We’ve all done things we regret. Before we were Christians we dealt with our mistakes by feeling bad and doing what we could to clean up our mess. Like Lady Macbeth we’d say, “Out damned spot! Out, I say!” only to find that while it was usually possible to make amends, we were forever scarred by the guilt and regret.
Then we found Jesus and experienced the indescribable joy of having our sins washed clean. We got to wipe the slate clean and live as a new creation in Christ. All because we chose to believe and accept Him as our Lord and Savior. How awesome is that!?
Sometime later (for some…much later) we came to understand the difference between accepting Christ and being one of His followers. It’s the moment when our love for Jesus ignites our desire to be like Him and then collides with the recognition that we are not like Him nearly as much as we could be.
There are a multitude of sins that are obvious to anyone with a conscience. But there are many more, less obvious, that are just as much a hindrance to our walk with Jesus. Perhaps we had always been the one to keep the best for ourselves without concern for anyone else. Perhaps we had always been the one who refused to accept love or blessing because it contradicted the insecurity and unworthiness we were so committed to. Maybe it was an affinity for pornography, or cheating, or jealousy or dishonesty… Whatever it was, there came the divine moment, a holy intervention, when we recognized that part of ourselves as a part that sorely needed to change. A fork in the road. A moment of clarity when we knew we could not grow any closer to God or become any more like His Son until we sincerely renounced that sinful attitude or behavior.
The insider word for that is repentance. It is the moment we clearly see our wrong behavior or wrong attitude the way God does; and become as brokenhearted over it as a human can be.
A friend of mine described sin as a favorite balloon that we hold onto day in and day out. He described repentance as the moment we finally let go and let the balloon float away. He sees the walk of a disciple as a lifetime of letting go of the balloons one by one as we learn and grow.
It’s a lovely word picture but I see it a little differently.
I don’t think our wrong attitudes or behaviors float away when we decide to let them go. I think they follow us around; keeping themselves precariously within our reach at all times. Sure, there are wrong or sinful things we did before we decided to follow Jesus that we would never do again. Hopefully there is a growing list of things which are no longer the struggle or temptation they used to be. But I think most of us have a few persistent habits, attitudes or behaviors that continually threaten our forward progress.
For me, perhaps the most difficult thing I’ve had to repent of is depression. I don’t mean the clinical depression that results from faulty brain chemistry and requires medical intervention. I mean the sadness and hopelessness that we sometimes allow to take over our lives. Anyone who’s ever struggled with depression will tell you that it is an all-consuming beast of a condition. One that gains strength with every negative thought we toss on our smoldering fire of repressed anger and unhealed emotional wounds. Left unchecked, this kind of depression can easily become the kind that requires medical intervention, but when kept in proper perspective it can be overcome.
My fork in the road came when God showed me that when I gave in to depression I was shutting the door in His face. I was choosing weakness even though He offered me everything I needed to remain strong. When I caved in to hopelessness I was denying His power and place in my life. Worst of all, when I allowed depression to swallow me whole, I was tearing down the life He gave me with my own two hands. In depression I was as much perpetrator as victim. God showed me that so long as I stood staring into that darkness He could not use me, teach me or lead me to someplace better.
So I repented. I “turned from my sin” which seems a lot more like the edge of a cliff than a colorful balloon sent floating heavenward. I turned away from the edge and toward the life God called me to live.
That was many years ago.
Today, the distance between the cliff edge and me is not much greater than it was all those years ago. No matter how determined I’ve remained to never skirt the edge again; no matter how much I hate it, the cliff remains dangerously close behind me. With one simple decision I could be right on the edge staring into the abyss of depression once again.
It’s like that with most of the things that undermine our progress as disciples. Temptation, addiction, lust, gluttony, greed, pride… jagged, perilous cliff edges that follow you through life despite your desire and effort to walk away. It’s easy to forget they’re there so long as you keep your eyes fixed on God. But turn away from Him and you’ll find the ones that threaten you the most just a few steps away.
The sad truth is our old sinful nature lives side by side with the new nature we were given at the moment of our salvation. We have the same old capacity to sin competing with our new capacity to resist sinning. As we grow spiritually our resistance grows also. But we will always need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to keep us going in the right direction. And we must never forget we have an enemy forever trying to lure us back to the edge of the cliff.
Even the most sincere resistance is not enough to defeat temptation or keep us safe from sin. We are inexplicably drawn to the cliff’s edge where one false move turns into our undoing. We have to keep our eyes on Jesus.
Like Lady Macbeth shouting “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” the stain of our guilt will never be removed by human effort.
Transformation happens when we hold onto Christ each time we come to a fork in the road. Apart from Him we are made of the same stuff that led us to sin since the beginning. It’s loving Him and pursuing Him alone that keeps us safe no matter how close to the edge life leads us.
Isaiah 30:21 “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”