a sermon for Desert Mission Anglican Church on March 5, 2017
Passage: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah” (Psalm 32:5, ESV)
Sometimes you just know it’s time for a change. I remember a time a few years ago when I was so overweight that it was painful for me to run. I had tried jogging as an exercise but I weighed too much and I was too weak for my joints to handle it…so I suffered a pretty rough knee injury. I realized then I needed a transformation in my life—a bodily transformation—in order to live the kind of active life that I knew was best for me. So, I took some concrete action. I started eating healthier. I began a sensible exercise plan and stuck to it. Little by little, the weight began to come off, and I got stronger. The first step on that journey of discipline, though, was recognizing my own need for change.
Today is the first Sunday in Lent, the Christian season of discipline, and we begin our sermon series walking down the path of transformation. And of course, we’re talking about a positive transformation. A transformation that brings us closer to what we were created to be. A transformation that brings us closer to God, and to one another. A transformation that makes us more like Jesus.
As with most big changes that we’d like to initiate in our lives, the transformation we’re talking about today has to begin with the acknowledgement that we need a change to begin with. Am I ever going to go to the gym if I don’t admit to myself that I need to lose weight and get stronger? Will I ever clean out the garage if I don’t admit that I don’t need any of that stuff I haven’t touched in years?
Will I ever be more like Jesus, if I don’t acknowledge the ways in which I am not like him?
Let me read the first five verses of Psalm 32 to you:
Psalm 32:1–5 (ESV)
1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
You see, this is why we need a change. This is why we need a transformation! When we go on about our lives with our sin, our mistakes, the things we should have done and did not do and things we did that we shouldn’t have done, and we just pretend like they don’t exist, we are crushed!
Have you ever made a mistake and pretended like it didn’t happen, and just kind of hoped that nobody would find out? Maybe you broke one of your spouses’ favorite things or something like that. But the more you kept it inside the guiltier you felt? This is the universal human condition!
We are all born with a propensity to sin. I don’t know about you, but no one had to teach me how to lie or steal or be selfish and irritable. I figured that stuff out all on my own. If we were mostly all oriented toward only thinking and doing good things, half the laws that govern our society would be unnecessary. But they are necessary, and remind us that we all have a problem not just with our behavior, but in our being.
When we pretend as if we haven’t sinned we are in effect saying, “I don’t need anyone to help me with the mess that I am or the mess that I’ve made, I can handle it myself!” The problem is that you can’t handle it yourself, because you don’t have the power to heal your own soul or anyone else’s.
The bible says we are dead in our trespasses…this isn’t exactly the same thing as me deciding to eat more vegetables.1 This is where the healthy choices analogy breaks down. If I’m dead, there’s not much I can do to get healthier on my own. Somebody’s got to bring me back to life first.
The more you deny your own brokenness apart from God, the more you head not toward a positive transformation, but toward a negative disintegration, physically and spiritually. Although we try to gloss over the depth of our issues, somewhere inside our guilt is growing because we know there is a standard out there to which we are not measuring up: the standard of God’s own character, his own holiness. It is as if his hand is heavy upon us.
We all desperately need a change, because we are all desperately broken without God. One prayer of confession in our Anglican tradition says “there is no health in us.” Another wording of the same prayer is, “there is no soundness in us.” The picture is of soundness or integrity of a ship’s hull. It’s not that we’re all just completely without things like a good character and intrinsic worth, but we’re all to different degrees sinking ships in the mire of sin.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that something amazing happens when you take that first step of acknowledging you need of transformation:
5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin…
Our sin is forgiven. This is the jolt back to life that we need! Remember what the Psalmist said in verse 1?
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
When we are forgiven, those holes in the sinking ships of our souls begin to be supernaturally repaired.
The theological term for this healing process we’re talking about is sanctification.
And it is a process, a process of being made holy. Of being reshaped into the very image of God. This re-shaping isn’t instantaneous; usually the Holy Spirit does this work in us over time. This is journey we take with God over the course of our lives, and this is why we’re framing this as a path of transformation, but it all starts with simply acknowledging our sin.2
How is this possible? This is what Paul getting at throughout the letter of Romans. In our New Testament lesson today we read that “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” (Romans 5:18, ESV).
