And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
Let’s return to God’s instruction to Solomon: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Repentance begins with seeking God, embracing the way things really are by confessing them, and then turning from our wicked ways. For confession and turning to occur, we must take responsibility for our sin.
The word “sin” has been defined and applied in so many ways that I think most people have adopted a rather trite view of sin that is focused on specific actions that break God’s rules. The biblical concept of sin is not less than that, but it is more, much more. Let me share a helpful definition of sin from a 19th century philosopher named Soren Kierkegaard: “Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from God.”
We were made for God, to center our entire life on him and find our sense of worth and purpose in him. Anything other than that is sin. Tim Keller summarizes Kierkegaard’s point this way: “Sin is not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things. It is seeking to establish a sense of self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than your relationship with God.”
This is a meaningful way to think about sin because we all identify with trying to build our identity on something. In our culture it tends to be things like achievements, or relationships, or being thought of as a good Christian. Everyone is building his or her identity on something.
In my experience of trying to establish myself on the basis of other people’s approval, I found it to be an exhausting and frustrating endeavor. This is what St. Augustine meant when he said, “We were made for God, and that our hearts are restless until they find rest in him.”
This is how Israel got to where they were. They made other things ultimate and whored themselves out to false gods who could not save. Israel was always running to other gods and then coming back to the Lord. This is the nature of our sin. We give ourselves out to false gods and then come running back to God when our life is in ruins.
The gospel sets us free from this kind of fickle faith. God approves of us in Christ, without condition. We are accepted and adopted into his family. We don’t need anything more than what we have been given in Christ. We cannot accomplish anything more than what he has already done on our behalf. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Therefore, we are free to accept responsibility for our sin without fear of condemnation.
We not only admit that we have sinned, but also that we have sinned because we were tempted by our own desires, and willfully gave ourselves to them. This kind of ownership is necessary for true repentance, and stands in contrast to many of the ways we typically try to deal with our sin.
We try to justify our sin. When you become aware of sin, do you feel the need to nuance everything, explain how complicated things are, or make excuses? Taking responsibility for sin means we say, “I lusted because my desires are perverted” … “I lied because I am afraid of what people think about me” … “I ate that because I do not have self-control around food.”
We try to downplay our sin, hoping or assuming that God overlooks our sin. We don’t think sin really affects our ability to relate to God, or hinders the flow of his blessing. We think we are the exception. Taking responsibility for sin means we say, “My sin is destructive and grieves God. I will not be right with him until I deal with this.”
We pretend things are better than they really are, cleaning the outside of the cup while we are filthy on the inside.
Taking responsibility means we say, “It doesn’t matter how good people think I am. God sees right through me, and is not impressed or tricked by my lip service. God hates hypocrisy!”
Our problems are bigger than our circumstances: we are broken on the inside. And repentance is deeper than what we do: we need to repent of who we are. Remember, repentance is good news. It is hope that God will restore us. Conviction of sin is a difficult pill to swallow, but it is good medicine to the soul.
What has God been bringing to your mind today? What is your reaction?
How are you trying to justify it in your head? Do you want to keep hiding it?
Do you have worldly grief over that sin?
God of mercy, you are full of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in mercy, and always ready to forgive. Grant us grace to renounce all evil and to cling to Christ, that in every way we may prove to be your loving children, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.