If God knew humanity would rebel and sin, why did he create them?

You’ve probably considered this question before, and there are a lot of responses. There’s currently a discussion on Reddit about it, and I just had a new thought on the subject I wanted to share:

The point is often raised, “If God is omniscient, he knew from the beginning that we would fail, sin, and have to go to hell. So why did he create us? Why bother with all this, if God already knew we were screwed?

Why create us to be imperfect and capable of sin? Why not just make us good? Why did God set us up for failure?”

Common replies bring up free will, potential for redemption, Calvanism vs. Armenianism, etc. etc.

Today I had a new thought:

The question ignores an important point, namely that we haven’t all failed. It’s usually asked in a tone of, “Why did God create us just to destroy us?” but the truth is that God isn’t destroying all of us. He sacrificed his son so we would all have a shot at redemption, and some of us have taken that. There are millions of people who follow God, have repented of their sin, and entered into a fellowship with him. It isn’t all failure and doom and gloom, and it has never been all failure and doom and gloom. Even when Elijah thought he was the only one left who was loyal to God, there were still seven thousand people that Elijah didn’t know about.

It sometimes seems as if God has set us up for failure, but that’s just not the case. He gave us the opportunity to win, to succeed despite the machinations of Satan, and a lot of people do. God gave us a way to have free will and live in harmony with him.

I just found that to be cool when it hit me. What do you think of the original question? Do you have other responses you’ve heard or thought of?

Fear in America

Fear is pretty common in our society, so there’s no need to talk about it as something distant or difficult to comprehend. We all deal with it, whether the anxiety flows from talking with the people we stand next to in the checkout line or smiling at the person one table over at a coffee shop. When we see a stranger break down in tears, we freeze. If we ask someone how their day is going and they respond immediately that their child just died and they’re considering suicide, we are at a loss for a proper response. How should we react?

I haven’t read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis yet, but I was told recently of a passage in it that gives a vision of what hell is like. In hell, Lewis writes, there are millions of houses, but everyone lives very far from one another. They can’t stand to see or be near their neighbours, so they continually build more houses and move further away. Like our universe, it is ever-expanding as people build, settle, and then realize they are still too near one another and begin the cycle again. Their loneliness is self-imposed, fueled perhaps by their bitterness.

There seems to be something in humanity, perhaps sin itself, that encourages this isolationist trend. It is not good for man to be alone, and for this reason woman was made, but I cannot count how many people sabotage their relationships so that they end up alone. As the author of Bowling Alone observed, we get in our own car when we leave work, we drive to our homes and open the garage door without stepping from the car, we close it behind us before we exit the vehicle, and then we enter our homes, having never been exposed to our neighbours or the outside world. We don’t make eye contact with strangers on the streets, and rationally we have to recognize that it’s not because they might all stab us if we did. We’re all equally afraid of intimate contact–of someone seeing us.

It goes without saying, though, that something in us does drive us to relationships, else we wouldn’t live in cities at all, nor would we seek out partners with whom we can form relationships that we eventually sabotage. But from where does this fear come? I believe it comes from our regrets and self-loathing, where we have taken a sin and made it (in our minds) a huge facet of our lives, and we don’t want others to see that sin. We are afraid that if they see it, they will leave and our worst fear will be confirmed: that we are sinful. We might think it, but it’s not quite as real if no one else knows, so if we hide it away then everything will be fine.

I dated a girl briefly my sophomore year of college who attempted to hide herself. She was afraid that people wouldn’t like her if she was herself; if people realized how truly intelligent she was. In high school, the smart kids were outsiders, discriminated against and mocked, and she wanted to be an insider. She didn’t want to be alone, so she pretended to be someone else. When I saw through her facade, it made her extremely uncomfortable, and she left me. It was better to her to not be seen, to have her soul unexposed.

