A few Sundays ago I listened to some wonderful prayers in our group worship. However, something struck me that day and not for the first time. In our Bible study prayer we prayed for “forgiveness of sins.” In our “opening prayer” we prayed for “forgiveness of sins.” In our “closing prayer” we prayed for “forgiveness of sins.” I suddenly looked around me and thought, “What in the world has everyone been doing in the past two hours?”
I think in our efforts to avoid any resemblance to the doctrine I grew up calling “the impossibility of apostasy,” we have done ourselves a grave disservice and a very discouraging one as well. As a child I saw good men who often prayed, “Lord forgive us, because we know we sin every day.” Or “all the time.” Or “so often.” I used to look at them and wonder what it was they were doing. I never saw them sin, or heard anyone else say they saw them sin either. I began to feel like sin must be some sort of miasma that follows you around and then, bang! when you least expect it, it infects you like some kind of airborne germ.
That is not the Bible definition of sin. Everyone who does sin, does lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness, I John 3:4. No, I am not gong into some heavy theology. I don’t think I need to. John plainly teaches that sin is something you do. Now sin may involve wrong thinking, too, but still it is a specific thing. It is not some sort of germ you catch without ever knowing it. By making it into that sort of thing, we make ourselves miserable, living a life of despair instead of hope. God said you can control yourself. He said you can overcome. He said you can live a godly life. Give yourself a break! God does.
Does that mean we won’t sin? Of course not. But why in the world do we feel so compelled to always add the negative, especially when we are talking to one another, to those of us who know the truth that we can fall from grace? We should be encouraging one another, not trying to build stumblingblocks of cynicism and pessimism. Of course, using the correct definition of sin, something we actually do and can quantify verbally, forces us to specifically repent of actual things we have done, instead of being able to say, “Lord, I know I sin a lot, and probably don’t even know it when I do, so please forgive me.” Maybe that is the real problem—too much pride to admit the wrong we do, and actually try to become better people. If you never know when the germ is going to get you, it’s not your fault right? But that’s not the way it works, at least not to someone sincerely trying to grow as a Christian.
I know that when I sin and realize it, I feel so heartbroken and ashamed that, like David, I ask for forgiveness again and again, but.should someone who has been a Christian for a decade, who is supposed to have grown in strength, need to pray for forgiveness three times for three different sins in two hours’ time? I hope not. If we really are “sinning all the time,” we need to take a serious look at our lives. Theologians have a name for that doctrine too. It’s called “total depravity.” When a society became totally depraved, “sinning all the time,” God destroyed it. Sodom, Assyria, Babylon, Rome, even the whole world in Genesis, except for one man who walked with God, and found grace in the eyes of the Lord. If Noah could do it, so can we.
Let not sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey the lusts thereof; neither present your members unto sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves unto God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace, Rom 6:12-14.