Our Precious Sins We Don’t Want God to Forgive

It didn’t matter if it was the dead of winter or the height of spring, if it was Monday or Friday, raining or the sun shining, a frown was frozen on this man’s face. He was a customer on my delivery route, so I saw him on a regular basis. Now, we all have bad days, or bad weeks, so at first I supposed he’d just gotten out of the wrong side of bed or was going through a bad time in his life. But as weeks dragged into months, and months into years, nothing changed. I tried joking with him. I found out his hobbies. I inquired about his family. Little by little, through snippets of conversation, I found out he led a relatively ordinary life. And I also realized that he was one of those people who couldn’t seem to be happy unless he was unhappy. When things were going well, he was on the lookout for something to bellyache about. He saw a dark lining in every silver cloud.

There’s a shadow of this man in me, and perhaps in you, but in a different, more spiritual sense. My customer nursed negativity, he clung to the bad things, and there’s something about us that clings to our sins, as if we’d rather feel bad about them than have the Lord take them away. We’d rather have the dark lining of disgrace than the silver cloud of grace.

So when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses,” we really mean, “Forgive us our trespasses…except our special ones.” It’s as if there are some sins we don’t want to hand over to our Father. Not yet anyway. They are our precious. We relish wallowing in the guilt they generate. We feel better knowing how bad we feel about them. We come to believe that our anguish is our atonement; our baptism is tears; our Supper a body racked with regret. This kind of repentance is anti-repentance, for it actually clings tightly to the sin over which it sorrows because in that sorrow is its consolation. If God forgives these sins, if He takes them away and tells us that we can’t have them back, on what will we rely? Then we’d have only His promise. Then we’d have to rely on someone else. And as everyone knows, if you want a job done right, do it yourself, even when it comes to atoning for your wrongdoing.

Now that takes us to the heart of the issue: that the Gospel of Jesus Christ excludes every hint of a do-it-yourself forgiveness. We want to do our part, especially when it comes to “big sins.” The little transgressions God can take care of, of course, but the big ones need a little extra effort on our part. So we try to sorrow ourselves into salvation, to repent ourselves into redemption. We hang on to our sins not despite the fact that they hurt, but precisely because they do hurt. We need to hurt, to fret over them, to cry over them, to make amends over them, because by doing so, we will grease the wheels of God’s forgiveness. If He sees how repentant we are, and what we’ve done to make things right, He’ll be much more likely to give us forgiveness for those big sins when we’re ready to ask for it.

But here’s the shockingly beautiful truth: our special sins, to which we cling, are mere phantoms. The weighty bag of precious transgressions we carry out is full of nothing but air. Someone has taken them away, even before we asked Him to. While we’re out attempting a do-it-yourself atonement, the true atonement has already taken place. There is nothing more to be done. Every kind of wrongdoing, however minor or major we think it may be, has been done right.

earthsqueezed“But what about that time I did _____?” Yes, it’s taken care of. “What about all those years I did _____?” That, too. “What about those truly horrendous, life-shattering, despicable things I did?” Yes, absolutely, those too have been taken away. All our special sins, which are precious because we think we need to do our part to pay for them, are gone. God came along and snatched them away. And He won’t give them back. He gathered up all—and I mean, all—the transgressions of all the people who have ever lived, and who will ever live, and He put them on Jesus. This Son of God, who knew no sin, became all sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. All humanity shrunk down into this one man. It was as if a funnel was placed over Jesus, and God took the sinful world in His hand, and squeezed it over that funnel. Out oozed every single drop of iniquity, every imaginable horror that people have committed, every good deed they have left undone, and it filled from head to toe this Savior who loves us so. He drank it all in when He polished off the cup of judgement. And when He was done, when atonement was complete, He said so simply and so profoundly, “It is finished.” And He meant every word.

Your sin is finished. Your atonement is done. Your special sins are not your special sins. Jesus took them away. And He will never, ever give them back. And that, friends, is a truly precious promise.

