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.
We’d rather have the dark lining of disgrace than the silver cloud of grace.
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.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ excludes every hint of a do-it-yourself forgiveness.
Now that takes us to the heart of the issue. 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.
“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 truly a precious promise.