What would you do if one of your children came to you to confess a sin, and the sin they confessed was so shocking and appalling to you that you never would have imagined your child capable of such a thing? I’m sure we’d all hope we would be able to respond with love and forgiveness. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know it would be hard.
Let’s change it up a little: What if your child didn’t confess, but you suspected something was very seriously wrong. How would you react then? Confront them? Maybe subtly try to let them know that they can tell you anything?
Alright, one last change: What if your child was caught in a serious sin, and you had no idea? What if your child desperately wanted to talk to someone about it? What if you were the reason they didn’t?
Liberate.org had a fantastic post the other day about the power and significance of God’s grace. It was actually an excerpt from a book titled Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us (Charis is the Greek word for grace). Based on the excerpt, it promises to be an interesting read. The post focused on the story of Jeffrey Dahmer, who came to faith while in prison shortly before his death.
What jumped out at me in the article was a quote from Roy Ratcliff, the man who ministered to Dahmer, when he said, “[Christians] ask if Jeff was truly sincere in his desire for baptism and in his Christian life. My answer is always the same: Yes, I am convinced he was sincere…Jeff was judged not by his faith, but by his crimes.”
Now, most of the believers I know would not be so callous. I have had conversations with people who have been delighted when they hear the story of Dahmer’s conversion to faith. But I’m suspicious that the sentiment might not be so prevalent when we talk about serious sin in the abstract. Or when we talk about those who are not repentant of such sin.
I hold this suspicion because, well, I see it in my own heart and mind. When I hear about someone committing what I consider a “serious sin” (which is just showing how ridiculous I can be) and then coming to repentance, I am filled with joy. But when I hear of someone who should “know better” doing the same thing, or hear of someone who shows no repentance, I’m usually filled with disgust and disappointment, rather than pity and concern. In this, I betray my sinful pride and judgment.
The fact is, I commit plenty of sins when I should “know better,” and all too often I lack the repentance I should show for these things. What I fail to recognize is that, as Prof. Em. Daniel Deutschlander once said, “We all sin to the extent to which we are capable, and so we’re all completely filthy before God.”
But beyond what this says about my own sad spiritual state, there is a concern for how this affects the people around me, especially my children, who look to me for spiritual guidance. To explain, imagine another situation with me. Let’s say you’re having a conversation with a fellow church member about the problem of pornography. “Oh, that whole thing is just so disgusting,” you might say. “I have no respect for someone who looks at that garbage! I would be shocked – just shocked! – if I found out one of my kids was doing that. I wouldn’t even believe it!” (You might think, “I’d never say anything like that,” but I have heard plenty of wise and humble Christians say just these things). Now, imagine that after this conversation with your fellow member you went home and your child confessed to you that he or she feels trapped by an addiction to pornography?
It would certainly change your mindset quickly about the nature of the problem. But now let’s change the situation a little. Imagine that while you’re having that conversation with that fellow member, your child is standing nearby, listening in. Do you think that confession will ever come? How will that child get free?
See, the way we talk about sin – and yes, even serious, disgusting, damaging sins – has an impact those caught in sin, and so we can either be the ones who compassionately lead them out of sin, or the ones who leave them feeling lost and alone and trapped by their sin. None of us want to be the latter. So is the solution to stop making a big deal about “big deal” sins? Not at all. The solution is to see all our sins as a big deal.
Paul wrote to Timothy, “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance – ‘Christ Jesus came to save sinners, of whom I am the worst’” (1 Timothy 1:15). The notion behind Paul’s words “full acceptance” is really “to fully apply to oneself.” In other word, Paul is saying, “I can say this about myself. You can say this about yourself. Everyone can say this with complete honesty.”
I am the worst sinner I know. You are the worst sinner you know.
But Paul’s “trustworthy saying” isn’t just about our sinfulness. “Christ Jesus came to save sinners.” The worst of sinners. If I am the worst sinner I know, and Christ Jesus came to save me, what does that say about everyone else? How does that change my attitude toward others?
This is the amazing grace of God, an amazing grace we want to take hold of every day. “I am the worst… and Jesus came for me!” For all the awful evil in my heart and mind, I can be sure that Christ Jesus came to save me.
That’s the grace we want everyone else to have, especially those feeling trapped by their sins. We have the unique opportunity to be the ones to reach out to them and show them that grace. But to do so, we need to be thoughtful about how we talk about sin, and we need to encourage each other in that thoughtfulness.
The next time you and some friends are talking about how unnatural homosexuality is, maybe stop and remind each other that we all have sexual sins. And Jesus came to redeem us from them.
The next time you hear about someone losing their temper and doing something terrible, remember that we all have areas where we lack self-control. And Jesus came to redeem us from them.
The next time you lament someone who has fallen into addiction, remember that we all tend to let the things of this earth master us. And Jesus came to redeem us from them.
Jesus came to redeem the absolute worst sinners… and that means all of us.