In repentance there is life, while in sin-denial there is suicide.
When you’re frustrated with the way a work week, a project, a conversation, or a family situation is going, it is easy and relatively painless to lay the blame at the feet of others. Or to say the problem is “the situation.” And of course there are actually cases where we do get wronged or where the situation is that bad. But two truths should give you and me pause before just assuming our work, family, emotional, or friendship issues are completely the fault of someone else:
(1) All death, suffering, pain, and problems are a result of sin entering the world.
That one’s obvious. Doesn’t really offend our flesh and pride so much. If we are Bible-trusting Christians, we’ll usually admit wholeheartedly that sin exists and that it is the cause of bad things.
(2) My biggest danger is not that the sins or stubbornness or selfishness of others might harm me, but that my own sin might strangle me.
Whoah. Hold up. See, I’ll admit in theory all day that I am a sinner. But when it comes to honestly saying and seeing that my present or past wicked actions are the primary causes of my current anger, depression, broken relationships, or stresses, I get really defensive. I want to self-justify. I want to think I am a better human, a better man of my own sweat and moral effort. And I want to think that that is what makes all the difference in my life and my eternal destiny.
A quick example: I read a story about a famous man I disagree with, a man who I think does great harm to a great many people. I read that not too long ago there was an assault charge brought against him by one of his children. He told the authorities that it was a false charge, and that may well be the case; I wasn’t there. But do you know what ugly thing rose up in me as I read this short little account? A smug, internal smile, knowing that the man who I was confident was misleading people was being revealed to the watching world to be the troubled leader he was.
Not concern for his family. Not brokenness for this man who needed Jesus to forgive him. Not prayer that he might be restored and that the deceived among those he led might turn to Christ. And not the realization that but for God’s grace I could be the sort of man who uses his hands as instruments of his anger. No, in the moment I thought I was a good guy while he was a trapped and false guy, and that that was the biggest difference between us.
But the truest difference between me and this man, to whatever degree there is one, is all the grace of God. And my blind, internal self-righteousness would’ve led me to ignore my own sinful anger. I don’t want to admit that I have sin that can (and often does) tear apart my own life.
I am not saying that some among us are not truly being victimized. I know at least one person who is, in one given relationship in his life, truly faultless in a general way. Genuinely has been the victim. It does happen. But from 30,000 feet, taking in all of the landscape of our lives, the Holy Spirit can show us through His Word that the vast majority of our difficulties are the results of our own sins.
-Do I get sinfully angry because I’ve always lied to myself about who is really in charge?
-Do you get depressed because you don’t delight in prayer?
-Does he use filthy language because he doesn’t fear God?
-Does she talk so much about the the sins of others because she is self-righteous?
-Do I dwell on the flaws in the job performance of others because I am prideful?
-Do you have marital problems now because you lusted after other people years ago?
Sometimes depression is a biological result of the fall, sometimes we do have bad jobs we need to get out of, and sometimes one spouse truly does wholly violate the other. Not every single problem is directly due to our own personal sin; but a great many of them are, and the biggest problem of our lives is still our own sin.
But now let me end with the Good News: If we admit the problem we can receive the solution. If you get the diagnosis right you can be cured. God mercifully offers to cleanse us, forgive us, and make us increasingly holy in Christ Jesus. But we need to come to a place of honest, knee-bent repentance: You and I need to be washed and sanctified and made to delight in God more, not simply given easier jobs, more obedient kids, and healthier bodies.
“For 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 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.”
I am not simply an innocent victim who needs his co-workers, wife, children, and neighbors to get on board and treat him better. I am a sinner who is often reaping the consequences of his own idolatry, pride, and anger. We are each regularly dealing with the results of our lusts, lies, hardheartedness, unforgiveness, cowardice, or hatefulness. Rather than blaming the sum total of our lives’ problems on others or our environment, let us confess our sins to the Forgiver and be sanctified. Be made better. Be washed and healed.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.”
1 John 1:9
Do you know what will most ultimately make my marriage better? Holiness and love of God. What’ll make my vocation more fruitful and worthwhile? Worshipful joy and God-honoring servitude. What has the power to help me forgive hurtful family members? Knowing that I am forgiven in Christ Jesus. While there are times I have been genuinely violated or need to remove myself from a harmful situation, the pinnacle crisis of my life is the one Jesus died to rectify on the cross: my own sin and sinfulness.
My flesh needs to be slayed and my heart needs to be sanctified.
I am a sinner who needs the Gospel, not merely a victim who needs his circumstances changed. I need to repent and receive life and joy. The alternative is a hardened and depressing spiritual self-destruction.
*Note: This post was adapted from an e-mail I sent to our church.