A recent episode of Michael Horton’s excellent, truth-saturated radio broadcast The White Horse Inn investigates the question “What happens if you die with unconfessed sin?” This question, perhaps more than anything else, tormented my heart for years and was the key thing that led me to rejoice in the work of Christ and his complete sufficiency during the winter of 2002.
Perhaps it came in part to spending every other Sunday of my youth attending Roman Catholic worship services. Maybe it was also in part from the yeast of the bastardized gospel taught by Charles Finney and later Wesleyan/Holiness tradition teaching—evangelicalism without the evangel. But I had this belief that on account of Jesus’ sacrifice upon the Cross I was forgiven of all my sins, that is to say, all the sins that I had confessed. I was plagued by the question, What if I died with unconfessed sin? Surely such transgressions would remain unblotted from my record, and therefore I would lack the perfection God demanded, left to an eternity of conscious agony! I trembled to think that I might die suddenly in a car accident and not have time to ask for God’s forgiveness. I asked God for a slow death, so that I would be mindful to be continually in prayer for all my transgressions. Can you imagine such “slavery to the fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15)? “Woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46).
But then God mercifully put in my path two real studs, Greg King and Bryan Kulczycki, who invited me to a Bible study in my dormitory. If it wasn’t the first study I attended, then it was shortly thereafter that we looked at Romans 5:6-8:
You see, just at the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Grace, true grace, suddenly clicked. I needed neither to be a “righteous man” already walking in holiness or even a charismatic “good man” who inspired valiant sacrifice in others. I needed only to be a powerless, ungodly sinner for God to love me. And if God loved me and all the world’s people so very much that he put forth his only beloved Son as a sufficient, wrath-bearing sacrifice while we were still sinners in deadness and rebellion, how then could unconfessed sin stand in his way? How could a few unconfessed sins or those known only to God’s all-perceiving eyes work against his love? Indeed, the truth became clear to me that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” once for all removing the curse of my sin in the grace of God that was “poured out on me abundantly” (1 Timothy 1:14-15).
I still didn’t quite get it—I still thought Christianity and the life of faith had a lot to do with being a good person and giving up a lot of stuff I enjoyed doing—but I found the peace of justification before God in his love (Rom. 5:1-11). Thus God’s Spirit opened my eyes to the Savior who effectively called me: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever. (Psalm 30:11-12)