Thursday, August 9, 2012

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Why is it that at times we may confess our sins to God in personal prayer, and yet feel no relief of forgiveness?  Doesn't Jesus teach us that "your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matthew 6:4 NIV)?  Isn't David's inspired psalm true when he attests, "I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,' and you forgave the iniquity of my sin" (Psalm 32:5)?  Why then does our sin still feel like a burden on our shoulders, sapping our strength as the midsummer heat?  And why do we end up falling back into those same sins instead of experiencing a greater measure of victory over them?  (Surely I am not alone in having experienced this.)

It may well be that we're looking for Jesus in the wrong places.

When Saul was on the road to Damascus to persecute early disciples of Jesus, Jesus met him in a blinding vision.  "Saul, Saul," he said, "why are you persecuting me?" (Acts 9:4).  Wait a second.  Saul was causing trouble for Christians, not for the Christ, right?

But Jesus said Saul was persecuting him.

This is because by his Holy Spirit, Jesus lives inside his people and is organically tied to them, so that Jesus can say, "As you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40).  The saints, Jesus' faithful followers, are in fact where we encounter Christ this side of heaven.  We speak his voice, with his words (see Romans 10:14 NASB; 1 Peter 4:10-11).  He has put into the mouths of his people the Word of the gospel, the proclamation of forgiveness.  He has given us power to release people from their sin or to exclude the unrepentant from fellowship with him.  Jesus said to his disciples after his resurrection,

"Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld."  (John 20:21-23)

Think about that.  Jesus commissioned his disciples with the power to proclaim or withhold his own words of forgiveness (see also Matthew 16:19).  Could it be that in our silent, private confessional times we do not break through to relief because we're not swallowing our pride enough to go to a brother or sister with our sins?  It's as if Jesus is saying, "I was standing there, ready to assure you of my love and grace, of the wonders of my cross, with arms open wide--if you would but come to me!  I was there, ready to be found by you in the arms and words of your brother, but you would not go to me there.  As you did not do to the least of these my brothers, so you did not do it to me."