The Ugly Truth Will Set You Free

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

– 1 John 1:8-9

It’s a rare person who is foolish enough to say that they are perfect.  Nearly everyone will admit that we’re all human and we all make mistakes.  Yet at the same time, we all believe that deep down we’re good people.

One thing that makes this believable is that we know how to compare ourselves favorably. My Sunday School boys tell me how good they are at basketball and how they can beat my son. Well my son is three, so I tell them that’s not saying much. Somehow when it comes to our character and faith, we always compare our best to other people’s worst. We proudly say that we’re better than a murderer or a drug dealer and if all else fails we can always compare favorably with Hitler.

Another reason we are tempted to believe in our own goodness is that we are experts at self-deception. Have you ever met an angry person? The last person to know that he’s angry is always the angry person himself. We know how to play this game. We don’t hate anyone but there are people we’d just rather not speak to ever again. We’re not greedy or envious, we just want to be financially secure.

But God is not deceived by any of this. He is light itself and in Him is no darkness at all. His light exposes darkness! So John is pleading with us, don’t be deceived! The lie is tempting. It feels good to think we’re better than others. It’s painful to face what’s really in our hearts. It’s tempting to believe the lie and avoid the pain, but this does not lead to real joy or real life.

It’s only when we acknowledge and confess our sins that we are free! When we downplay our sin before God and others, relationship is impossible because we have to lie. If we claim to have no sin or if we always excuse our sin, we have to try to deceive each other and God. But if we confess our sin – not that we are sinners generally, but that we love specific things more than Jesus, that we are willing to hurt others to get what we want, that today and not just in our former life that we like our sin – then He’ll forgive us! Jesus can wipe away our sin and make us clean, but He comes only for the sick.

To live in lies is tempting but this only leads to slavery. The truth – no matter how ugly – is what sets us free.

The Pursuing Father

Kenneth E. Bailey

[11] And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. [12] And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. [13] Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. [14] And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. [15] So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. [16] And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

[17] “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! [18] I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. [19] I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ [20] And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. [21] And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ [22] But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. [23] And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. [24] For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

– Luke 15:11-24

The prepared confession reads, “I have sinned against heaven and before you,” and this is (understandably) usually seen to indicate heartfelt response. Jesus’ audience, however, is composed of Pharisees who knew the Scriptures well. They recognize that confession as a quotation from the pharaoh when he tries to manipulate Moses into lifting the plagues. After the ninth plague, Pharaoh finally agrees to meet Moses, and when Moses appears, Pharaoh gives this same speech. Everyone knows that Pharaoh is not repenting. He is simply trying to bend Moses to his will.

The Prodigal is best understood as attempting the same.

Having failed to get a paying job in the far country, he will try to get his father’s backing to become gainfully employed near home. He will yet save himself through the law. No grace is necessary. He can manage – or so he thinks!  But is the lost money the real problem?

He thinks that if he can only recover the lost money, everything will eventually be solved. In the interim, he will be able to eat, and once the money is returned, the village will accept him back. He does not consider the father’s broken heart and the agony of rejected love that his father has endured. While talking to himself in the far rem3259-1000x1000country he evidences no shame or remorse. If he is a servant standing before a master, his plan is somehow adequate. If he is a son dealing with a compassionate and loving father, his projected solution is inadequate.

The father does not demonstrate love in response to his son’s confession. Rather, out of his own compassion he empties himself, assumes the form of a servant, and runs to reconcile his estranged son.

The boy is totally surprised. Overwhelmed, he can only offer the first part of his prepared speech, which now takes on a new meaning. He declares that he has sinned and that he is unworthy to be called a son. He admits (by omitting the third phrase) that he has no bright ideas for mending their relationship. He is no longer “working” his father for additional advantages. The father does not “interrupt” his younger son. Instead, the Prodigal changes his mind, and in a moment of genuine repentance, accepts to be found.

The Pharisees complain, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus replies with this story, which in effect says, “Indeed, I do eat with sinners. But it is much worse than you imagine! I do not only eat with them, I run down the road, shower them with kisses, and drag them in that I might eat with them!”

Link: Complete Article

Attrition or Contrition

Does Prayer Change Things?
R. C. Sproul

We can distinguish between two kinds of repentance: attrition and contrition. Attrition is counterfeit repentance, which never qualifies us for forgiveness. It is like the repentance of a child who is caught in the act of disobeying his mother and cries out, “Mommy, Mommy, I’m sorry, please don’t spank me.” Attrition is repentance motivated strictly by a fear of punishment. The sinner confesses his sin to God, not out of genuine remorse but out of a desire to secure a ticket out of hell. True repentance reflects contrition, a godly remorse for offending God. Here the sinner mourns his sin, not for the loss of reward or for the threat of judgment, but because he has done injury to the honor of God.

The Long Road to Forgiveness

Kim Phuc
from NPR’s This I Believe

On June 8, 1972, I ran out from Cao Dai temple in my village, Trang Bang, South Vietnam; I saw an airplane getting lower and then four bombs falling down. I saw fire everywhere around me. Then I saw the fire over my body, especially on my left arm. My clothes had been burned off by fire.

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I was 9 years old but I still remember my thoughts at that moment: I would be ugly and people would treat me in a different way. My picture was taken in that moment on Road No. 1 from Saigon to Phnom Penh. After a soldier gave me some drink and poured water over my body, I lost my consciousness.

Several days after, I realized that I was in the hospital, where I spent 14 months and had 17 operations.

It was a very difficult time for me when I went home from the hospital. Our house was destroyed; we lost everything and we just survived day by day.

Although I suffered from pain, itching and headaches all the time, the long hospital stay made me dream to become a doctor. But my studies were cut short by the local government. They wanted me as a symbol of the state. I could not go to school anymore.

The anger inside me was like a hatred as high as a mountain. I hated my life. I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal. I really wanted to die many times.

I spent my daytime in the library to read a lot of religious books to find a purpose for my life. One of the books that I read was the Holy Bible.

In Christmas 1982, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. It was an amazing turning point in my life. God helped me to learn to forgive — the most difficult of all lessons. It didn’t happen in a day and it wasn’t easy. But I finally got it.

Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed.

Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope and forgiveness.

Dining with Real Sinners

The Ragamuffin Gospel
Brennan Manning

jesus-eats-with-sinners[10] And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. [11] And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” [12] But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. [13] Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

– Matthew 9:10-13

At the cross, Jesus unmasks the sinner not only as a beggar but as a criminal before God.

The sinners to whom Jesus directed His messianic ministry were not those who skipped morning devotions or Sunday church.  His ministry was to those whom society considered real sinners.  They had done nothing to merit salvation.  Yet they opened themselves to the gift that was offered them.  On the other hand, the self-righteous placed their trust in the works of the Law and closed their hearts to the message of grace.

If Jesus appeared at your dining room table tonight with knowledge of everything you are and are not, total comprehension of your life story and every skeleton hidden in your closet; if He laid out the real state of your present discipleship with the hidden agenda, the mixed motives, and the dark desires buried in your psyche, you would feel His acceptance and forgiveness.  For “experiencing God’s love in Jesus Christ means experiencing that one has been unreservedly accepted, approved and infinitely loved, that one can and should accept oneself and one’s neighbor.  Salvation is joy in God which expresses itself in joy in and with one’s neighbor” [Walter Kasper].