As is so often the case with this sort of fear, though, the terrible thing we are attempting to hide is no terrible thing at all. For years I hid my past life from others, afraid of how they would judge me. Before I was Christian, I didn’t want people to know I was involved in witchcraft, despite my pride in it. Visions of hate crimes, burning stakes, and eternal loneliness floated through my mind. I had been beaten and stigmatized sufficiently just for being different and smart–adding a different religion to the mix seemed extremely unwise. Even after I became Christian, I was afraid that if people learned of my past actions, of what I had done, and of the crimes I had committed that they would leave me. I would be kicked out of the Church. I had found a family, and I did not want to be pushed from it.

This fear weighed on me, kept me up at night, and prevented me from forming vulnerable, intimate, life-affirming relationships. That same sophomore year of college, though, I met a very inquisitive young woman who also wanted to know my life story, but she wanted to know the parts that I had left out when I told it to Brooke. She wanted to know those things that I was afraid to share, and she exhorted me to take strength in Christ and be honest.

I let it all out, told her everything, and she hugged me and told me it was OK. There was no blame in her eyes, no disillusion or anger, nor was there pity. There was just acceptance and love, and it was the first time since I had accepted Jesus into my life that I was able to experience that. When someone knows your darkest sins and accepts you anyways, there is no room for fear. The light has shown everywhere and nothing has been found wanting. There is only love.

She urged me to share my testimony more often, so I tried it once more. The man with whom I shared likewise did not reject me. Before long, I was speaking in front of a church, telling them my story, and they did not cast me out. They did not throw stones. I was hugged and brought in deeper. Over the years, I have found that vulnerability builds relationships, where fear leads to weakness and stagnation at best, and isolation at worst.

When the random person on the street smiles at me, and I smile back, it makes my day. It is uplifting for me, and I hope it is the same for them. I’m still afraid to talk with people in the checkout line or at the store, and especially at the next table in the coffee shop, but sometimes I try, and I really try to reciprocate when someone talks to me. If someone shares that they’re having a particularly bad day, I offer to sit down and talk with them. Maybe pray, if they seem comfortable with that. I force myself to reach out a bit more and touch their lives. For all I know, no one else ever has, and they are dying for someone to reach for them and pull them out of the darkness just a bit, just enough to find their way.

Fear is the Beginning of Wisdom

Four years ago I really pissed Satan off. I had sinned, as happens on a regular basis, and he was using my failing against me. ((You might be wondering, “Were you having a conversation with Satan? o.O ” and the answer is yes. Before I was Christian, I spoke with Satan often, though I didn’t know it was Satan at the time for what it’s worth. Satan had first led me to believe he was an angel (and female), and then deceived me into thinking he was the Goddess as Wiccans understand deity. For several years after I became Christian, he would still rear up occasionally to torment me, though that hasn’t happened in some time.)) “See what a failure you are? God will never accept you, and neither will your friends. You’ll always be alone. You’ll always be worthless. You’ll never be able to overcome.”

Angry, I fired back at him. “Try all you want, but nothing you say matters. You’ve already lost, and now you’re just scrambling to take others down with you. You’re a pitiful, inexcusable worm that doesn’t deserve even the memory of the light.” Or something to that effect. I was definitely not the loving Christian God calls me to be. ((I truly believe that Christians are supposed to treat everyone with love, and I’ve come to pity Satan much like Frodo comes to pity Gollum. That doesn’t mean I really treat him with love, but I recognize that I ought to.))

“You’ll regret this night,” Satan replied, and was gone. A bit shaken, but mostly smug, I went to bed.

A few hours later I woke to the sound and feeling of earth-shaking thunder, and not thirty seconds later the tornado sirens went off. I was terrified, more frightened than I had been since I was a child, partly because I had just moved to a new second-story apartment and partly because I knew this was my fault. I had pissed the prince of this world off and he had pulled up a terrible, tornadic storm.

Freaking out, I paced back and forth in my apartment and then asked God what to do.

“Walk with me.”

I froze, mind spinning in circles like a tiny dog chasing its tail, and then jerkily pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, a windbreaker, and my cowboy boots before going out into the torrent. I felt like my life was completely in Jesus’ hands, and that in addition to the devil, God wasn’t too pleased with me either. His anger was palpable, and I walked in fear of my life.

