Sin. It is an unpopular subject.
This summer I am working through a couple studies on the Minor Prophets. These are the last 12 books of the Old Testament.
I am studying the 3 chapters of Joel right now.
The Minor Prophets study I am working through this summer had me read about returning to God in Joel 2:12-20. This passage is about repentance. Before this Joel is warning them that the day of the LORD is coming. And what will that day look like? Joel conveys destruction from God, darkness and gloom, clouds and thick darkness. Great and awesome. God commands His army. You can't endure. Sun into darkness. Moon into blood. Near. Sounds very terrifying. But there is hope for restoration for His people. The study had me write down what Joel told the people to do. And then how God responds to the people when they return.
This is about God's people returning to Him.
I am convicted.
Sin, any sin. It is ugly. It is against a holy God.
Sin can be defined as any action which violates God's law. But Jesus took it further. Jesus said it not only includes actions , but also our thoughts and what is in our heart. We may do the right thing, but for the wrong motive. And that wrong motive is the sin.
You know what sin is. You do. I do. We may justify it away. Think it is no biggie.
I just thought bad thoughts about this person, but I didn't say it to her face. I was nice to her in person.
I exaggerated the details so they would feel sorry for me and help me.
The clerk forgot to charge me for that one box. I am not driving all the way back there for that. It was their fault. The store can absorb the cost.
I feel bad I snapped at my loved one. But they drive me crazy. They are not listening to me. They are being selfish.
At least I don't murder or commit adultery.
Yes, we all know we are sinners.
There are 3 responses to our sin.
We can regret them.
We can have remorse over our sin.
We can repent of our sin.
And God knows what is in our hearts and He knows which we choose.
Joel 2:12-17 describes repentance as returning to the LORD with all your heart. This implies going back to where you were before the sin. Returning to being clean. You deal with the sin in such a way that you owned it, repent of it, and receive His forgiveness for it.
What does repentance look like? Weeping. Mourning. Joel's words indicate a profound remorse and a change in your heart, mind and actions.
Regret is more about wishing we hadn't done something because of the consequences. (All sin has consequences. Some we don't really see. Some we do. We have to live with the consequences of our sin. And also with the consequences of other people's sin. We can be forgiven of the sin, but that doesn't erase the consequences.) Regret has selfish reasons. We are sorry others know about our sin. It ruined our reputation. They now think of us differently.
Remorse is a little better. We are truly sorry about what we have done. We have hurt someone profoundly and we wish we hadn't. We know what we did is wrong in God's eyes. But we may still justify our actions. I didn't see any other choice. I wasn't thinking clearly. Whatever. We are ashamed and sorry, but...
Repent is realizing we have grieved God. It comes with weeping and mourning. It is deep. We are completely and utterly broken over our sin.
The Valley of Vision, a Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (affiliate link) says:
Thou dost not play in convincing me of sin.
Satan did not play in tempting me to it,
I do not play when I sink in deep mire,
For sin is no game, no toy, no bauble;
Let me never forget that the heinousness of sin
Lies not so much in the nature of the sin committed,
As in the greatness of the person sinned against.
Heinousness. My sin is heinous.
I did the study and I sat here thinking of my various and numerous sins - many of them begetting. In other words, I have struggled with certain sins for years.
I imagined a piece of paper with headings REGRET, REMORSE, and REPENT at the top. And I list all of the sins that come to mind and how I am reacting to those sins. How long the REGRET column is! How many are in the REMORSE column. But how very very few are in the REPENT column.
I am so blind to or nonchalant about my sin; going about life as if it doesn't matter to God. It does.
This has brought me to tears.
The truth is, there are some sins I just want to continue in. I don't want to repent from them. I don't even really feel remorse over them.
And my heart is just broken.
How little thought I give to my daily sin. How very little thought.
I fool myself into thinking because my eternity is sealed that my sin is of not much importance. NO! It grieves God. He will judge me and this icky heart of mine.
Look, no one wants to think about the sin in their lives. No one.
But it would be worthwhile. Think of the sins you commit. Which column would each go in? Do you regret that particular sin? Do you have remorse about it? Do you want to repent of it?
If we move those sins to the REPENT column, God has promised us He will forgive us of them. As Joel tells us, He will have pity on us. He will restore us. We will be clean as snow and like wool (Isaiah 1:18.) Our sins will be tread under foot and thrown into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19.) He will remember them no more (Hebrews 8:12.)
And the alternative? More and more consequences. Losing out on blessings in our life. Chains. God never intended that kind of life for us.
I have seen people who haven't dealt with their sin. They have profound remorse of it, but can't quite get to the repentance stage. As the years march on that sin occasionally resurfaces, they remember and relive the remorse. It continues to zap their joy. It holds them in chains. It alters them in subtle ways.
But after repentance there is forgiveness and it is a profoundly glorious thing! It brings great joy. It is freeing.
Some words from The Valley of Vision:
Grant me to hear Thy voice assuring me:
That by Thy stripes I am healed,
That Thou was bruised for my iniquities,
That Thou hast been made sin for me
That I might be righteous in Thee,
That my grievous sins, my manifold sins,
Are all forgiven,
Buried in the ocean of Thy concealing blood,
I am guilty, but pardoned,
Lost, but saved,
Wandering, but found,
Sinning, but cleansed.
As William Wallace screamed, "Freedom!" And that is reason to rejoice!