You see, because of Adam sinned, all of us as descendants share in his sin nature. However, by simply acknowledging our sin and asking for forgiveness, we are adopted into God’s family, and we get a new nature!3 We are counted as his children, because we have stopped trying to fix the problem by ignoring it, and have accepted God’s free gift of healing in Jesus. Not only are we now considered God’s children, but the holy Spirit begins to really change us, inside and out, until we are just what we should be.
When Adam was tempted in the garden, he failed, and we all suffered as a result. When Jesus was tempted in the desert (we read it today), he triumphed. Because he was both a perfect human being, and fully divine, Jesus was able to take the disease of our sin on to himself on the cross, defeating even death itself. We know he was successful because God raised him from the dead and gave us his Holy Spirit.
The Bible speaks of us being washed in the blood of Jesus.4
Can you imagine with me the unsoundness of our souls not as fractures in a ship’s hull, but has tears in a vital organ? As gaping wounds we inflict on ourselves and others through our attitudes and actions? Now imagine the perfect blood of Jesus, covering those sins as the Psalmist said. Covering those wounds over, and healing them.
Our need for change, our need for forgiveness, means we need the precious blood of Christ, which he freely gave on the cross, and which he freely gives us at the Table.
What all this means for you is that real, lasting, transforming, and eternal change is possible.
Not only is it possible, but it is promised, if you just accept it! You don’t have to live under the crushing weight of guilt. Jesus has accomplished everything needed for you to be forgiven for your sin. This is called mercy. And more than simply forgiving your sins, he has sent his Holy Spirit to start renovating your soul. This is called grace.
The basic reality that we all need a change means that as a community, we’re in no place to be prideful. This is a community of repentance. We are free to welcome anyone and everyone just as they are, walking together as we follow Jesus on the path of transformation in the power of the Spirit.
Our witness as a church, as the Church, is to this mercy and grace of God in Christ, because this is what we have actually received.
Mercy and grace.
We have seen firsthand the transforming power of Jesus in hearts and lives, so we have Good News, a Gospel, to share with our friends, our families, and everyone.
Sometimes, it can be really hard to admit we need a change.
Especially when you’ve invested a lot in digging the hole you now find yourself trapped in. Maybe you’ve spent a lot of time developing a hobby or a passtime that’s just not God honoring. Or maybe you have a habit that’s unhealthy but it seems like a little thing now, but could have bigger consequences down the road. Maybe there’s a quote “bigger” sin that you haven’t acknowledged because you don’t want to admit failure to yourself or someone else. I get it.
The last thing I want to do when I’m short with my kids consistently every morning getting ready for school, or when I put off my devotions for a whole week, or when I find I just don’t have the time to help those in need around me, is admit that what I’m doing just isn’t working. The last thing I want to do is admit that it’s not my kids fault, or my schedule’s fault, but that I am at fault. I hate to think I am not as self-sufficient as I would like to think as a husband, father, and pastor. But the truth is that I’m not sufficient at all.
Only Jesus is sufficient, and the only way I’m going anywhere in this life or the next is draw from his sufficiency to make up for my deficiency.
I’ve found that the Bible is right about this, though (who would have thought?). The change that has to happen can’t begin until I’m willing concede the need for change no just in my behavior, but in my heart, and then open my heart to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit.
The call of Holy Lent is a call to repentance.
Repentance simply means to change your mind. This is the first change you and I need. I need a change of mind in many areas, and you need a change of mind too.
Let’s stop ignoring or glossing over or running from sin.
Acknowledge it. Admit it.
Admit you need a change that you can’t bring about yourself.
Admit you need help, so you can accept the help and healing that God is offering you today in Jesus Christ.
Repent, turn from your sin. Believe the Gospel of Jesus, receive forgiveness. You know he loves you just the way you are. Nothing you do can make him love you more…or less. Its because he loves you that he wants to heal your heart and your soul and ultimately your body. He loves you too much to leave you the way you are. Will you walk with Jesus down path of transformation? I think you should. Amen.
1 Col 2:13
2 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, ESV)
3 “he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,” (Ephesians 1:5–7, ESV)
4 “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7, ESV)