But I didn’t walk alone. Jesus was with me, and I began to pray powerfully and out loud against the storm. I was buffeted by winds and incredibly sharp hail, soaked completely, and rushing on adrenaline for three hours before the storm really abated. It had passed, and I felt like I had taken an important step in my relationship with God.

1. I had learned fear and respect

Don’t whack a wasps’ nest for no damned reason. ((This is an important example for me because wasps are one of the few things on this earth that terrify me. I hate wasps.)) Demonic forces are our enemies, but that doesn’t mean we should challenge or threaten them without forethought. Rather, we must “put on the full armour of God,” a phrase that is talked about so much that it seems to have lost all meaning for most people. They hear, “This is a life and death struggle,” and they nod and smile and say, “Yuss, yuss, we don’t want none of the devil in our lives.”

Most Americans don’t know what it is to be on the edge of death. Most haven’t even been really threatened, and a lot haven’t known anyone who violently died. If they did, in most cases it was a sudden accident like a car crash, not murder. People fear some things, but they don’t fear Satan. At best, they think God will protect them 100%. ((I think we often assume God cares about our bodily comfort more than our eternal souls.)) At worst, they simply don’t believe he exists.

God tells us it’s OK to fear, and even that it’s a good thing. Be humble about challenging the demonic, because you are weak. You have no power. You’re nothing compared to them. Be afraid for your loved ones, and of the suffering that may (and probably will) occur because you challenge the rule of those who set themselves up as rulers.

God will work through you and help you fight, but it’s God’s power. Satan and those with him are fallen angels, but they’re still angels. It’s important to not forget.

God will honour this humility, and he will take care of you. Be not proud. ((As a side/end note: The only protection against the fear of your life about to be taken is to have already given it up.))

2. I learned to trust in God

God said walk, and I did. It was scary, but he was with me. I once thought I could fight Satan with my own power, and I learned that my power was nothing compared to the devil. God is sovereign, and if he wills it, I will prevail.

If he doesn’t, I will fall. That’s fine too.

In a sense, it’s the only option available to me. In another, it’s wonderfully full of love. God has never let me down. He’s always right there, holding my hand or walking in step. When I shouted at the storm, his stern countenance was visible from the corner of my eye. His feet pounded the sidewalk beside my own.

When I lay in the dark, sick and alone and afraid, he didn’t leave me.

I’m afraid God will leave me. He never has. I won’t take that for granted.

3. I learned how to fight

God gives us power, an authority I don’t really understand, but I know two things about it.

  1. It involves being filled with the Holy Spirit.
  2. It involves direct command, rather than a requesting prayer.

Learning how to really open myself to the Holy Spirit is one of the more complex things, but it seems to come easier when threatened. Someday I’ll have to puzzle this out so I can write more about it.

Authoritative prayer is a bit easier to describe though, and it involves praying in the power of God rather than praying out of supplication. By way of example, compare the following two prayers:

Supplicative Prayer

Dear God, we ask that you stop this storm. Protect the people in this city and place your hand over it. Stop the tornadoes and the lightning, and drive fear from the hearts of the people. Jesus, don’t let us fall to this threat. Oh God, be with us.

Authoritative Prayer

I pray against the wind and the lightning, that it will not bow this city. We will not succumb to the fear you would instill in us, Satan; you cannot take our faith, you cannot separate us from God. I pray against the tornadoes and the hail, that they will not damage property and be a burden to the faithful. In the power of the almighty Christ, I pray against you, and I will not be shaken.

I’m trying to remember roughly what went down four years ago, so this is far less powerful than it was then, but hopefully you get the idea.

Conclusion

If you’re going to engage in spiritual warfare, you need to know what you’re up against. If you’re not afraid, then you are ignorant.

Someone could make all kinds of statements like, “Well, if you really had faith, you wouldn’t be afraid.” I’m tempted to even pursue the Buddhist line of reasoning that if we just released all worldly attachment, we wouldn’t fear and would be stronger.

