It's easy to become habituated to sin. It comes naturally, after all. The power and pressure of sin on us, from conception to the grave, is immense. That's why we struggle to differentiate sin from sin. "Maybe," we imagine, "if I can just stop lying to my spouse about going out for drinks after work, and dedicate myself to being a better parent, and..." We wrongly believe that we're sinners because we sin, but that's not the case. We sin because we're sinners. As St. Paul writes in Romans 7, the power of sin is so incomprehensible that even if we could count up the sins we're aware of, the sins we're not aware of so much more damnable they actually kill us.
So what can we do? If, as St. Paul writes in Romans 7, we aren't even aware of the degree to which we rebel against God's will, what can we do to free ourselves from this sin-dead body? The short answer is, nothing. We can't do anything to free ourselves from our sinful condition. And, the more we strive to differentiate sins, so that we can at least do our best to show God we're committed to living a life of repentance and self-improvement, we're multiplying sin to the point where our sin cannot be measured. We sin because we're sinners. That's the way of it for us. There's no getting out of it, no changing course, no personal renovation that will inch us one step closer to the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Instead, as St. Paul writes in Romans 8, it's all the work of God's Spirit for us. He works to free us from our sin-dead body. First, by washing us clean in the waters of baptism. We are baptized into Christ's death for us, so that just as Christ Jesus was raised from the dead to the glory of God the Father we too may walk as new man. Second, he reveals to us the abysmal depths to which sin has drug us. And yet, even in the abyss God is there, greeting us like Jesus saying, "Hello!", and, "Good morning!" to the disciples he meets on the road following his resurrection. Finally, God's Spirit delivers the Good News, that the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
Even though we're daily crushed by sin, we're likewise daily drowned in baptismal grace. Every day we reenact the Fall and every day the Holy Spirit restores us to a right relation with our heavenly Father All done for us, in us, and through us by God's Spirit. All on account of Christ with no worthiness or merit in us. All gift freely given to us because "those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Romans 8:29-30).
Our identity isn't "sinner." Not now. Now it's "child of God" on account of the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. We may see the world going to hell, and we may even see ourselves gong to hell along with it, but that's not our fate. The judgment has been announced: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." The justification has been declared, "Father, forgive them, because they don't know what they're doing." Christ Jesus has done it all for us. All our sin piled onto him at Golgotha. All our sin buried in a tomb outside Jerusalem. And now, all our forgiveness, life, and salvation given to us through our relation to Christ Jesus our Savior.
So, then, when we're crushed by the knowledge of even a crumb of our sin, when our conscience is weighed down by our selfish, self-serving, "me-first" attitude, when everything feels like it's gone to hell and we're leading the march, look at the cross. Look to the Christ whom God made to become sin who knew no sin that we may be the righteousness of God. All this through the shed blood of Savior Jesus, because we are covered head to toe forever in the precious blood of Christ.
Now, we don't cling to sin, revel in sin, or celebrate sin, and we don't even wallow in sin. Instead we recognize that all we know, and speak, and feel about sin points us to the One who died for the sin or the world, every sin, everywhere, one time for all time. We look at Calvary. We look at Jesus' nail-pierced hands and feet. We stare at the blood and water as it pours out of his side. We fix our eyes on the cross and there we receive the greatest gift ever given. The word of the cross which announces to us, "Be at peace, child of God. Behold, your sin is put to death, but yet you will live." The power and pressure of sin may be more than we can comprehend, but the love of God which keeps us safe in Christ Jesus has overcome our sin. And this knowledge, the Psalmist declares, "such knowledge is too wonderful for me, I cannot even apprehend it."
Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'. He is pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church in Webster, MN. A graduate of Concordia Universities in St. Paul, Minnesota and Portland, Oregon, Pastor Riley received his seminary and post-graduate education at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He colloquized into the LC-MS from the ELCA in 2008. He is married to Annie, and is the father of four children: Owen, Alma, Hoshea, and Hallel.