When I asked you-all for questions about God and faith, there were several questions on sin and God’s forgiveness.
Are we forgiven when we ask for forgiveness even though we do not name them and maybe do not realize the “sin?”
How can we seek forgiveness for sins we are not aware we are committing?
How will God treat me for sinful thoughts of others?
Why when I ask for forgiveness for my sins, a specific sin that plays with my mind all day and I ask God to take them from me and I tell Satan to get behind me I don’t get peace and this taken from me?
I am more of a perfectionist. I have a hard time. I don’t want to sin. How do I accept that I can’t be perfect? We all sin.
How do we know if we deserve to be in heaven?
We’re not the first ones to ask these kind of questions. Martin Luther struggled with exactly the same questions – how do I know that I deserve to be in heaven, how do I know that I confessed all my sins, what about the sins I did that I didn’t realize I did, what about that sin that I keep remembering, what about that sin I can’t quite stop doing, why can’t I stop sinning?
Martin Luther once hated the phrase "the righteousness of God." It made him shudder all over. He wrote: "Who can love such a God who deals with sinners according to such a standard of justice? We are all sinners, and none of us stands a chance. Will not such a God devour us all like a consuming fire?"[i]
Luther’s despair over his sinfulness and inability to stand before a God of judgment was so profound that it made life difficult at the monastery. The abbot finally decided that Luther needed to go get a doctorate in theology – both to keep his mind occupied and to search for the answers he needed.
And so Luther began a study of the Bible. The book of Romans – the words we heard this morning.
And what he found astonished him.
It completely changed what he thought he knew about God.
Some of what he read just confirmed those fears and doubts he already had. He had already realized that all our attempts to follow the rules, to live by the 10 commandments, to love the neighbor as ourselves – everything we do to try to earn God’s love will never measure up. We can’t do it. No matter how hard we try at being good, at imitating God’s righteousness, we fail.
But there was something new, something he had never heard before:
[We] are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,[ii]
For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.[iii]
Righteousness… is not something we earn,… something we do,… but a gift from God.
A gift – from God – through Jesus.
“But God in Jesus tells us that our identity, worth, and well-being is not determined by our successes and failures but by God's gift alone.”[iv]
Grace is about what God does, not what we deserve, not what we do.
Grace caught him unaware. Grace amazed him.
Grace completely changed what he thought he knew about God.
Luther no longer saw God as an angry judge wielding righteousness as a club to beat down sinners. Luther now saw God as a loving parent, wrapping a cloak of righteousness around a shivering child. His whole relationship with God changed.
Confession was no longer a torture session where he had to make sure he tallied up ever sin before God. Confession wasn’t for God, but for us. Just as an apology clears the air and gives a fresh start, confession does the same, releasing our awareness of our sin to God, who loves us (even when we were sinners, loves us first) so we have that fresh start.
Sin no longer bound him, no longer controlled his life. Sure there still was sin. But knowing that any sin could be forgiven and forgotten, freed him from its power. He could act, not worrying if he would accidently sin, not worrying about making up for past sin, but focusing on living the kind of life God had created him for – a life of loving God and serving the neighbor. He writes, “Sin boldly!”
Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.[v]
As Jesus said in today’s gospel, “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”[vi]
Are we forgiven when we ask for forgiveness even though we do not name them and maybe do not realize the “sin?”Yes. God doesn’t need us to tally up everything. Naming the sins helps the healing, brings restoration. But God can use the heart-felt confession to bring about the needed healing and restoration.
How can we seek forgiveness for sins we are not aware we are committing?Could you really confess every sin? How would it be possible to know every time you said something that hurt another person? You can’t. But the hurt is still there, the relationship is still damaged. By seeking forgiveness from God for sins you aren’t aware of, you are opening yourself up to God to bring healing to those relationships.
How will God treat me for sinful thoughts of others?The same way God treats you for any other sin - with forgiveness, and compassion. There’s not a hierarchy of sin. Sin is sin. It all breaks relationship and wounds our souls. And it’s all forgiven through the cross. Our confession helps us to recognize the forgiveness is there and opens our heart to allow the Holy Spirit heal us.
Why when I ask for forgiveness for my sins, a specific sin that plays with my mind all day and I ask God to take them from me and I tell Satan to get behind me I don’t get peace and this taken from me?Luther had this problem too. He would have arguments with Satan, shouting that Satan had no power over him, claiming the promises of baptism, the promises of Christ. It happens to all of us. Sin has real consequences. Sometimes one of those consequences is that we remember the sin, and the guilt. Sometimes, it’s because we have work to do to restore relationship with someone we sinned against. Sometimes, it’s because Satan finds our guilt a useful tool to weaken our faith, and rob us of our joy and freedom to serve God and love the neighbor – if you’re wallowing in remembered, forgiven sin, God’s will is not being done on earth! Sometimes, it’s part of our human pride – we remember the sin, because we secretly think we should have been better than that. All we can do is stand with Luther, and claim the promises of our baptism.
I am more of a perfectionist. I have a hard time. I don’t want to sin. How do I accept that I can’t be perfect? We all sin.There are a couple of things going on here. One is the pride I was talking about showing through. We want to be able to do it ourselves. I read a facebook post this week that sums this up nicely:
Dear God, who do we want as our savior? It doesn't seem to be you, really. We want to do it ourselves. We want it to be our work, our decision, our baptism, our prayer that changes your mind. In fact, it's like we are saying, thanks God for being nice, but it really comes down to what I do to be saved. I know why- we want to be in control. We want to be God. (Genesis 3:5) We don't want you to save us. We'd rather do it ourselves so we can know it's true. It's like we say, "Say thanks Jesus but we got it."[vii]
The other is the human tendency to sin. It would be a whole lot easier if we were baptized and then never sinned again. But that’s not the way it works. We still have our free will, and as long as we have choice, there’s the choice to sin. Paul says in Romans 7:15-17, “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 that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.” He goes on to say, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1).
Either way, pride or our sinner nature showing through, take it to God.
How do we know if we deserve to be in heaven?We don’t. We don’t deserve it and we know we don’t.
We don’t get what we deserve – and that’s a good thing.
We get God’s steadfast love and amazing grace.
We get Jesus’ body and blood, on the cross and again at the table where we taste and see what forgiveness means.
We get claimed by God as beloved child, we get the mark of the cross of Christ covering our sins and we get the Holy Spirit living in our hearts.
We get to sin boldly, to live boldly - not worrying about sinning, not worrying about making up for past sin, but focusing on living the kind of life God had created for us – a life of loving God and serving the neighbor.
We get grace.
[i] The whole quote is from Working Preacher, Reformation 2009, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=10/25/2009&tab=3. It’s a quote with-in a quote: Martin Luther’s words are from Martin Luther, W.A. 40:11, 3331, 25 and 444, 36, as quoted in Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1957): II/1, 378.
[ii] Romans 3:24.
[iii] Romans 3:28.
[iv] David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=632
[vi] John 8:36.
[vii] Jay Gamelin, facebook status post, October 23, 2012