But God designed us to love others and to form relationships, so we sort of have it wired into us to care about the well being of others. In this war, I’m not so much afraid for myself as I am for my wife and family, or for my friends. Everyone’s in this whether they know it or not. This deal isn’t just for those who actively engage–every human soul was part of this battle from the moment Adam and Eve picked the fruit.

Fear shouldn’t consume us. God is our strength, and his strength is great. But we shouldn’t be stupid either. Know what you’re up against and recognize what the stakes are. Recognize the fear, and never let go of your faith.

Fight well.

Christian Culture’s Obsession with Negation

When I first began watching Naruto, the anime disappointed me a bit. Character progression or development seemed non-existent in that the characters simply never changed. The main character in particular didn’t seem to mature, grow, or learn. You knew exactly what he would do in every situation because he always did the same thing. You could rely on him to say the same things in the same way.

Over time this characteristic began to appeal to me, though. He was by no means perfect–in fact, it is an important trait of his character that he’s a bit of a screw-up–but he held powerfully to some core ideals. Where other characters submitted to moments of weakness and failure, he never did. When he made a decision, he followed through without balking. You can’t get him down, and he doesn’t give up.

As a Christian, I feel that there is a great deal of pressure to eliminate the aforementioned flaws and weaknesses, the parts of us that make us a screw-up, and it is a terrible temptation. Not because the elimination of flaw and the pursuit of virtue is a negative, but because we often become so obsessed with the flaws that we fail to find virtue. We focus so much on cutting parts out of ourselves that we wholly fail to add anything. In the end, we are left with something less than human.

When God built his temple on earth through Solomon, he filled it with consecrated items of silver and gold, but it was men that carried them in and maintained them.

What I suppose I am wrestling with is this: I think it is more important to hold to our positive and virtuous ideals than to excise our negative flaws and weaknesses. Too often I am caught up in self-surgery rather than self-healing. I expend too much energy trying to cut things out and have nothing left for the carrying of holiness.

In Naruto, I see a character who simply doesn’t worry about his flaws. He recognizes them, though he doesn’t pay them much mind, and spends his energy in devotion to his friends and training. Rather than trying to cut out his weakness, he works to become stronger.

I think that this is a wise and holy path, but I feel so wrong pursuing it. I do not, however, feel that this sense of wrongness is from God. Rather, it is instilled in me by a culture of Christianity that is likewise focused on cutting rather than healing. The years of attending churches that pray for exorcism or elimination rather than for the growth of strength has affected me mentally until I have trouble perceiving that extreme focus on cutting-out as harmful.

And I do think it is harmful, this obsession with negation. Over time it led me to believe that I was wholly weak, worthless, and incapable of positive change. Even with this recognition it is difficult to feel different. I can think and logically realize that working only at cutting things out of my life is bad, but it’s hard to translate that thought to my heart. When I try to focus on positive change rather than cutting flaws, I feel like I am failing. Like I am copping out of my responsibility as a Christian: to feel like crap about myself and beat myself up for every mistake.

It is important to remember the tenets of original sin and that we must continually combat our negative inclinations, but I wonder how things would be if we focused more on the positive than the negative. It seems like everything we do as Christians that deals with our flaws has a negative spin on it. We don’t pray for strength to do good things, but rather strength to fight against the bad things in our lives. We constantly focus on our sin, on our stumbling blocks, and when we pray for ourselves or others, it is usually for aid in dealing with those flaws. We don’t find positives to strive for, but rather obsess ourselves with negatives.

Does this make any sense? Am I completely wrong? I want to focus on positives and worry less about negatives, just to see how that goes. I want to live my life with God, rather than thinking all the time about my sinful nature. What do you all think?

Powerwashing Away Sin

For weeks now I have been getting steadily more depressed. Between the constant pain, my inability to write at length, and my continual focus on my continual failure, I was falling further and further away from God. I felt like there was a barrier between me and him, and my life had become one of waking, going to work, coming home, watching anime, and sleeping. I ate, I read, and I did my best to just make it through.

