In our relationship with God, where is the balance between the “full assurance” of verse 22 and the “terrifying expectation” of verse 27? Where is that line, that when I cross it, my destiny shifts from paradise to perdition? Through the centuries, verses 26-29 have rattled more than a few believers who sinned after their conversion. These verses have gnawed at my confidence as well.
The internal conversation can go something like this: “Oh no, I have sinned again! Am I now in that place where there no longer remains a sacrifice for my sins!” Another part of us responds: “But, I am born again aren’t I? And…didn’t I read somewhere there is a provision of cleansing if I confess my sins?” This schizophrenic conversation goes on within us, bouncing back and forth across this imaginary line, taking us on a roller coaster ride that, no doubt, delights Satan to no end.
Most of us don’t go all the way from full assurance to terrifying expectation. We are not that great of sinners. Most of us consider ourselves to be misdemeanor-level sinners. Consequently, we have misdemeanor level repentance and, not surprisingly, lukewarm gratitude and our ride goes from moderate assurance to moderate terror.
They show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:15-16).
From here, some of us convince ourselves, these defiled, guilt-driven consciences we are lugging around, equate to brokenness—something we know the Lord will not despise (Psalm 51). We can come to see ourselves as those with deep, irreparable flaws in our makeup—which is only partly true. This, and variations of this confession, can become the centerpiece of our belief system and the core value of our identity. In our flesh, we can develop a deeper veneration of our fallen natures than we have for our new resurrected ones. As to our sanctification: if it is done unto us according to our faith, shouldn’t we expect entanglement with sin? What else could we expect in our depravity?
How much guilt and shame energy powers religious activity done in Jesus’ name? The person yoked with this motivation may be confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior but they are leaning far more heavily on the savior than Lord part. They may think…
“With my depraved heart—with my track record—I am just fortunate to be God’s tolerated step-child. I just hope I am acceptable to Him. My life’s playing out just like Paul said it would in Romans 7:21-24. I’m a prisoner (or victim) of the law of sin, which regularly proves just how fallen I am. This is precisely why I don’t do the things I know are right. I am a wretch. It’s just who I am. However, I am busy in the church, serving the Lord. This provides me with some security (a little insurance never hurts!) My labors serve as an ointment for my uneasy conscience.”
The church doesn’t seem to be at risk of losing this source of cheap labor any time soon. Religious consciences cannot afford to let go of their guilt and shame-driven works and simply rest. What would happen to these consciences when the salve is no longer applied? Dread and uncertainty with God will move them over the line, toward moderate concern of judgment.
Carefully read verses 19-25. These words assure us that the author’s intent was not to frighten us into right behavior with the fear of hell. Our passage is unnerving to the alternating religious conscience—one that accuses one moment and defends the next (Roman 2:15). The NASB refers to those who “go on sinning” as the ones who should legitimately fear. The Message describes this same group as those who “give up and turn their backs on what they’ve learned, all they’ve been given and all that they now know.” The party that should fear is the one who has totally hardened their heart toward God and chosen a life of unapologetic, premeditated sin. So, if we truly know Christ as our Savior and our consciences are still alternating and uneasy, what are we to do?
We can begin by settling some things once and for all. The only remedy for the defiled conscience was effected at the cross. “It is finished.” Then, we can enter into the Holy place. The door to that sacred place has been removed for God’s children. There no longer remains a line to cross where sudden judgment may befall us. Even if it did exist, it is redundant because His true children are not tempted to go out and see how much they can get away with before they tilt the scale. True children instinctively shun sin and are disturbed by it. The new nature has a disposition compatible with righteousness and can flourish when it is encouraged with grace. Alternately, the flesh flourishes when dealt with by the Law.
If we are Christian captives of besetting sins, or just joyless souls who are working where they should be resting, let’s forge a battle plan. When we sin, let’s not think of it as a misdemeanor. Let’s simply acknowledge that our sin, however small it seems, necessitated Jesus’ death on a cross. Let’s confess our sins. These include the sins of bitterness, judgments, angry words, unforgiveness, and gossip. Tragically, over time, we learn to hide and excuse these sins. Consequently, our hearts, even as believers, can become hardened.
Let’s also elevate our understanding of our new identity. We are in Christ—the hope of glory. In the long run we will be more victorious over our sin by agreeing with God on this matter. We must confess that we are new creations. We must stop casting ourselves as victims of our sinful natures. If our identities are driven by the flesh we are living in opposition to God. Do you believe the battles Paul fought were regularly won by his flesh while the Spirit of the resurrected Christ was in him. I don’t think so.
Father, help us to find those with whom we can assemble—who are able, by way of their example, to demonstrate what sincere hearts living in full assurance look like. Help us to build and sustain growing communities of grace saturated men and women who are innovators in encouragement. Together, we will hold fast our confession of hope without wavering, for You who promised are faithful. We refuse to throw away our confidence, which is going to have a tremendous reward on that Great Day. Your love has cast out fear, enabling our full assurance of faith, fueling our anticipation of Your blessed return.