there are four big questions that include all of the others:
Who am I when I sin?
Who am I after I sin?
Who is God when I sin?
Who is God after I sin?
If we let the Bible answer those questions for us—let God really say to us what he wants us to understand—it will be life-changing. Last week we tackled the first of those four: Who am I when I sin? We looked at the first sin in human history in the Garden of Eden.
Today we come to the second question: Who am I after I sin? And to get an answer to that, we're returning to the scene of the crime to see what Adam and Eve did next. Here's the story from Genesis:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"
He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."
And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"
The man said, "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."
Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?"
The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." (Gen. 3:6-13).
Who are we after we sin? We become either a hider or a blamer (or both).
First, we are hiders. Now, we can't actually hide from God. Even when God asked Adam and Eve where they were, he obviously knew. He wanted to draw them out. But they wanted to hide from God. And, in a way, from themselves-at least, their sinful selves. This is why they covered themselves up. Earlier in Genesis, right after creation, we read, "The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame," (Gen. 2:25). They were morally innocent, free from shame. But after they sinned, they realized they were naked. They had lost their innocence. They had a new awareness, and it was shame. So they tried to cover themselves to hide that shame. And when God came calling, they hid. God asked Adam why, and he said, "I was afraid because I knew I was naked." He knew he was something new: a sinner.
Dallas Willard writes about a two-year-old girl who discovered the secret to making mud (which she called "warm chocolate"). Her grandmother had been reading and was facing away from the action, but when she saw the mess and had cleaned it up, she told the little girl not to make any more chocolate. She turned her chair around so she could watch her granddaughter. The little girl posed a request as sweetly as she could: "Don't look at me, Nana. Okay?" Nana (being a little co-dependent) agreed. So the little girl continued to manufacture warm chocolate. Three times she said, as she continued her work, "Don't look at me, Nana. Okay?" Willard writes, "Thus the tender soul of a little child shows us how necessary it is that we be unobserved in our wrong." Our first prayer after we sin is: "Don't look at me, God." It was Adam's prayer. It was Eve's prayer. It can be our prayer. But it's a prayer that doesn't do anything for us.
We can also be blamers. God asked Adam, "Did you do what I told you not to do?" Adam's response is almost funny. He doesn't say yes or no. He doesn't say "maybe" or "possibly." He doesn't even say, "Tree? What tree?" Instead, he instantly says, "It was her! She gave it to me." If that wasn't enough, he adds, "The woman you put here with me." Not only did he blame Eve; he blamed God! He blamed everybody but himself.
Everything he said was, technically, true. God did create Eve. Eve did give him the fruit. It's easy to go the technical route, listing reasons why we did something to avoid blame. We want others to think we are a victim of circumstance. But while Eve gave him the fruit, he took it. He listened to the whole conversation between Eve and the snake. All Eve did was take a bite of the fruit, turn to him, hold it out, and say, "You should try some of this?" But Eve could play the blame game as well as Adam. When God turned to her, she did the same thing. She said, "It was the snake."
What does blaming others do for us? We think that it removes the blame from us and puts it on them, that it excuses whatever we did, that we make ourselves the victims. But when you point your finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you.
Max Lucado writes of going to his office late one night to finish some work. His office had just installed a new alarm system, so he brought the code along with him. When he got there, he disarmed it, went in, and decided to re-arm it because there had been some break-ins in the area. As he walked down the hall to his office, the alarm went off. He raced down the hall, turned off the alarm, and dialed 911. To be safe, he re-armed the system and waited for the police. As he walked back to his office, the alarm went off again. He went back and turned it off. Then he reset it. He went back down the hall, and it went off for a third time. He disarmed it and called the alarm company, knowing something was wrong with the alarm. The technician said, "Sir, do you realize you have motion detectors installed in your building?" When the police arrived, he had to tell them that the problem was on the inside, not the outside. That can happen to any of us when it comes to sin. We can blame an inside problem on an outside source.