That is not the sort of life I want to lead.

One night recently I decided to go to bed early and pray. I needed help and I needed freedom, for I felt chained down and constricted. I could no longer hear God’s voice, and my steps had faltered and fallen still.

God, I want to do what you want me to, but I can’t hear you. I feel like something is blocking me, something is preventing me from reaching you, and I’m not strong enough to break through on my own. I need you to reach through and tear this apart God, to come and find me.

I wanted God to fix me, but I felt like this was something he wanted me to do myself. I couldn’t hear him directly, but the sense I received was that he had already given me the strength I needed.

I tried to bring discernment to bear to figure out what was wrong with me, but I could see nothing but darkness. Recalling a vision from God in the past, I tried to draw the light of the Holy Spirit from her temple in my heart, but I made no headway.

I had once seen my spiritual heart as being covered in diseased sin, but that sin separated and held apart from my healed heart by a flaming sword, that is by God. I tried to draw that flame out to cut through the cloying darkness that weighed me down, but I couldn’t. I felt no response.

Then I remembered the day I entered into God’s salvation. While praying at that church, with several elders from the church praying over me, I begged Jesus to let me know he was there. That he had accepted me. That I was forgiven. Over and over, Jesus, let me know you’re here. Jesus, let me know you’re here. Jesus, let me know you’re here… and then he spoke.

I am here.

On the day of my salvation, I felt a mighty wave wash over me, like a deep blue ocean sweeping through my soul, and all the darkness, sin, failure, and weakness was cleaned from my being. I thought back to that day and pictured water rushing from God’s temple, that is my heart, and washing away the darkness, bursting the bonds that held me and lifting my body away from sin.

The pain was such that my back arched involuntarily, for the darkness had been both confining and protective. My nerves had deadened and scarred, and this wave exposed them to air and light once again. Even as it was pushed away, that heavy sin struggled to settle back, but I felt God’s encouragement. Pushing unrelenting, it was rinsed away, yet I felt it continue to seep out of a spot near my navel in a manner I hadn’t experienced before.

I reached two conclusions. First, that this cocoon that had come to envelop my spirit was not entirely the result of my own doldrums, but had been helped along by minions of Satan, and it was partly them I had to fight. Second, however, I realized that this darkness would return if I fell back to inactivity, and it highlighted the importance of daily prayer, immersion in the Word, and pressing into God.

The area of the navel represents birth, for it is the scar that was once connected to an umbilical cord, and the inheritance of humanity which is sin. Daily confession and prayer will wash the wound clean, but it must be a regular discipline. While we may have been saved by God, we will fall into sin if we do not press into him, and the darkness that consumes us will prevent us from living the life to which he has called us.

I forced the water down into my navel, cleaning out my detestable spirit, and welcomed God in anew. I could once again hear his voice, feel his presence, and we spoke affably. Despite my sins, he remained my father, and we were reunited with joy. He had never left, always remaining near, but I could not see or hear him. Now all was right.

I asked him to stay until I fell asleep, and he assured me that he would be there even while I slept. This is a lesson I must remember, that our natural inclinations towards sin will ruin us if we are not alert and active. Daily prayer will help wash us clean and keep us healthy, without which we will fall into lethargy and depression.

In Business and Faith: Establishing Standards

I am currently embroiled in a 4-day Supervision Boot Camp (which is actually the first half of an 8-day training that will conclude in October) that covers both basic and advanced concepts needed by managers. We’ve been discussing leadership, working in teams, generational differences, coaching, and a variety of other topics, all of which have been extremely helpful. On Wednesday, we began talking about the quality of our staffs, and specifically the 80/20 concept.

When most people hear 80/20, the saying that pops into our heads is that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. The consultants providing the training broke this down further by using the results of a survey. The survey showed that most companies have a mix of employees, with 30% of the employees being complete super stars. These employees were self-starters who always pursued excellence. 50%, or the majority, of employees met criterion and might be considered rising stars. They were doing what was asked and perhaps a bit more. These employees have the potential to move up to super stardom, but might need some guidance. The last 20% of the employees were falling stars, and these were your troublemakers or slackers.

