“If my people, who are called by my name, will 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 will heal their land…”
—2 Chronicles 7:14
Those of us who believe in God have been clinging to this promise, sharing it and praying it for our nation a lot lately.
Now more than ever, we want to stand for truth and be bold in our convictions. We want to do the good works God called us to do and share Jesus with a lost and dying world. In fact, God knew beforehand that we would be in this place, at this point in history, for such a time as this. Has our land ever so desperately needed healing?
Sometimes the burden seems so great that I don’t even know where to begin, or whether anything I do can at this point will even make a difference. So what can I do right now? What should I do?
Humble myself. Pray. Seek God’s face. Turn from my wicked ways.
Am I doing those things?
In all honesty, no. At least not passionately or with true repentance.
In fact, after 15 years of following Jesus, I sometimes get to the point where I think I’ve done enough. My “big” sins have been forgiven and overcome, so I can just sit right here on the trail of life and rest while other people do their part and “catch up.”
So often when I have prayed this verse, I’ve prayed it heartily for everyone else, but only halfheartedly for myself. In my pride, I have considered myself all paid up, prayed up, humbled, and forgiven. After all, according to the news, there are plenty of people who need to repent, humble themselves, and turn from their wicked ways much more than I do.
Maybe that’s why it’s so difficult to see that this verse still applies to me. In fact, it can only apply to me — I can never hold this verse out as hope to anyone else unless I have taken it to heart and done those very things myself … and continue to do them daily.
I have become increasingly convicted over the past few weeks that my “small” secret sins, the ones I keep minimizing as “not that important,” are in fact compromising my relationship with God, my witness, my joy, and the power of the Holy Spirit in my life.
The truth is that I need to repent of many things — beginning with my prideful attitude that this verse is for other people but not for me. It’s written for God’s people, not unbelievers, so the only real application of this verse is in my own heart and in my own life. Its power becomes manifest only when I, as an individual believer, apply it personally, right here and right now.
As I have prayed for God to reveal my hidden sins to me, He has done so very lovingly, like a father training up a child. Some sins are news to me — I have been shocked to be convicted about attitudes that I didn’t realize were not from faith (Romans 14:23). Others are habits I have known about and struggled with for years.
I have been pondering just how comfortable I’ve become with allowing these sins to take up residence in my life, wondering why I find it so hard to evict them.
Right off the bat, I can think of five reasons I have let them sidle on in and stick around like old friends:
1. By comparison, they all seem small. Compared to the sins I committed as an unbeliever, the ones that beset me now seem insignificant. And compared to the glaring sins of others, mine seem almost trivial. Surely a merciful God will simply overlook them. After all, in the grand scheme of things, God has bigger sins to worry about, right?
It’s easy to minimize my “smaller” sins: the almost imperceptible nod to pride, the quiet whisper of complaint that no one else can hear, the tiny tidbit of gossip masquerading as a prayer request.
But God is holy and can’t look on any sin. Eventually it all has to go. Certainly we will not be perfect until we arrive in heaven, but if I use that as my excuse for not doing anything about my sin now, I might want to examine my heart to see whether I am really in the faith. Jesus said if I love Him, I will obey Him. That starts immediately, not at some future point down the road.
2. Surely my merciful God will just forgive my sins, even while I continue in them. We’ve gotten all the biggies out of the way, and now I’m under grace, right?
“…Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” —Romans 6:1-4
It’s true that we were saved by grace, and God’s grace covers all sins, past, present, and future. But obviously we as Christians have been using that fact to excuse our desire to continue in sin for several thousand years, otherwise Paul wouldn’t have needed to address it in the Bible.
All too often I am tempted to reason that my sin doesn’t matter to God because I’m under grace. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and in His holiness He cannot look on sin. If He is not changing me by His power to be more holy, I should probably question whether I have really surrendered my life to Him.
3. I don’t hate my sin the way God hates it. Sure, I might dislike it at times, despise the pain that comes with it, even regret with worldly sorrow that I have sinned because I don’t care for the consequences. Sometimes I am not even sorry at all, just sorry I got caught. But true repentance is seeing my sin the way God sees it, with godly sorrow that ultimately causes me to turn from it.
“For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be regretted: but the sorrow of the world works death.” —2 Corinthians 7:10
Am I being sorry for the sin with worldly sorrow or godly sorrow? Chuck Colson describes true repentance this way:
“The biblical word for repentance is metanoia in the original Greek. Meta means ‘change’ and noia means ‘mind,’ so literally it means ‘a change of mind.’ One church scholar describes it as ‘that mighty change in mind, heart, and life, wrought by the Spirit of God.’ Thus repentance is replete with radical implications, for a fundamental change of mind not only turns us from the sinful past, but transforms our life plan, values, ethics, and actions as we begin to see the world through God’s eyes rather than ours. That kind of transformation requires the ultimate surrender of self.”
–Chuck Colson, Loving God
I need to ask God to reveal sin hiding in every area of my life and ask Him to give me eyes to see it the way He sees it. Unless I hate my sin the way God hates it, I will never be rid of it.
4. I think I can play with the fire and then put out the flame. But that’s not the nature of sin. I once read that you are only guaranteed one opportunity to turn away from sin (God always provides a way of escape — 1 Corinthians 10:13), but once you look back for a second glance, sin has gained a foothold and now has the home field advantage.
A single sin has a way of multiplying into more of the same, with real physical and emotional consequences.
“For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me.” —Psalm 40:12
The Bible calls them cords of sin — once even a toe is caught in the net, the cords will twist ever tighter.
“The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.” —Proverbs 5:22
What we choose to do repeatedly becomes our habit (good or bad). A bad habit (sin) carried to the extreme becomes an entangling mass, a besetting sin, from which escape seems impossible. (In our society, we prefer the word addiction, implying the problem is medical, not moral.)
The Bible also aptly refers to the chains of sin, the bondage of sin, and becoming slaves to sin. If we give sin even a foothold, it is the nature of sin to overtake us (Psalm 119:133).
5. I actually like my sin. Yes, you might have to read that one twice to realize I actually said it out loud. I comfort myself by praying for deliverance with my lips, but the reality is that my heart still desires certain sins.
This one hit me like a ton of bricks this week. When I tried to repent of some very prideful thoughts, I realized I didn’t want to repent! I wanted to savor and enjoy them for a few minutes more before turning them over to God. I even pushed God aside and told Him I’d repent later! How is that for being in sin, knowing I am in sin, and actually enjoying my sinfulness while being fully aware I’m doing it?
After that wake up call, I realized that in fact I’ve probably been halfheartedly repenting of some of my sins my whole Christian life. I’ve become almost comfortable with certain pet sins, justifying them so often and so well that they hardly seem like sin anymore. And that is a dangerous place to be, because being comfortable with sin is never God’s will for my life.
The truth is, any compromise with sin compromises God’s power in my life, compromises my joy, and compromises my witness.
I’ll talk more in my next article about the consequences of even those seemingly small sins in my life — and the joy of true humility, repentance and obedience.
By Michele Blake