When we stumble

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If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 ESV

Each day as we step out in the world, things happen to us which challenge our commitment to the Christian faith. We believe in God and in the truth of His word, but find that our actions often fall short of what we unhesitatingly acknowledge to be true. How can we, then, stand before God, the righteous Judge, from whose eyes nothing is hidden?

Jesus likened being angry with a brother or sister to committing murder, and looking lustfully at a person of the opposite sex, to an act of adultery. Are God’s standards  impossibly high and unattainable? I have heard Muslims say that their religion is more practical, while ours is full of unrealistic ideals and designed to end in failure. Many Christian leaders today, are only too willing to compromise, and align their standards to worldly, rather than godly ones. This has produced confusion and discord in the body of Christ.

Yet, God’s absolute standards are meant to be source of strength for us, not consternation. What if God were a fickle flip-flopper? For example, if one day we were told, homosexuality and adultery are sins, and the next day ‘well, anything goes for God is tolerant’; we would hardly know which way to go as Christians. Where would be the incentive to fight our flesh and to overcome the tempter? The various character building exercises that we are taught to undertake in following in Christ’s footsteps would be totally unnecessary. And what sort of witnesses would we be?

“Honest scales and balances belong to the Lord…” (Proverbs 16:11), and “He sets the standard of fairness” (NLT). Despite the protests from secular atheists or liberal Christians, clear boundary lines have been laid down for our own security and flourishing. We are running a race and getting ever closer to the finish line. True, we may stumble and fall, but we have signed up for a marathon, not a 50 metre dash; so there is time to get up and run again. Whether we bruise our knees or suffer a broken bone in the process, we have a wonderful Physician at hand, whose remedies are perfectly efficacious.

God’s expectations are realistic. My sister has 3 sons aged 17, 11 and 3; and her expectations of each child differs according to his age. She doesn’t expect the 3 year old to set the table or pass his exams; she is content if he obeys and goes to bed on time. So, God is often happier with our efforts than we might imagine, but He does expect growth and progress. He is not disappointed if we have not yet attained the stature of the apostle John when he wrote his epistles. Growth takes time. The tallest and sturdiest trees need more time to attain full maturity, than the pretty flowers which bloom for a while, and are soon gone. So the Bible exhorts us to stay in the race, and not be discouraged.

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How does God respond to our stumbling? He does not rejoice in our failures, but He fully expects these things to happen, and has provided a way out – confession. “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13)Confession of sin is necessary not only to have unhindered fellowship with God, but also to remove hurdles to Christian growth. When we acknowledge our sins before God, He is faithful and just to forgive us. How comforting these words are! To meet the standards of His own law – as a just Lawgiver, God is obliged forgive our sins. Has He not taught us to forgive our brothers and sisters who sin against us, not seven times, but seventy times seven; and how could He do less? More than that, it is His faithfulness as a Father to His children, which impels Him to forgive us our sins. He cleanses us from all unrighteousness. The whole sorry record of our foolishness, stubbornness and wickedness are all blotted out from the divine memory.

Now I would like to diverge slightly to address a point often raised by unbelievers. God is accused of giving us a ‘get out of jail free’ card. We are apparently not held to account for our sins, but allowed to go free. This is an incorrect understanding of the whole thing. First of all, we are allowed this standing because we have merged our lives with Christ who has already paid the full debt. Second, there are often earthly consequences to be faced, and God doesn’t always deliver us from the results of our folly or waywardness; rather through such things, He perfects us. He also gives us much grace to endure, and lightens our burdens. Third, wherever our sin has hurt another, we are taught to publicly acknowledge this fact and seek forgiveness and reconciliation of those we have wronged; and to make appropriate restitutions.

So, God has made a way for us to be delivered from our sins, forgiven and restored to a proper relationship with Him. Now, confession of sins is a more serious business than casually saying, “I was wrong, I am sorry” or worse in the modern fashion, “I am sorry if you were offended”; it involves true repentance and contrition. Repentance implies a change of heart regarding a particular thought or deed, a complete turning away and a turning around from our former ways. Contrition means a deep sorrow for the offence we have caused against God’s love and holiness. Repentance and contrition produces within us a firm determination to give up sin, and to align our ways with God’s laws. Some sins may be deeply rooted, and the desired change may take longer than we would like. But we must persevere and not give up. “The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again” (Proverbs 24:16 NLT).

If we continually seek God for deliverance from our sins, then we will find Him faithful to His promise – to rescue and uphold us with His hand. God Himself will fight this battle for us. The end result for those who persevere in this course – despite the stumbling – is victory. “Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault” (Jude 1:24 NLT).

Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
we have sinned against you
and against our neighbour
in thought and word and deed,
through negligence, through weakness,
through our own deliberate fault.
We are truly sorry
and repent of all our sins.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
who died for us,
forgive us all that is past
and grant that we may serve you in newness of life
to the glory of your name.
Amen.

(From the Book of Common Prayer)

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