There is a right way to own our sins, misdeeds, and failures. Only sin that is owned can be overcome.
Dr. David Jeremiah shares the story of a well-known attorney in Pennsylvania who pleaded guilty to corruption charges back in 2009. All of the details of his case, trial, and eventual sentencing were covered extensively in the media. Dr. Jeremiah chose not to name the individual because it wasn't his goal to focus on the person's failure. However, he recently highlighted a letter that the man submitted to the judge just prior to his sentencing:
"Your Honor, I take full responsibility for my actions and in actions. When I [got involved with the other guilty parties] I knew instantly that was wrong. I had the responsibility to say no and not to assist them in any way...I knew better and I lacked the courage to say no... I had the responsibility to refuse them... I had the ability to do the right thing and say no. I was wrong for giving in... I was also wrong not to report this to the authorities... I was both scared and selfish and I will forever regret that decision.Dr. Jeremiah goes on to say that he can't make a judgment as to whether or not the accused meant what he said. That's between him and God. Only God truly knows the content of any one's heart, of course. Words can be cheap and often are in court cases when a person suddenly has a "courtroom conversion" experience in order to escape the judgment about to be rendered. In this man's case, he didn't mention God at all.
"...I apologize to my family for the hell I have put them through...
"Second, I apologize to my partners, my employees and my friends. I am truly sorry...
"Third, my sincere apologies to [my] clients...
"To the Court, I apologize for the damage I caused...
"Last but not least, I apologize to the people of [our] County and ask for their forgiveness...The people of [our] County did not deserve this long nightmare. For that I am truly sorry...
"I completely respect this Court and I am prepared to accept your decision. I am confident your decision will be just. Thank you. Respectfully submitted, [Name]."
It is important to recognize that the man did not ask for letters from others who could have spoken on his behalf. His own admission of guilt and subsequent apology (it was a 1,400 letter of penance) was the only one submitted to the judge.
The man ended up getting the maximum sentence in prison. The judge cited that he could have said "no" and walked away without becoming involved.
"Only sin that is owned can be overcome."
That is an important concept in Christianity. However, there are some Christian writers who (unfortunately) skip over the need for confession and repentance before asking God's forgiveness at the foot of the cross of Christ. Let me explain.
Two days ago, I was in a Christian book store looking for extra copies of the famous "Bible Promise" book. The two store clerks were busy with other customers when I arrived, so I started looking for the book on my own. I came across one book that intrigued me. The cover mention Jesus and the words he shared in the gospels. It was categorized by subject, ( e.g. "faith," "love," "giving," "mercy," "grace," etc.). I was hopeful that I had found a good substitute in case I could not find the Bible Promise book. As I read the table of contents, I noticed that there was nothing in there that called for confession of sin, repentance, or ASKING for forgiveness. There was mention of God's forgiveness, but the act of man's part in all of this was missing! I was saddened. I thought that I had found a book that would share the gospel message accurately, but I was wrong! I often refer to such "Christianity" as the cross less gospel.
When Jesus came to John for water baptism at the time he was about to start his ministry, John the Baptist stated emphatically what the people needed to do:
Mar 1:3 "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.' " [fn] Mar 1:4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
Jesus himself stated the need for individuals to repent:
Mar 1:14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom [fn] of God,
Mar 1:15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."
Every sin by an individual is FIRST a sin against God. Therefore, every person needs to own his/her sin before God.
We can learn a hard lesson from King David. In his psalm of confession for the sins of murder, deceit, and adultery, he said to God, "Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight." (Psalm 51:4)
David could not make things right with the dead man, and he did sin against other people. But what was meant by the term "only" was "ultimately." Ultimately, every sin ever done by all people across time unto eternity, is done against God.
David Jeremiah explains:
Eugene Peterson captures the sense of David's words to God in The Message: "You're the One I've violated, and you've seen it all, seen the full extent of my evil."
How "politically incorrect" is THAT statement translation in today's world! Oooohhh! You can't call anyone "evil" or accuse them of doing "evil" these days. That's a BIG NO-NO! But Jesus called people and their deeds evil:
Mat 12:34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.
Mat 7:11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Luke 11:13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
Dr. Jeremiah emphasized that we all must admit, "I have sinned." He writes:
We can't say, "I was forced to sin," "I was influenced to sin," "I was taught to sin," or " accidentally sinned." Those kinds of blame-shifting words are used when we have not yet arrived at the point of accepting full responsibility for our actions. There is no more contrite record of confession in the bible than that of King David following the revelation of his sins in Psalm 51. The only thing he didn't ask God to forgive him for was not coming forward on his own to confess his sins. It was only after Nathan the prophet confronted David, nearly a year after his sins, that David confessed (2 Samuel 12:1-14). The Anglican/Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer contains a General Confession that beautifully highlights both kinds of sin--commission and omission: "We have left undone those things which we ought to have done [omission]; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done [commission]; and there is no health in us." David confessed his sins of commission (murder, adultery), but should also have confessed his failure to come forward on his own (deceit) without having to be called out by God's prophet. But we get the sense from the depth of his anguish in Psalm 51 that he is confessing everything to God. He confesses not as the King of Israel who might have made excuses or asked for allowances. He confessed as a guilty sinner who was finally willing to own his sin.If we paused here, I could name dozens, if not hundreds of sins that have been committed by our current excuse-making government. It is a sad but true fact that those who think they will "get away with it" in this life, certainly will not in eternity. There is but ONE WAY to overcome our sin. His name is Jesus Christ and his work was at the Cross at Calvary!
Dr. Jeremiah continues:
Only sin that is owned can be overcome. And I don't mean overcome only in the sense of a recurring sin. I also mean overcome in the sense of putting right that which sin has tainted. Sometimes the results of sin cannot be reversed. We all have learned that grievous lesson. But to the extent that relationships can be repaired, reparations made, and reconciliation enjoyed, owning and overcoming are prerequisites. First, we have to repent of our sin. Like Christ told the church at Ephesus, we must "repent and do the first works" -- the works of righteousness (Revelation 2:5). Repent means to change your mind; it means to turn and go the opposite way; it means to stop sinning. Second, we have to acknowledge (confess) our sin to God and to any against whom we have sinned, and ask their forgiveness: "I have sinned. Would you please forgive me?" (1 John 1:9) Third, we need to make reparations where we can. If our actions have caused loss to others, we must restore what they have lost to the best of our ability (Proverbs 6:30-31, where "sevenfold" suggests "payment in full"). Fourth, we must covenant with God to seek His power to avoid repeating the sin (Job 31:1). Regardless of how often we sin, we must purpose not to sin again. May God grant you and me the grace to be responsible--to own and overcome every sin!It is only after the act of confession and repentance of sin that God with grant us mercy and grace through our Lord Jesus Christ. Mercy is God withholding what we deserve. Grace is God giving us what we don't deserve!
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for dying on the cross and taking my own sin upon your body so that I could be cleansed from all unrighteousness and have the Holy Spirit indwelling in my heart! You left my sin, and all the sins of the world behind in that grave when you rose again on Resurrection Sunday! You're AMAZING LORD! What an awesome Savior you are!!
Dr. David Jeremiah's Turning Points Magazine and Devotional: The Faultline - Living on the Edge of Irresponsibility, May, 2012 pp. 21-23.