We’re all familiar with the aftershock. Those precious seconds after sinning (whether it’s a thought, an action, or a habit). It feels as though the whole universe could fit in the cavity of our guilt, and it would still be hungry. Then busyness quickly begins collapsing the cavity. A syllabi stares at you from your computer, exams loom like a cloud in the distance, and the assignments sit in a pile on your desk. When will I deal with this sin?
When sin creeps in and pounces during the school year, it’s so easy to feel like there’s not time to address it properly. What do we do? We push away the guilt, submerge ourselves in the semester’s demands, and keep trudging along, all in an attempt to wander back to God and the gospel. But the guilty feelings don’t go away. They interrupt our productivity, like push notifications.
I tried just about everything. I gave myself the silent treatment. The shun. The time-out. I took away toys, and even tried punishming myself and paying my penance, like denying myself proper care with sleep and food. Nothing worked. My flesh and guilt felt like this stubborn-willed child that just would not obey; and I, therefore, did not want to have to drag around in public.
How do we find grace in the midst of a semester that’s filled with benchmarks and deadlines?
Consider Your Needs
It’s a basic truth: God not only knows all our needs, but has created them inside of us as a metaphor for our deeper need for him (Matthew 5:27–32). Sin is one manifestation of our need for God’s grace. When our guilty conscience keeps us awake at night, stabbing our self-worth and leading us away from God in fear, those are invitations to come again to his throne of grace, to stay our hand from practicing surgery on ourselves, so that the true Physician can work (Luke 5:31–32).
Eventually I learned that my late-night Netflix and/or Facebook sessions had much more to do with my lack of peace than they did about my need for rest. I didn’t need recuperation of strength to get out there and single-handedly beat my sin. I needed (and need) repentance.
Recount the Story
The letter of 1 John chronicles the story. The eternally gracious will of God has paved the way from confession (1 John 1:9), to present-tense overcoming (5:4) through himself, the God who is love (4:8).
“I realized that my late-night Netflix sessions had more to do with my lack of peace than my need for rest.”
The gospel always includes repentance; but so often we just want a time-flux capacitor to take us to the time and place where the gospel has already come into full fruition in our hearts. We’d settle for a to-do list to get us there. But Jesus responded clearly to the people who asked for that, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29).
We cannot forget that his will and work for us is clear: faith. The lofty expectations we create or dump on ourselves may not be from the Father. Like a child content with practicing counting over and over, we must continue to respond in faith to the desperation of our need, the cancellation of our debts at the cross, and Christ’s victory over sin and the grave, prayerfully walking away from our sin and towards Jesus.
But unlike silently paying off our credit cards with the tap of a finger, the confession that accompanies repentance with God is vocal. We don’t get to just check the box next to automatic bill pay and run off; and truthfully we wouldn’t want to. Because we’d be missing the best part: more of him.
Remain and Watch Him
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
The characteristic differences between God (faithful and righteous) and us (sinful/unfaithful and unrighteous) are clear. But it’s easy to make assumptions or overlook the issue of time. What about when confession happens over years and years, over a lifetime?
“We need to stop practicing surgery on ourselves in our sin, so that the true Physician can do his work.”
This verse isn’t just a piece of if-then logic. Cleansing takes time. And in places where there is dirt, it takes more than one swipe or rinse. How different would those flare-prayers between classes, before drifting into sleep, or while in the shower be if we focused on his forgiving and transforming presence more than our presentation? How would our time in God’s word (no matter how short) be different if we allow him (the living and overcoming Hope) to speak and rejoice (re-joice) our hearts with his goodness?
If you’re caught in sin or fall into temptation, the most productive, most liberating thing you can do today is stop, confess, and believe that he is faithful to forgive and faithful to finish the work he has started in you. Don’t put it off another semester. Repent and rejoice in that good news now.