Who I should be
If we tend to be hiders and blamers when we sin, who should we be? What does God want from us? Who are we supposed to be when we sin? He wanted Adam and Eve to become confessors and repenters. That's why God said, "Where are you?" He didn't want Adam to hide. He wanted him to come out in the open. He wanted him to own what he did and make the relationship right.
So what does it mean to become a confessor and a repenter? In the Bible there's a group of journal entries by a man named David. They were songs and prayers that he wrote down as he poured his heart out to God. We call them the Psalms. David dealt with the reality of being a sinner. He's very authentic, very transparent, very real. And it's no wonder; no one failed more spectacularly than David. He was like Ted Haggard and Rod Blagojevich rolled into one. David was both a religious and political leader who fell into a sex and power scandal that makes those two names pale in comparison.
As king, he sent his army out to fight while he stayed home. Then he went out on his balcony to watch a woman taking a bath. Even thought he knew she was married, he called her to him so that he could commit adultery. She got pregnant, so he arranged to have her husband killed. Then he married her. But he got busted, big time. It all came out. At that point, I'd say he was severely tempted to either hide or blame. But he didn't. Instead, he owned it.
He says in the 32nd psalm:
When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, "I will confess
my transgressions to the LORD."
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin (Psalm 32:2-5).
David is saying, I tried praying, "Don't look at me, God." It didn't work. I tried praying,"Don't blame me, God." It didn't work. I needed a new prayer. So I tried praying, "Forgive me, God." And it worked. How do you pray that way? One of the most wonderful, important verses in the entire Bible says, "… if we confess our sins to God, he can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away" (1 John 1:9). A prayer of confession is exactly what David said it was—making a clean breast of things. It's saying, "God, here's the truth about me. I'm a sinner. I screwed up. This isn't something I can hide from, and it's not something I can blame anyone else for. I rebelled against you. I lusted, I lied, I cheated, I stole, I gave in to pride, I slandered, I gossiped, I hated." Just fill in the blank. If you're like me, there are a lot of blanks to fill. That's what God is after.
Two prayers for two pray-ers
We fall into two groups when it comes to confessing our sinful state. First, let me talk to those of you who have crossed the line of faith. You are a follower of Christ. He is your leader and your forgiver. It's settled. There was a point in your life when you realized your sin condition, owned it, went to God in prayer, and asked for the work of Christ on the cross to be applied to your life. You asked him to forgive you for your sins and to lead you.
Do you still need to be a confessor and a repenter? Absolutely. There is a difference between the sinful state in which we come to Christ for salvation, and the sin we subsequently commit as Christ-followers. Christians have experienced God's once-for-all forgiveness through their acceptance of the redemptive work of Christ. This is a positional forgiveness, moving from death to life, and it does not need to be repeated.
However, there is a necessary relational forgiveness in our new, ongoing life in Christ. Positional forgiveness came from standing before God as judge; relational forgiveness comes as we stand before God as Father. This is illustrated by the washing of the disciples' feet. Peter did not want his feet washed, but Jesus insisted. Then Peter wanted a full bath, but that, Jesus said, was unnecessary. John MacArthur writes, "Dirt on the feet symbolizes the daily surface contamination from sin that we experience as we walk through life. It does not, and cannot, make us entirely dirty, because we have been permanently cleansed from that. The positional purging of salvation … needs no repetition, but the practical purging is needed every day."
As Jesus stated to Peter, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me" (John 13:8). The spiritual cleansing that comes from seeking daily forgiveness is decisive for maintaining a "part" with Jesus, an ongoing relationship of intimacy. This is more important than many of us realize, for confession is what enables our prayers to go to God unencumbered. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed to the people, "Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear" (Isaiah 59:2). Unconfessed, unrepentant sin cuts off our communication with God. If we tolerate ongoing patterns of sin in our lives, rationalizing them away in a refusal to repent, we shouldn't waste our breath praying unless it is a prayer of confession.