If you’d like to read more reflections like this one, check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. If you’re looking for feel-good, saccharine devotional material, you’d better keep looking because you’re not going to find it here. If you’re looking for moralistic guides to the victorious Christian life, you’ll be thoroughly disappointed by all the Gospel in this book. But if you’re looking for reflections drenched in the Scriptures, focused through and through on the saving work of Jesus Christ, and guided by a law-and-Gospel approach to proclamation, then I daresay you’ll be pleased with this book. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

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15 thoughts on “Our Precious Sins We Don’t Want God to Forgive

  1. Josephine on said:

    Amen. I needed to hear that!

  2. Chad, the funnel illustration is absolutely brilliant!

  3. Karen Janssen on said:

    When does simple emotional pain (such as bereavement and loss) become a sin you are clinging to?

    • Not at all what he’s talking about. He’s referring to holding on to a sin for the explicit purpose of feeling the pain so we appear more repentant before God. He’s not saying you can’t feel pain, he’s saying our tendency to treat certain sins specially is actually backward. The letting Jesus take away our sins happens in the simplicity of Confession & Absolution.

    • Great, I misread your comment. Sorry, I inserted a “since” in front of the first word. Kinda changes the tone. This is why I often avoid commenting anywhere :S

    • Karen,
      Emotional pain is no sin. Nor can I see how it could become such. Out of that pain, however, can grow anger or resentment toward God, or even callousness toward hope.

  4. Chad: What is “moralistic guides to the victorious Christian life”?

    • There’s a swath of Christianity that believes that through continual betterment a believer can become so good or holy as to be victorious over all, or most, temptation. Any teaching or writing which perpetuates this idea by presenting the law as something sinners can actually keep is what I refer to as a moralistic guide, etc.

  5. Josephine Altovino on said:

    How true.  We do really need to let go and let God take care of things. How much better the world would be without that self punishment that pushes us down rather then lifting us up. Amen

  6. Annie on said:

    Very good, as usual. Your title, though, had me going in another direction until I had read the piece. I was thinking of the precious sins we don’t want God to forgive because we want to keep doing them. The “acceptable sins” such as bad temper, judgementalism, envy, pride, selfishness, lack of self-control, lust, bitter thoughts, etc. etc. That’s a topic for another time!

  7. Mitchell Hammonds on said:

    Chad it is this understanding of the “Gospel” that pulled me from Southern Baptist all the way to Lutheranism. Moralism is a “hack job” at best but from within it is only a facade. That’s the most frightening part.

  8. liviu v on said:

    Chad, you said that “he gathered up all the transgressions of all people who ever lived and will ever live and placed them on Christ” which leads us to the logical conclusion that hell is empty. If Christ bore on the cross all the transgressions of all people, it means that all people are declared righteous before God, aren’t they? How do you comment? Are you an universalist?

    • I do believe in a universal atonement, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. That leaves no one out. And I also believe that it is by grace we are saved, through faith. I wish hell were empty, but Scripture teaches that those who are condemned, are condemned not because Jesus did not atone for them, but because they refused to believe it (Mark 16:16).

      • Amen, Chad. I believe as you do. Perhaps I am a Lutheran and don’t know it 😉

      • liviu v on said:

        How can that be? Is the atonement of Christ validated by our faith? If yes, it means that ultimately, we are saved by ourselves.

        Just imagine that you owe 1 billion dollars to a bank and they are almost ready to put you in jail and torture you to recover their money. Let’s suppose that they are free masons and you hate them for that. Now let’s imagine that another rich free mason learns about your situation and out of compassion he writes a check to your creditor that covers your debt entirely and now your balance shows zero.
        You may hate the free mason who payed your debt, you may never find out who he was, but one thing is sure: you don’t owe anything to the bank and they stopped any action against you.

        So it is with Christ’s propitiation. If he indeed payed for all transgression
        s of all people, God should have nothing against anybody and therefore, hell is empty.

        Christ sacrifice then should cover Pharaoh’s hardness of heart, Judas’ apostasy and so on if what you say were true but if Christ atonement is dependent on our faith, then or faith is actually what saves us which also represents the soteriology of the popedom.

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