When looking at these three groupings of employees (super stars, rising stars, and falling stars), we were asked what the minimum section we would tolerate was. As a whole, we all agreed that we would tolerate the 50% that met expectations, but we would not tolerate the falling stars. If you consistently can’t do the work, you shouldn’t be there.

And yet, the consultants asked, how many of us employ falling stars? How many of us still have that 20% hanging around who consistently fail to meet expectations? The truth is, the minimum we will accept is not that 50% group. The minimum we will accept is the minimum we have.

To put it another way, the behaviour you accept becomes the standard. If you accept falling star behaviour, then their output and their slacking, becomes the standard against which everything else is measured.

The problem with accepting that low standard in management is twofold. First, the falling stars will drag down the rest of the employees, impeding their progress and harming output and profit. They cause more rework, more retraining, and pulling the standards down hurts morale. Why should a super star continue to shine if they can get away with falling into the mud and doing nothing?

Second, your super stars will begin to leave and go elsewhere. They’re the self-starters, the ones who really care about the quality of their work, so they’ll be attracted to others who feel the same. If their supervisor doesn’t hold all of their staff to the level the super stars feel is appropriate, then the super stars will find someplace that does.

As we considered this in terms of management and supervision, my mind immediately jumped to theology and my personal life. What aspects of my lifestyle are in that bottom 20%, that grouping of falling stars? And for how long have I tolerated and accepted that minimum?

Though I may be doing pretty well in some aspects of my life, those falling star sections drag the rest down. I can’t worship, serve, or study as freely if sin is weighing on my mind. Each time I fail my Lord, that failure’s reverbations affect me for days until I am constantly living under a cloud of sin. The bottom 20% robs me of my time with God and the freedom I know I should be feeling, but can’t because of my guilt. I know what I should do (not tolerate that 20%), yet I let it slide. It’s easier to focus on the positive and ignore the negative, so I don’t pursue disciplinary action.

If I continue to ignore that 20%, letting it establish a permanent foothold in my life, I will eventually lose the super star aspects of my faith. Sin will drag me down until I can no longer serve God as I have been called to do, and like an anchor it will stop me from moving forward. Just like falling star employees will drive off better workers, so too will sin poison my joys.

Therefore, as hard and unappetizing as it is, we must pursue disciplinary action. Falling star employees need to be coached, counseled, and if all else fails, dismissed. Likewise, we might need to seek the help of our brothers and sisters in Christ to address our sin, we need to work diligently to overcome it, and if all else fails, we must cut the temptation out of our life completely.

If we have trouble with spending too much money, we should cut up our credit cards and stop carrying cash around (or, as a friend of mine does, only carry cash around to put a limit on what you can spend). You might have to stop watching certain movies, stop listening to certain music, or unplug yourself from the Internet entirely. Whatever it is that keeps you from God needs to be addressed, and fast before it drags you down too low.

Though the concept is taught in an expensive class for managers, it’s also just good common sense. We can’t go on accepting minimum quality as our standard. I know that I don’t want a minimum quality of life, and it’s surely not what God wants for me. Therefore I must be disciplined and address that 20%. The behaviour I accept becomes the standard, and if I want to be holy as my God is holy, then my standards simply need to get better.

Life Without Sin

[podcast]https://mstublefield.com/podcasts/lifewithoutsin.mp3[/podcast]

The definition of “sin” has been a matter of great dispute throughout my Christian life (about 7-8 years now), not necessarily within the Church at large, but among the people I have known during that time. In particular, I used to have long debates with a friend of mine who leads a local college ministry here in Springfield about the meaning of “sin.” What does it look like? How does it affect us? Is it conquerable and, if so, only once we reach heaven or can it be overcome in this lifetime?

