Confessionally Christian, Functionally an Unbeliever

Have you ever done anything that grieved you? Has the shame of it loomed over your head like a dark cloud? Maybe you struggle with anger, and you just exploded at your family members. Maybe you struggle with lust, and no matter how many times you say you will never look again, the Internet woos you back to pornography. Maybe you struggle with not being able to say, “no” to anyone, and you continuously promise to do things with others that you end up never doing. Maybe you struggle with covetousness, and you drain your bank account with things that you “just have to have” only to always be absolutely stretching pennies to afford your appetite. These are each sins, and they should grieve us. We ought to recognize them as sins, and not deceive ourselves. But, what do we do with that grief and shamefulness? Do we rest, trusting that they are forgiven by God in Christ? Oftentimes we just try to satisfy our grief by “making up” for it somehow.

We might just hope for the next day to come so that it will all be over. We apologize to our families for our outbursts, as we should, and try to treat them better. Sometimes we reassure ourselves that at least we aren’t as bad as other families. At least we don’t hit out spouses. At least we don’t murder them. And we try everything to put what we did out of our minds. It’s only a matter of time until the smallest thing annoys you and you just totally burn with anger again. We turn off the computer, or even get rid of it in order to stop our wandering eyes. Sometimes we might reassure ourselves that at least we have never pursued a sexual relationship with someone outside of our marriage. And we try everything to put what we did out of our minds. It’s only a matter of time until we see that magazine cover or television show or person on the street – and the lust is there again in full force. We hope that all those we lied to, by promising we’d help them time and time again, would just forget. We might even apologize to them, as we should. Sometimes we reassure ourselves that at least what we promised wasn’t major. And we try everything to put what we did out of our minds. It’s only a matter of time until we start promising again. We purpose to not blow our cash on every whim and want. Sometimes we reassure ourselves that at least we aren’t homeless. And we try everything to put what we did out of our minds. It’s only a matter of time until the next fashion comes through, the next person is wearing this or that, and covetousness is there again. In each scenario, we try to satisfy the bad news – i.e. that we have blown it – with good news – i.e. we won’t do it again or we haven’t at least done it as bad as we could have.

Jesus spoke of things that cause us to sin, and what to do with them.

29“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30“If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. 

Matthew 5:29-30

That’s pretty clear. If your eyes cause you to sin, rip ’em out. If your hands cause you to sin, cut ’em off. Why? So we don’t go to hell. As Jesus says a few verses later in verse 48, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” So, don’t want to go to hell? Get to plucking and cutting. But do you think this will make a difference? Jesus seemed to teach that it would. But this would mean that we can escape hell by our own doing. We know this can’t be what He means. If we can secure our salvation by works, then what is the point of His dying on the cross? These verses are in the middle of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. In it, he booms forth with the law. “You don’t think you are an adulterer? If you’ve even lusted, you’re an adulterer. You haven’t murdered? If you’ve ever been angry, you’re a murderer. Think you are righteous? Want to see God? Be pure in heart. Your righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the religious leaders. Don’t promise things to anyone, let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’ because anything beyond that is from the evil one. Has someone disrespected you? Allow him to do it some more. Does someone want your shirt? Give him your coat too. Don’t turn away anyone who wants anything from you. Love your enemies, not just those that are good to you.” Everyone is left without an excuse. Truth be told, being a blind amputee would make no difference for me or you. the way a blind man’s senses adapt to their surroundings, our senses would only adapt as they seek for new sins. No eyes? No limbs? No problem when it comes to slowing down sin, because those things are not what corrupt us. Our doing isn’t what corrupts us. We use them for evil and do evil because our hearts are sinful. 

Our family went to church today. But the last two weeks, we hadn’t. Our kids were totally sick with runny noses, pink eye, and hives. And I was grieved that we didn’t go. I’d love to say that I was grieved because I wasn’t going to be in the fellowship of other believers, worshipping God, and being reminded again of the good news of Jesus Christ. But I’m not so sure. Don’t get me wrong, that desire was there, but the way I tried to satisfy the grief exposed something different in me. One of the first things that ran through my mind is what I would give as the reason for not going if someone should ask. I thought, “The kids are super sick, and that’s a good reason. Maybe we could go to church in the case of a runny nose, but these kids have hives and pink eye. Anyone could understand that.” I also thought that if we could at least watch it live online, we could say, “We weren’t there, the kids were sick, but we still watched online.” And I found myself running through all these scenarios in my head where I’m justifying my 2 week absence at church before all sorts of people. Totally crazy, right? It all boiled down to the fact that I ultimately want to maintain a particular image of myself to others – holding myself to a standard that doesn’t even exist. Sure, there is a standard of perfection that is ingrained in humanity, having been born in God’s image. But if I judge myself by that standard, or any standard explicitly given in Scripture, I will alway hit the same conclusion – not even close.

Last Sunday afternoon, I realized how stupid I was acting. I hate the fact that I know the gospel in my mind, but functionally am always doing contrary to that belief. A few days later, I read a quote by Luther that only magnified how I was feeling.

“It is not enough to confess with the mouth that you are a sinner, for what is easier, especially if your conscience is quiet and you suffer no temptation? No, if you have confessed with the mouth that you are a sinner, you must really think so in your heart and in all your actions and doings bear yourself accordingly. Hence there are few who acknowledge and believe that they are sinners. For how can a man confess that he is a sinner if he cannot bear a word directed against his actions and plans, but immediately flies into a temper and swears that he is sincere and is doing good, and that it is wrong to oppose him and perverse to reject him? But immediately he is beside himself and annoys everyone with his complaints that he alone suffers unjustly. See, then, hypocrite, who has confessed that he is a sinner, and yet is quite unwilling to do and suffer what is right for a sinner, but desires only what is right for a just and saintly man.”

Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans.

Luther is pointing to those who readily confess they are sinful, but when confronted with it, are quick to try and justify themselves. It shows how we normally confess one thing and functionally do another. And we are always doing that. We are confessionally Christian and functionally unbelievers when we live life according to our own rules. We functionally say, “My way! because God is nothing to be feared.” When we sin, we might understand Christ bled and died for it, but still try to cover it up with things other than Christ’s righteousness. The guilt of our sin sometimes is too annoying to bear that we try and satisfy it with doing things or hoping that the next day will erase the memory of it. It is so difficult for us to think that the sin we obsess over day after day, God doesn’t hold against us. Sin is horrible. It ought to grieve us. If we think we don’t have any, we aren’t looking hard enough. But remember this: 

“…if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

1 John 2:1-2

Christ satisfied God’s wrath for those who believe. The anger, wrath, and judgment that should have been poured on those who believe was poured on Jesus. It is literally impossible for a drop of that wrath to fall upon you, dear believer. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). You are not on probation. It’s even better news than that. If you believe, the Scripture tells us that it’s because God caused you to believe. When you sin, and you will, rest in the finished work of Christ. Your sin was placed on Christ, and His righteousness is placed upon you for free.