Not the guilt of my sins, or the punishment for my sin — the sins themselves.
I’ve done this already and before and years and years and years ago, up to and including the other day. I am no theologian (except insofar as we all are in all we say and do, because in the things we say and do, we are telling what we believe about God) so I don’t know the words for this, but it seems that at conversion we’re mostly concerned with the punishment and later we add the guilt.
It seems this must be so.
For one thing, when I ask God to forgive my sins, that’s what I mean. I mean that I don’t want the damnation (or the trouble and annoyance, for that matter) that follows such a life.
Second, and much more powerfully, since God responds — in the affirmative — to the plea of the sinner pleading for grace and since after our conversion we do continue to sin, the request cannot be to remove the sin itself.
God said yes, but the sin is still there.
He is saying yes to something else.
And we are asking for it.
I’m not criticizing anything here, as it happens: I’m noticing. The sin itself and its effects are two different things. We can see that readily if we think of the external effects: on the world, say, or a person other than ourselves. Pressed for a moment we can see it in the internal effects — that is, we realize the effects in us are gone immediately (justification) and begin to dissipate over years (sanctification)
But I have noticed a change recently.
It began in the last year or so, I’d say — which is not to say I’ve never noted, requested, or even experienced it before. But definitely before last year it’s been miniscule, unremarkable. I mean that literally; I’ve hardly noticed it.
But in the last year, I’ve wanted more.
I’ve wanted the sins themselves to be gone … whooshed! away … now. I’m tired of them. They are really starting to hurt. Mostly me is what I notice — yep, selfishness is one of them — but I do notice others as well, and more than I used to.
Oscar Wilde said that by the age 40 we all have the faces we deserve. If you look around, I think you’ll find that to be true. Maybe modern medicine allows us to delay it somewhat, but you get, I’m sure, the idea.
Well, I’m past 40 and my sins are showing.
I’ve begun again in Matthew, and therein I find this: that we call him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. Two verses later we see how this happens: God is with us.
In other words, God displaces our sins.
You may note immediately: just as I’m no theologian, I’m not so strict on hermeneutics, either. I stand by the idea. It fits with a lot of other material, some of which I’ll mention, and then close. I wish to say here that God saves us from our sins not on the Cross … not exactly. Of course it will be part of it all.
[And if you are way ahead of me here, and your mind is swirling with all you have devoured on the “penal substitution” debate, and thinking, “Well, duh! Our justification is different from our sanctification,” and if you are rather nonplussed about this … that may be a a problem for you.]
Because it is very, very, very important — and if you knew how much I disliked the word “very” you would know how big a deal it is if I say it three times — it is … vital … that we grasp this. It is Jesus Christ himself who takes away the sins themselves.
God replaces our sin with … Him.
The oddballs know this. The “spat upon, ratted on” as Paul Simon put it, know this. For later in Matthew we read how the violent seize the Kingdom of Heaven by force. It’s in the chapter of Jesus telling how we know the Gospel is operative: it’s because the “least, last, lost” … aren’t that anymore, while the candy-assed rich in soft robes and big houses are left out in the cold of hell.
God’s presence is the thing.
It’s the thing that changes, heals, transforms, forever.
That’s why the Incarnation. He was present, big-time.
That’s why we celebrate His presence, every Sunday.
God’s presence is the thing.
This is a big deal. The wiser among us know that rebirth is repeated in the life of the Christian at least, oh, three or four times, I should say. It’s been three or four for me, and I’m not wise. So this number may be much higher.
I don’t mean falling away, or discussions about same. I mean the recurring — it feels cyclical, as such things do — experience as we mature in faith that we still need Jesus again, more … repeat.
Today I asked God to take away my sins.
And I’m going to do it again soon.