I was still relatively new to Christianity (and, to be honest, I continue to consider myself a “young Christian” and probably will for another 5-10 years), so I found his points interesting. My friend claimed that sin could be overcome in this lifetime, and his claim was founded on a differentiation between “sin” and “mistakes.” That while the first separates us from God, the latter is just a slip that doesn’t really affect anything. Therefore, one can make the occasional mistake, but not be committing an act that separates them from God. With the help of Jesus, one can be free from sin in this lifetime

1 John 1:8-10 (NIV)

8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

By way of comparison, I offer The Message paraphrase, which I find a bit easier to understand in this case:

1 John 1:8-10 (Message)

If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.

Let’s break these down one at a time.

Verse 8

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

Before I became Christian, and even until some time after I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour, I didn’t know what sin was. I didn’t understand its existence or implications, and I certainly didn’t know that I needed to be saved from sin. It had been made clear to me that I must follow Jesus, but the whole salvation thing was a mystery. Less than a mystery, in fact–I didn’t really think about it.

My ignorance stemmed from my lack of understanding of the Bible. I hadn’t read it, and even as I began to read it, I certainly didn’t understand. Because the Bible is a historical document as well as a religious text, there are thousands of years of study and surrounding pieces of information that are key to its comprehension.

Romans 7:7b

Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law.

In the Book of Romans, St. Paul explains in chapter 7 how sin makes us do things we don’t want to, and how it prevents us from doing the things we know are right. We cannot recognize sin without the knowledge of God and his Word, though, and that same concept is applicable to verse 8 of the first chapter of first book of St. John. It is a fact that sin is in us, but we can not and will not know or recognize this fact if the truth, that is the Word of God, is not in us. If we do not read and understand the Bible, we will deceive ourselves and think that we are free of sin.

Verse 9

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

This verse is pretty straightforward. God came to earth as Jesus to act as the sacrifice for sin, once and for all. To put it more simply, through Jesus our sins are forgiven. If sin is that which separates us from God, the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus builds the bridge between humanity and God.

We cannot build that bridge ourselves, and to be honest, it wouldn’t occur to us to cross that bridge if God hadn’t chosen us to join his family. Let’s face it, a life of sin is generally a life of hedonism and pleasure, so who would choose to leave that? The only reason we know that our life is better with God is because we have experienced it, but when you’re not Christian, you simply don’t know that.

Let’s break this down further.

If we confess our sins

It is written in Romans 10:9, “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” God’s design for how this all works requires an action on our part, and confession is the first step asked of us. It isn’t enough to quietly accept Jesus yet hide it from everyone else. We must state out loud that we believe in God and follow him.

He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins

There is a particular sermon, or type of sermon, that often gets bandied around under a title like, “Mercy and Justice.” The general message is that while we often praise God’s justice and call our for his justice, none of us really want God’s justice. The just reward for our sins is death–none of us “deserve” anything better. However, because God is merciful, we are forgiven.

A good preacher will observe that God’s justice was served in the sacrifice of Jesus, who committed no sins. That the death of Jesus, upon whom the sins of all the world were laid, paid the price for all of us.

The key to all of this is that God is faithful to humanity and to his chosen people. He promised us salvation, and here it is. He promised forgiveness and he provides it. God’s justice was served in the death of Jesus, so if we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, then our price has been paid. God is faithful to his own plan, he’s faithful to his justice, and he therefore forgives our sins, every last one of them.

And purify us from all unrighteousness

I have a saying I coined a few years ago that continues to ring true to me

Innocence comes from ignorance,
but purity comes from God.

Through Jesus, God purifies us and sets us apart. The Word doesn’t deny that there was ever impurity or unrighteousness, and more importantly God’s purification is recognized as an active process. Too often we get locked into this mindset that “forgiveness” means that something never happened. That sin never existed. That isn’t what God is telling us.

There is unrighteousness, but God is actively working to purify and set us apart. God is making us holy as he is holy. This isn’t something we are capable of doing on our own, and it doesn’t pretend that sin never existed. Rather, it recognizes that there is impurity and it deals with that.

