We’re all supposed to believe that God forgives us. And, sure, intellectually, we do. But, for a lot of us, that just isn’t how we feel.
Truth is, we don’t feel forgiven. We don’t feel “free”. No, for a lot of us, we feel dirty, used-up, and out of second chances. We might know that isn’t true, but that knowledge doesn’t change the feeling.
If you feel that way, this is for you.
There’s an amazing moment in the Bible where Jesus comes face-to-face with a woman caught in the act of sinning. And, I’m talking about big old embarrassing sexual sin, the kind you hope nobody ever finds out about.
Jesus says two things to this woman. First, he says, “I do not condemn you.” Second, he says, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (You can read the whole story in John chapter 8.)
Now, the first one - I don’t condemn you - that sounds about right. I mean, Jesus is supposed to forgive people, so, that makes sense.
But let’s look at that second one. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
If you asked most people what it means to leave a “life of sin”, they’d say, “Simple! Stop doing bad stuff!” But I’m not sure that’s exactly it.
See, sin, at its core, is about selfishness. It’s a focus on me, and what I think might satisfy me at any given moment, regardless of anybody else. By contrast, a life driven by God’s Spirit is a life focused on God, what God wants, and what God is doing. (For more on this, check out the book of Galatians, and especially chapter 5.)
So, then, if our hearts and thoughts are consumed with beating up on ourselves for past sins, and trying to grit our teeth and whip ourselves to resist present temptations, sin is still the thing at the center of our lives. We’re focused on our jacked-up mess, and what the heck is wrong with us, and how terrible we are.
Here’s what the Bible says about that:
"Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored." (Romans 8:8, MSG)
Whoa. That does not sound good. Ok. So, what do we do instead?
We recognize that leaving a life of sin is about, well, leaving a life of sin. It’s about putting something else at the center of our thoughts and energies. It’s about having a life driven by something other than the draw and repulsion of sin.
If you want to leave your life of sin, I’ve got two suggestions for you.
First, don’t wait around for your emotions to agree with what God is telling you. He says you stand forgiven, and you do. Waiting for 100% buy-in from your feelings…that’s a very long wait.
Second, take the focus off of yourself, and put it onto loving other people.
It sounds funny to say it out loud, but, people who are hurting, people who are going through a rough time, they don’t care what you’ve done in your past. The lonely kid in class who cuts himself? If you’re willing to talk to him and be a friend, he’s not going to double check the last time you looked at porn before accepting your company. The homeless guy at the soup kitchen who hasn’t eaten in three days? He couldn’t care less if you went too far physically with your last boyfriend. It just doesn’t matter.
And when you start to focus on loving other people, instead of obsessing over your sins, you’ll begin to realize, for yourself, that the sins don’t matter in the way you thought they did. Sure, they were wrong. Yes, we want to work on not doing them. But they don’t define you. They don’t tell you who you are. And they don’t tell you what your life is about.
Beloved, leave your life of sin. Leave your life of guilt and shame and introspection and obsession. Jesus has a real life he wants to give you – a life following Him, a life serving others – and, I promise, it’s absolutely amazing.