On the Sunday just gone at The Big Table, we talked about lust, divorce and oaths – a heady brew. It was the part of “The Sermon” where Jesus teaches us about living out the spirit of the law in areas of sexual purity, relational fidelity, and integrity. More than that, Sunday was about God’s grace to us in Jesus and His desire for us to seek his righteousness rather than trying to scrub up our own to acceptable levels.
The thrust of Jesus’ message on letter of law-keeping and spirit of law-keeping isn’t to condemn and convict us, but to show us the holiness of God and the beauty of His graceful invitation to enjoy his righteousness in exchange for our sin.
My experience, personal and otherwise, is that we can sometimes read God’s Word as though we’re compiling a school report. We award ourselves competent/not competent based on recent form. We congratulate ourselves on successful law-keeping and, in the areas where we see we’re falling short, we work even harder to spruce ourselves up so our behaviour is appropriately modified to receive a ‘competency’ award.
I call this un-sinning.
Un-sinning is essentially self-help. It is the process of behavioural modification that seeks to make us good and look good. It’s attempting to live a spotless life because, hey, I should, right?
Un-sinning may begin with a journey with Jesus, but at some point, subtly, we take a tangent from His grace. Viewed plainly, it’s not subtle at all, but it may have come about that way.
At some level, we know that our pursuits of self-righteousness are hopeless. We’d even be able to convince another person how worthless they are but, insidiously, they’re what we’re on about. That’s what un-sinning amounts to: pursuing self-righteousness.
Invariably, you’re in for a predictable shock (an oxymoron, for sure), because you are incapable of un-sinning and you will fail. (Sorry…if you’ve had a fault-free last 15 minutes, the outlook is not optimistic.)
Un-sinning is antithetical to Jesus’ desire for us to receive a righteousness that is greater than our sin. Un-sinning does not make you perfect, only Jesus does. You can’t un-sin for long, but Jesus’ righteousness is forever.
The other day, a friend mentioned that: “Christians these days are more conscious of their sinfulness then their righteousness”. That’s the product of pursuing un-sinning over Jesus’ righteousness — it corrupts our focus.
If we’re waiting for the sinning to stop before you come to Jesus, that moment will never come. Our incapability of making the sin stop is why Jesus came to us! In the moment of realising that our un-sinning gets us nowhere, we have a fresh opportunity to marvel all over again at the goodness of the Gospel that, through grace alone, reaches into our feeble and prolific attempts at self-righteousness, and does something altogether better.
Curiously, recognising that our failure to maintain right-standing with God on account of our self-righteousness disqualifies us, doesn’t move us further away from His Kingdom, it draws us near. A confession of our ‘helpless estate’ is the beginning of freedom in Christ.
Back to un-sinning (cause it’s so profitable for us!), 1 Corinthians 15:34 shows us the right order of things and, unsurprisingly, it’s all about Jesus:
Wake up to righteousness and stop sinning.
Because of Jesus, I am declared righteous. End of story. I am a righteous man, because of Jesus.
It’s enjoying, walking in, revelling in, abiding in Jesus’ righteousness that leads us into paths of righteousness. But the foundation is Jesus, not our un-sinning. It’s always Jesus.
There’s a stark contrast between waking up to Jesus’ righteousness and the consequent desire for holiness, and an attempt to un-sin with the hope that Jesus’ righteousness will come as a result.
Don’t assume that Jesus wants you to pursue sin. He never said that. He wants us to pursue Him and his righteousness that overwhelms our sin.
Paul writes at the end of Romans 5 into Romans 6: Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
Jesus doesn’t want us to run headlong into sin from exasperation that we can’t un-sin or because he’s grace has you covered, any more than you want your child to run into a car on the highway. Sin makes you stupid and makes you do stupid things. Rather, he wants us to enter into godly living for our own joy on two levels: our pursuit of holiness brings us into greater intimacy with Jesus, and walking in paths of righteousness is for our good.
At one point on Sunday morning, I tied someone up to our backyard trampoline with cable ties. It was an example of what Satan wants to do to us because of our sin. He wants us bound – He wants us to feel separated from God and crucify ourselves through our own actions. He wants us to feel guilt and condemnation and shame so that we’ll think there is no way back to God. Oftentimes, He wants you to use your sin to cause you to separate yourself from community as well. To estrange yourself from Jesus and other followers of Jesus.
To keep us stuck a lot longer, Satan wants you to think that the only way back to God is through your own efforts. By un-sinning. By loosening yourself from the chains of your own sin. It’s not possible. You may hurt yourself but you won’t free yourself. I know, I’ve tried.
In Jesus, God wants to do something altogether different. He wants to sever the ties that hold us captive by his grace. He wants to divest it of all its power so that you can go free.
God does not diminish his holiness to accept our brokenness, he puts Jesus in our place to be our righteousness.
Our brokenness is real. It dislocates us from God and puts enmity between us and God, and us and others. Our tendency can be to be flippant with our brokenness to make a case for our worthiness before God. But our worthiness comes from Christ alone. I’m thankful for that, it was never going to come from me.
We should never diminish our sinfulness in the light of God’s perfect holiness AND We should never elevate our sinfulness in the light of Jesus’ perfect righteousness.
Un-sinning will get you nowhere. Occasionally you’ll have a short-term win on your meaningless self-assessment. Jesus’ righteousness last an eternal lifetime.