It feels like it’s easy to fall into one of two extremes with our feelings toward sin. On the one hand, we can easily discount it. Instead of grievous offenses against a holy God, our sin becomes “bad habits” or “quirks.” We excuse and ignore the ways we fall short of His perfect standards, and we set ourselves up as judge, always letting ourselves off easy. We find it easy to forget the ways we have sinned, in thought, word, and deed, in what we have done and left undone. Fortunately, there are a lot of people talking about this tendency. You don’t have to look far to find an author, speaker, or church leader calling us to repentance and sorrow over our sin, which is a necessary part of the Christian response.
The other extreme is less discussed, however - when we border on obsession over sin. We feel bad if we don’t have a recurrent sense of guilt. We rehearse our wrongdoings, reiterating the depraved levels of our vile, evil hearts.
All of this becomes an emotional form of self-flagellation. There may not be physical whips ripping open our skin, but our psychological whips lash at our hearts and minds. Instead of discounting the grievousness of sin (extreme #1), we discount the power of forgiveness. The point of our confession and repentance of sin isn’t to beat ourselves up. It’s to check our hearts, in order to turn them back toward the God whose love and forgiveness are ever turned toward us. Because of this blessed reality, we’re to “repent and get on with it”:
“It's as if sin is an obstacle, something to get out of the way so the good stuff, the real stuff, can arrive. It's as if Jesus is reminding me to yes, pay attention to my sin, but only in order to get it out of the way, only in order to move it aside and make room for the glorious beautiful goodness to follow, only in order to ask for the help I need to be forgiven and heal.”
- Amy Julia Becker, “Repent and Get On With It,” Christianity Today
Let’s say I hurt a friend of mine. After I seek her forgiveness, it doesn’t help our relationship if I continue to obsess over my own misdeeds and faults and tell her again and again that I am a horrible person, undeserving of love, not worthy of forgiveness. This actually puts a barrier in the way of our relationship, blocking genuine reconciliation and love, just as proudly refusing to acknowledge wrongdoing would do.
So it is with the Lord. After we confess and repent, we have no need to dredge up the same past sins again and again. We enter into the blessed space of forgiveness and grace. We humble ourselves enough to let God love us and receive His welcome instead of screaming against Him of our unworthiness. "Repent. Get on with it." Repeat as necessary.
“Our confession highlights the wonder of the goodness and mercy of God. When we come to confession, we meet not our Judge, but our Healer. In faith we turn from self-absorption, self-preoccupation, pride, and self-reliance. We joyfully receive the forgiveness of God, by which the Spirit empowers us to turn from sin and to live in the light…
For mature Christians, confession becomes less a matter of identifying particular sins or thoughts and more and more a realization that we are ‘prone to wander,’ as the hymn writer has put it, prone to become occupied with ourselves, self-reliant rather than dependent on the grace of God.
Finally, through confession our lives are anchored in the joy and peace that are gifts of the Spirit; we live under God’s mercy, knowing the joy of abiding in his forgiveness.”
- Gordon T. Smith in Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (emphasis mine)
So, repent, sorrow over your sin, confess to the Lord the ways you've fallen short and set yourself up in His place - but then run into the wide open fields of His forgiveness and grace.