Forgiveness At Every Level

BY DOMINICK SANTORE

Whatever level of sin you're rummaging around in, forgiveness and grace is yours.

I really could stop right there, and most Christians would get the point, but as I've said before this topic hits home for me, and its important for me to be reminded that whatever I've done, if Christ is my hope, there is truly no condemnation that can overwhelm you, and leave you unforgiven and unrestored. This is not a green light to sin with reckless abandon, and we know the Bible nowhere encourages that. Being both sinful and justified means we don't revel in our guilt and shame, but trust in the forgiveness of God, through the finished work of Christ. We trust God as we turn to Him in repentance and faith, which we all need to do regularly, and I stand unashamed at the front of the line. I feel the need to express these things because of the different levels of sin that exist. The ones that we may excuse away because they're so small, or the others which make us feel so guilty that we think forgiveness is beyond God's ability or maybe desire. Below are examples of those levels:

Level 1

Sin is alive and well in my mind. Though I war against it, part of it (and me) is wishing I would surrender to it, and make it a reality. I'd like to say it stays neatly tucked away in the corner of my mind, but a better description is, an exploded can of soda. I do my best to clean the mess, but there's residue everywhere. I hate to think these thoughts, but there is also a part of me, the sinful nature, that welcomes it in some horrible way. I try to compartmentalized it and make it obey, but like an untrained dog that just wont stay, it runs into the living room, rolls around on the sofa and pees everywhere. It reminds me that even with my best efforts, the stains remain.

And yet, forgiveness is available.

Though the sin right now is trapped behind the steel bars of the mind, it is no less serious, and no less a sin. But Christ has paid for it. Every stray thought you've had, will have, and even the ones you've yet to have, is hanging on that cross, where it is crucified forever. It amazes me how big that cross is that it can fit every new post-it note of sin.

Level 2

From the mind of a rebel, to the deeds nearly enacted. Yes, you've gone there...ALMOST! Whatever it is, you've come way too close, because you've already gone past it in your head. Whether cursing out a boss, looking at porn, cheating on a spouse, it all develops there in your mind. Now, whatever your reasoning, you're formulating a plan to bring it to fruition, or at least you're giving yourself the power to see it through. In your mind, no one loves you, no one respects you, no one cares for you. If that's the case, I'll just go where someone does care, and if anyone gets in my way, tough! Though most are afraid to admit it, we've all been at a point where the dance in our mind has moved way too close to reality. You begin to wonder about how much better you'll feel if you just do it. It doesn't matter if you know it won't last. You just want to do something that feels good, and just as your about to plant a foot, maybe its even after that second step...

Something stops you.

That war is still there. Two sides still fighting and wrestling for control. This is not the sinful cravings of a totally wretched man, completely bankrupt to his sin. It is also the nature of God residing in you, resisting the temptations to put your sinful inclinations through their physical paces. You are saved, the Holy Spirit is your helper, Christ is your advocate, Heaven is your destination. Though in moments like this you don't "feel" very saved.

And yet, forgiveness is available. 

That wrestling with the flesh is part of the Christian life, though some may say different. Find hope in that. Find strength in knowing that something outside of yourself is raising flags, stopping you just shy of action. You have hope because you wrestle. Christ knows you do, he is the reason you fight again the desperate urges of the flesh. As a result, you stop just shy of acting in the flesh. You stop at the first site on the internet, and turn off the computer. You apologize to your boss for the attitude leading up to that day, the day you were about to tell him off. You leave the hotel room with your clothes still on. Broken and humbled by how far you went, but also oddly encouraged by God's conviction that rose up in you in that very moment. It's something to rejoice in. It's not because of the restraint you've displayed, but God's forgiveness and kindness, that leads you towards repentance as you pray for greater strength for the journey ahead.

Level 3

You're past the point of no return. You've jeopardized your job with your behavior and you're thisclose to being fired, or maybe you've already been let go because you couldn't hold your temper. Your surfing the net at home in the wee hours of the night, given over to the fantasies that are spread out across the internet, and its damaged your relationship with your family. Maybe you dove right in and tasted the fruit of companionship outside of your marriage and as a result it's over. Whatever the situation, you've gone over the edge. Maybe all the people in your world know what you've done. Maybe as a result your life is in shambles because of it. Maybe you know all this, and how wrong you've been through it all. Maybe dear Christian, though no one may believe it, you wrestled hard for a long time, but life, the devil, your own desires, or some combination of all three were too much to overcome.

Sin always comes with repercussions, sometimes in this world, sometimes in the next. What you've done has wrecked this current life and you know it. What can you do? There is no easy answer, but there is one truth that resounds through it all.

Forgiveness is still available.

This is so important to know in this moment. This is the place in our lives where we don't think we can recover any relationships, physical or spiritual. This is the moment that we wish we could throw it all back like Judas, but we'd still wish we could hang ourselves because the guilt is too great to bear. It's a place where we may have to live with the actual results of our poor choices. Despite that, Forgiveness is yours. God is grading you on the best curve of all, Christ Jesus. Jesus, who won every battle, and passed every test. For every one of our failures, Christ has won the victory at the cross. You have been given Christ's victory even as he takes your failures.

As cliché as it sounds, you cannot out-sin the forgiveness of God. The only thing you can do is reject it. It is so hard in those moments. We've all had moments where we think we went past the point of no return. It may have been in that initial call of God when He first planted faith in us. It may have come later in our ongoing struggles. It may simply be in the arena of our mind. None of us are immune to the effects of sin, whatever level we are on. None of us grow past the need to hear about the grace God gives us in Christ, in the cross, and in his resurrection.

From the least sin to the worst, forgiveness is yours, please consider these things and embrace it...

I speak from the experience of failing and have seen God strengthen me through it all. Though I still fail at times, my rest and hope is in Him for each victory and for every failure.

A theological misfit landing in the area of Lutheranism, Dominick has come to deeply appreciate the truth of scripture as defined by the distinction between Law and Gospel. He has found freedom in knowing that Christ is his substitute on even his worst days. He has been for the course of his church life everything from chair-stacker to men's ministry leader. He is blessed with a wonderful wife and two great young men, which he can say without a doubt, he doesn't deserve. He counts among his favorite things: Star Trek, classic superhero comics, movies, Yankees and yes, he admits to it, the Knicks. He enjoys a good conversation and good food. Finally, he is grateful for the opportunity to share the message of God's Grace among all these great teachers, pastors and theologians and hopes he doesn't mess up big time. But then again, that's what grace is for, right?

Twitter: @adefeatedvictor