Verse 10

If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

I had a lot of trouble with the word “liar” in this verse, which is where the Message paraphrase was particularly helpful. It puts this passage as, “If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.” This concept of contradiction is important here.

The bottom line is that sin exists, and God’s forgiveness occurs in direct recognition of this sin. By claiming that we are capable of existing without sin, or by claiming that sin does not exist, we call God a liar because we are making a claim contradictory to his Word (by which I mean both Jesus and the written Bible). To make such a claim while one also claims to be Christian just highlights one’s ignorance of God and the Bible.

God forgives us because we need forgiven, and due to the nature of our hearts and psyches, we continue to need to be forgiven. Pope John Paul II prayed every day to be forgiven his sins, and paramount among these were the situations in which he failed to act or the times when he had done less than he should have. Every day he felt like he wasn’t doing as much as he could, and so he confessed and asked God to forgive him.

Wonderful Love in Relationship with God

As I wrote that last part, it occurred to me that this whole Christian thing seems very negative and depressing. Though it isn’t directly related to the verses I was studying this week, I want to share something wonderful with you about God’s forgiveness.

As Christians, when we pray for forgiveness, the sense is not ultimately one of failure and melancholy. We may begin that way, but God’s Spirit comforts us. As I wrote two weeks ago, God is intimately familiar with the trials and struggles we face. When we experience God’s forgiveness, it is like a terrible burden has been lifted from our shoulders, or like chains that weighed upon our necks have been broken. The feeling of freedom and joy is stupendous, and God’s loving embrace is comforting and divine.

Yes, the law and our recognition/understanding of sin leads us to sorrowful repentance, and it should, but a loving and open relationship with God alleviates our sorrow. My only reply to those Christians, or ex-Christians, who felt only the depression of sin and guilt and none of the freedom and love of Jesus is that they weren’t listening to God. I am sorry that they never had the truth in them, as verse 8 puts it, because it is there and it is wonderful. And I will continue to pray that they will quiet themselves so they can hear God calling out through all of nature and the universe for them to come home and become free again.

The Bottom Line

There is a difference between “defeating sin,” and “living without sin.” Jesus did the first for us. None of us experience the second in this lifetime.

Forgiven but Begging Forgiveness

If God sent his only begotten son to the world to forgive us, and all our transgressions have been cast as far as the east is from the west, it isn’t unreasonable to ask why we need ask forgiveness any longer. If we accepted Jesus and go to church, isn’t that good enough? Or maybe we don’t even need to go to church, because after all, we’ve been forgiven, right?

It isn’t immediately obvious why, if we have been forgiven, we must continue to ask God for forgiveness. I view such matters as having two perspectives to them, or two focuses that make them important. The first is on how our asking forgiveness affects God and his response to us. The second is simply how the act affects us.

First, we know that we are to confess our sins in order to be forgiven. It is not enough to have been “saved” in some past instance, but we must continue to repent when we sin. If we have transgressed against God, we need to ask his forgiveness, which he will continue to extend to us. The key is repentance. To repent means literally to change, and it is important that we change if we are to be forgiven. If we refuse to change, or to confess, or to ask forgiveness, God will simply not hear us.

Yes, God forgives us. He forgave us over two thousand years ago through the acts of Jesus, and what I find even more amazing, he continues to forgive the sins we commit after we become Christian. Years after we accept Jesus into our lives, if we sin, he forgives even that. But we must continue to pick up our cross daily, to continue to ask his forgiveness when we continue to sin, and to repent.

On the other side of the discussion is how the request for forgiveness affects us. I feel that such confession and request is a very humbling act, and that such humility before God is certainly not a bad thing. It reminds us to submit to God, to place ourselves in an appropriate posture before his throne, and that we are dependent on his love, provision, patience, sovereignty, and forgiveness. A contrite heart is what God desires, and the act of asking forgiveness helps create that heart in us.

Next week, I might focus on the five dependencies I mentioned in the last paragraph. Until then, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to write me.