But that prayer of confession is always available. His mercies are new every morning. He wants nothing more than to have you come to him and receive his forgiveness—and yes, even for the sins you struggle with the most, fall into time and again, and fight the hardest to resist. I read an old story about a man who followed a particular pattern of sin for years. As hard as he tried, he committed the sin over and over. Each time he went to God asking for forgiveness, promising never to do it again. But he always did it again. He went to God, and said, "Lord, I could die from the shame. Again and again I have done this thing. I confess it to you and promise that I will never, ever sin this way again. Will you forgive me?" Then, from heaven come the words, "I forgive you. It is all forgotten. You are clean to start over again." The man felts wonderfully free. God had forgiven him. What more can he ask for? All afternoon he rejoiced in that forgiveness and committed himself to never falling into that same sin again. But then, that very night, temptation came his way, and he failed again.
He could hardly bring himself to pray. Just that morning, he had promised God to never sin that way again. He almost decided to not even try and deal with it, to just let his heart grow hard and rebellious, or to just pretend that God didn't notice. But he couldn't, so once again he went to God in prayer and said, "God, I'm so embarrassed I can hardly talk to you. I did it again." And God said, "Did what?" The man said, "That sin. The one we talked about just this morning." And God said, "I don't remember any sin."
God doesn't remember the sin we repent of and ask forgiveness for. When God forgives, he chooses to forget. Don't make this cheap by doing whatever you want, casually strolling up to God, and getting your forgiveness, with every intention to do it again. That's not a prayer of confession. That's mocking God—and he will not be mocked. But if you pray with sincerity, he will forgive. And we can embrace his forgiveness boldly.
That leads us to the second group: those who haven't come to God for forgiveness in the first place. You haven't yet asked for the forgiveness that alters your eternity. You aren't before him as Father, because you're still before him as Judge. Coming to God through Christ requires saying, "I am a sinner. I need forgiveness. The only one that can forgive me is the one I've sinned against: God." God has provided that forgiveness through Christ's death on the cross. You should have been on that cross. That's the penalty for sin. But Christ took your place and paid the price. Now, your sin has been paid for, in full. All you have to do is ask for that act to be applied to your life through a prayer of confession and the request for forgiveness and relationship.
You can't come to God as Father until you come to him as Judge. Refusing to do that is the unforgiveable sin: blaspheming—refusing forgiveness and his work in your life. Imagine you were brought to trial for vehicular homicide. You were driving on the road, exceeding the speed limit, and you hit a child on her way home from school. You are brought to trial, and the judge turns out to be the child's father. The evidence is presented, and the judge, barely controlling his emotions, says, "I find you guilty, and sentence you to death."
But then he does a strange thing. With compassion in his eyes, he gets up from his bench, takes off his robe, walks down to where you stand, embraces you, and says, "The penalty must be carried out, for I am an honest and good judge, and what you did was wrong. But I love you, and do not want to see your life end this way. So I will go in your place." That's what Jesus did for you. So you have a different prayer in front of you, one that accepts the gift. He gave it; he died in your place. But you have to receive it and go public by being baptized.
Who do you want to be after you've sinned? Do you want to keep hiding? Do you want to keep blaming? Or do you want to start living in forgiveness and relationship with God. Haven't you been hiding and blaming for too long? Isn't it time to make a clean breast of it, to have the pressure gone, the guilt dissolved, the sin removed? It can start today.
Will you pray with me? This needs to be your prayer, from your heart.
First, those of you who have crossed the line, who have come to Christ, but have dirty feet: you need to confess. Own your sin. Name it. Ask for forgiveness for your broken relationship with God. Silently in your heart, confess your sins and ask him to forgive you.
Those of you who haven't come yet but want to: you want your relationship with God to move from Judge to Father. You want to accept what Christ did for you on the cross. Tell him that you know you are a sinner and need his forgiveness. Tell him you believe that Christ died for your sins. Tell him you want to turn from the way you've been living. And ask him to come into your heart and life as Forgiver and Leader. In your heart, say, "Father, thank you for your promise to forgive us if we will confess our sins to you. Thank you for letting us come to you for the forgiveness that leads to eternal life. Thank you for letting us come to you every day afterward for the forgiveness that leads to intimacy with you. In Jesus name, amen.
James Emery White is founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is a consulting editor to Leadership Journal. He is author of Serious Times and A Search for the Spiritual, and blogs at churchandculture.org.