We don’t talk about sin enough, and I’ll tell you why. It’s easy for all of us, pastors included, to be lulled into seeing sin through a worldly lens. We develop categories, public and private, acceptable and unacceptable, big and small. The problem is not that these categories are all wrong. It’s that they cause us to forget what God says about sin; “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
We all know that certain sins get rewarded in our culture. We’re all tempted to toe the line of what’s acceptable and what’s not. Publicity often has more sway over our repentance than the sin itself. Adultery is something that confronts you publicly. The lust that led up to it is a sin you deal with privately. If we put it this starkly, it’s obvious this is not what God calls us to. So why is it such an easy myth to believe? It’s much easier to believe that we just need a boost than it is to believe we need a total resurrection. A few weeks ago, I preached on the woman at the well in John 4. She was one of those people who committed the ugly sins. She was not well-respected. She was not given a pass. She was not someone other people gave the benefit of the doubt. No, in today’s terms, we would call her a homewrecker. She had angered other people with her sins. Though some people are applauded for what they do wrong, she was rejected. She reorganized her life based on the fact that she had no honor, no friends, and no way out. And that’s precisely the moment she met Jesus. The same thing is true with the man possessed by the demon in Mark 5. Demon possession is not exactly one of the upwardly mobile sins. He wasn’t promoted for his violent outbursts or imitated for his aggression. Instead, he was cast away, chained up, and left for dead. Mark tells us he resettled among the tombs, crying out in agony and despair. Right in the middle of his hopelessness, he met Jesus. No matter how we dress it up, how we’ve profited from our own wrongdoing, whether we’ve hit rock bottom in the eyes of the world, this is our story too. We didn’t meet Jesus on our own terms; we encountered him in spite of ourselves. Our stories all follow the tune of the old hymn, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” As we see in both of these stories, this is what it takes to be redeemed.
This is the pattern we see in the gospels repeatedly. No one is too far gone. No one has out-sinned Jesus’s willingness to forgive. The only thing more powerful than our sin is the life-giving, sin-cleansing grace of God. There is no sin too big.
But we can’t stop here. When Jesus encounters people in the Gospels, he does not leave them at confession. When he speaks with the woman at the well, he’s not conducting a cathartic therapy session; he calls her to new life. When the man who was possessed by the demon tries to get back on the boat with Jesus and the disciples, Jesus turns him around and gives him a mission – to go tell of all the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.
As the hymn continues, “Naked, come to Thee for dress, helpless, look to Thee for grace.”
God is a clothing God. We’re reminded of how God dealt with sin back in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve realized they were naked (a vivid picture of conviction over sin), they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. When God approaches, he doesn’t mince words about their sin. He removes them from the Garden of Eden, but he also does something else. God takes the skins of animals and gives them clothes to wear. What a picture of God’s mercy! There is no tender act of mercy too small for the child of God.
The goal of repentance is restoration.
We’re being reunited with God through Jesus Christ. We don’t stop after we’ve repented. We step forward into God’s plans for us, clothed in his mercy and grace.
I love the way Richard Lovelace describes our life in Christ: “True spirituality is not a superhuman religiosity; it is simply true humanity released from the bondage to sin and renewed by the Holy Spirit” (1).
If you’re a Christian, this is God’s will for you, that you might be restored to him, empowered to live free from the bondage of your own sin, and free to follow wherever the Spirit guides you.
When you understand that, you start to see that there’s no sin too big for God, and there’s no act of mercy too small.
(1) Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, 19.
Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak and the Senior Pastor of Carlton Landing Community Church in Oklahoma.