Saturday with Michael Spencer
The Things that Won’t Go Away
My sins, that is.
Just in case you need to know, my name is Michael Spencer. I’m a Christian minister who has given 33+ years of my life to telling people…
My sins, O the bliss of this glorious thought
My sins not in part, but the whole
Were nailed to the cross and I bear them no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul…
and other similar things about sin and forgiveness.
Unlike some people in this business, I actually believe this stuff. Like the creed teaches me, I believe in “…the forgiveness of sins…” As a reformation type Christian, I’ve got it all worked out how my sins were atoned for, taken away, tossed into the depths of the sea, put behind God’s back and so on.
The problem is that while God has forgiven me and God has put my sins on Jesus and God has replaced my sins with the righteousness of his own Son, etc., etc., some of the persons I sinned against have taken a different route.
They’ve brought my sins back up. They’ve been holding on to them for years, filed away, still affecting them and now at a particularly point of clarity in their own journey, they’ve brought those sins back to me, put them on the table and announced we have a big, big problem here.
We have a song we often sing where I work, saying that Jesus died for our sins AND for the sins that were done to us. Because I’ve sinned against many other persons, I’ve always liked that verse. Apparently, too much; now I have to deal with my sins- several decades of them- and Jesus’ death, forgiveness, etc. is going to be of limited help. Those I have sinned against say that these sins matter and life is unalterably changed by them.
I’ve grieved over these sins, and I’ve asked forgiveness many times. But I haven’t successfully repented of all of them or abandoned all of them. Again and again, some of these sins have reappeared in my life. Prayer, accountability, counsel, more prayer, good theology, tears, more prayer…..none of it has killed off these sins entirely.
Jesus may have forgiven me, but my sins have followed me. Their footprints in the lives of those I’ve sinned against are still there, and they are calling me to an accounting.
I don’t know what to do about these sins.
I can’t honestly promise that I won’t sin again. I can say that with all my heart and all my efforts I will fight to never sin in these ways again, but these are sins that are deeply wound up in my personality, my upbringing and my physical/emotional make-up. Promising to never get angry again would be very unrealistic, and talking some pietistic trash would be deceptive. Somewhere out there, this sin will reappear.
I once knew this guy….well…I’ll let him talk…
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
What I’d like to ask that guy is this: Jesus may love you, but what about the people other than Jesus? The ones who can’t love you with those sins you don’t understand still on the record? What do we do for those who aren’t interested in imputation, but want accountability? Payment? Consequences? What about those who have been sinned against, but aren’t offering me the Gospel, but purgatory?
How do we take hold of the grace of God for ourselves but then deal with people who aren’t God and can’t be God? People who are going to hold us to the law for their own protection, and who won’t risk further dealings with me until guarantees of repayment and promises of no future sin are on the table?
Protestants are often faulted for having a view of “cheap grace.” Is this what “cheap grace” looks like? The forgiveness of the prodigal’s father on the one hand, and the real-world demands for repayment and improved behavior on the other?
Roman Catholics often refer to the Protestant Gospel as a “legal fiction.” Is this what they mean? A sinner enjoys forgiveness, but cannot adequately make amends, repayment or restoration for his sins against those he loves?
My sins have returned. God may have forgotten them. Other persons have not.
What do I do?