It is of sin that we do not love that which is Best. – Boethius
Sin is all that warps what God loves. It falls short of his beauty (Romans 3:23), with twisted and deformed loves. Instead of loving what is true, good and beautiful in God’s sight, it loves what is false, evil and ugly. Instead of reflecting God’s beauty with ultimate need-love and gift-love, we go our own way, twisting and warping the image of God, provoking God’s wrath and displeasure. None of us enjoys seeing his reflection horribly distorted in a mirror. God is displeased when his perfectly holy and infinitely beautiful image is twisted in innumerable ways by his primary image-bearers.
Sin separates man from God (Is 59:2). For a Christian, the grace of God has decisively dealt with sin’s penalty and its power over us. The position of a Christian is one of being accepted, completed and secured in Christ. Nevertheless, sin has a real effect on a Christian’s experience of God. Sin interrupts our fellowship with God because it soils our consciences and weakens our desire to come to God. It deceives us, defiles us, weakens us, and misshapes our desires. Instead of communing with God, we want to hide from God. We turn inward (to our own thoughts) and outward (to distractions), but not upward (to come back to God).
If our faith is to keep gazing on God in his presence, then we need to develop this right posture of heart and life towards the sin we frequently commit.
Repentance and Confession
I remember a preacher who told us emphatically that repenting is something only unbelievers do to receive the grace of God. Believers, he told us, only confess their sins. How sadly inadequate was his view of repentance and confession to tear apart two aspects of the same thing! If confession and repentance are defined by the dictionary alone, then they mean respectively to agree with and to change one’s mind, to change direction. When we see these words in their Scriptural contexts, we see that they refer to very much the same thing.
Repentance and confession are both a matter of coming to view sin as God views it. God sees sin as it is: a perversion and distorting of all that is good. Creation, as God saw it, was good. God defined what was good and beautiful. The fall of man was man’s decision to stretch out his hand for the independent knowledge of good and evil: good and evil defined not by God’s loving authority, but by a rebel being. We know the disastrous consequences of that action.
Indeed, every sin is an instance of a fallen man pursuing what his sinful mind thinks is good. With unbelief blinding him, and pride fuelling him, he decides for himself to pursue that which God has already ruled to be destructive and ruinous. This is sin.
Our restoration to God in Christ begins when we, by the drawing of the Holy Spirit, agree with God that sin is not a breaking of arbitrary rules, but a perverted embrace of what is ugly, inferior, false, and destructive. We have come to repentance when, to some degree, sin is seen as what truly harms, defiles, and ruins. We then come to God for his merciful provisions in Christ. When we imagine sin to be a good which is denied us by the arbitrary wishes of God, we have not agreed with God regarding sin.
This is why confession and repentance are very much different aspects of the same act. In confession, we “say the same thing” as God does regarding our sin. As David put it, we vindicate God’s judgement of sin as sinful (Ps 51:4). We agree with God, dropping every excuse, mitigation, or self-justification. When it comes to sin, only one person is right, and it is God. Confession is to agree with God that sin is not good, and where applicable, that it is ours. In essence, we go back to the Tree, and admit that only God is qualified to know what is ultimately good for us. We renounce our foolish decisions to go after what we thought was good, but was not. We call God the source of good, and sin a true infection and twisted distortion of all that is good. Repentance, then, is the reflex action of agreeing that sin is sinful. We wish to get away from it. Having judged it to be not good, we turn away our being from it, both mind and affections, and turn them toward God, the source of all good.
He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy. (Proverbs 28:13 )
A humble, brokenheartedness over sin can co-exist with joyful seeking and zealous obedience. Paul could describe his experience as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” The posture of humble death to self-worship is not a posture of continual self-loathing, or continual guilt. It is the opposite. It is a posture of humble recognition that sin is sinful, that we transgress, but the Holy God has made provision for us in his Son. We acknowledge his full payment, believe we have died to sin and live to righteousness and so turn away from sinfulness, and openly confess to our Father when we have sinned.
In fact, it’s probably safe to say that the better we understand the gospel, the more we will be confessing and repenting, exactly because we are so confident of our position in Christ, and growing in awareness of sin. To know the gospel is both to grow in sensitivity to sin, and in confidence in Christ’s sufficiency.
This is the first side of our new posture: the posture of humble, self-abasing, sin-spurning death to self-glory. The flip-side is a resurrection.