Who among us hasn’t pretended to be better than we are? Imposter syndrome is real because we are all, to some extent, imposters. We sit up straighter, say the affirmations, and try to trick our brains into believing we are who we wish we were. We even have a saying for it: “fake it ‘till you make it.”
The best liars, the most effective manipulators, lie first to themselves. As it often happens, sin hurts us, either our own sin or the sin of another upon our lives. The pain of sin is overwhelming - like a branding - leaving us flailing to make sense of it, calm it, or subdue it in some way.
So we tell ourselves things to try to make sense of it. We pass the blame, try to pass it off as a simple accident, or tell ourselves how necessary it was to sin. We had no choice.
There’s a new term for perpetuating these lies about our sin upon the victim of our sin: gaslighting. We try to convince people we hurt that it really wasn’t that bad. It was really their fault. They made us do it. It’s the act of twisting the truth until the person you sinned against starts to feel insane and questions what really happened.
But sin is like a death, and like the pain of grief, the more we try to shove it down, the more obstinate it gets.
Years ago, an older friend listened to me talk about my struggle to know what exactly to pray for my children in any given situation. “Pray they can tell the difference between truth and lies,” she said. Her words have stuck with me now for over a decade as I’ve started to pray that over my own life as well.
Being able to tell the difference between truth and lies is at the core of repentance.
The Apostle John often starts his books by referring to the beginning of the Scriptures. John 1 says, “In the beginning…” 1 John 1 says, “That which was from the beginning…” In both, he’s talking about the Garden of Eden.
In the Garden, Adam and Eve went and hid when they had sinned. They ran to the cover of darkness. Darkness appeared safer to them than the light. The trauma of sin usually involves shame, horror, generally freaking out.
God was walking through the Garden and called to them. He called them to the light. He called them to expose what they had done. As they flailed about with their reasoning and blame-shifting and rationalizing, God stands in the light and speaks the truth.
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7.
What does it mean to walk in the light? Often when I’m teaching a Bible study on a passage, I’ll have people read the verse with “wrong answers only.” We speak aloud what the verse isn’t saying. We speak the lies our brain often fills in, so we can call them out for the lies they are.
“But if we are perfect, as he is perfect, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” That is incorrect.
“But if we get our act together, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” It doesn’t say that either.
“But if we do good works, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” Good works would also be a wrong answer here.
The correct reading of this passage is “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light…”
Walking in the light means walking exposed. It means walking honestly. It means not faking anything. It means walking in confession, saying what is true, even though it makes you look bad. It means you let go of what you wish people would think about you and admit what you really are right now.
Walking in the light is painful for people like me who get caught up in people-pleasing and caring what people think. It’s painful, but it’s also healing and cleansing.
There is an old novel called The Scarlet Letter where an unmarried woman, Hester, gets pregnant. She wears a bright red “A” for adultery stitched on her clothing, so everyone knows what she did and who she is. She learns to live a life exposed to the truth. However, the father of the child never exposes who he is. He is the pastor of the community, so he hides out of fear that speaking the truth of his sin will cause him to lose his ministry and influence. Throughout the book, his sin eats away at him, making him sick, consuming him and his ministry. He found death staying in the darkness. Yet the Hester finds healing by walking in the light.
Sin cannot be undone. Hester’s sin of premarital sex could not be reversed, but her baby was born and became a sign of her healing. In not claiming the child, the pastor was only able to look at the child, the beautiful sign of healing, but not partake in this healing, as it would require him to reveal his sin.
We often associate repentance with “fixing” something. But nothing can be fixed if it remains a lie. It can only be fixed by calling something what it is. Isn’t naming things the work given to Adam? To name something correctly is to speak truth and walk in truth.
You cannot walk in truth and pretend you’re fine when you’re not fine. You cannot put on a pious act to cleanse yourself from sin. Your works will not cover your sin. We are not able to balance our good works with our sin.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Speaking truth also means that we don’t have the capacity to cleanse ourselves from sin or cleanse other people from their sins. If we are being honest, we will look outside of ourselves for our healing and stop trying to fix ourselves.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Repentance is realigning to truth. It’s dropping the act. It’s acknowledging that we are sinners in need of grace.
But God is faithful to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
God is also just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
God does not abandon justice to forgive us. He doesn’t look at those we have sinned against, shrug his shoulders and say, “well, I forgave them, so you need to just get over it too.”
No, God in his justice uses “the blood of Jesus his Son [to cleanse] us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Sin does not go unpunished. God’s Son took the punishment for us. That is the only way this forgiveness, this cleansing, is just. The debt has been paid. Not only do we get to bring the pain of our sin to God, but we get to bring our sinned-against pain to God. He leaves no debt unpaid. He not only provides forgiveness to each and every one of us, but he provides the grace for us to forgive one another.