Years ago, I was chatting with a friend about praying, and he said something like: “it’s been so long since I prayed that if I was to pray now, God would probably respond ‘who is that?’” He was trying to be humorous but I think his response betrays something many of us feel when we choose a lifestyle at odds with God’s word. Sometimes, we tell ourselves: “I am too far gone, no one could forgive me and God certainly doesn’t want anything to do with me”. We believe the lie that we are irredeemable as we let ourselves sink lower and lower into whatever depravity is holding us captive.
I know what it’s like to be plagued by a restless conscience and haunted by shame and guilt. If you’ve ever been convicted by biblical teaching, confronted by a friend or plagued by your conscience as I was, you know it’s almost impossible to be at peace with yourself until you deal with your sin. When I was there, I avoided silence and introspection and sought ways to numb my conscience. I also saw others either obstinately refuse to change or succumb to hopelessness because they felt powerless to effect any change. These aren’t the only options available; we don’t have to surrender to ungodliness and a rebellious lifestyle. Last week, I wrote a pretty hard post about rebellion. I make no apologies for it because if God takes rebellion seriously, so should we. However, that’s not the full story.
I would certainly struggle to remain a Christian if I didn’t know that Jesus knows what it’s like to be human and understands our foibles. In the letter to the Hebrews, the author simultaneously acknowledges our weaknesses and holds out a promise for help: “Therefore, since we have a great High Priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” [Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV]. If we’re bringing our shame before God, we would rather receive grace and mercy instead of judgement and condemnation. Nevertheless, we must be willing to bring our shame before God and ask for His help.
Society often judges us by our struggles and shames us for our shortcomings. This can make coming clean and repenting of our rebellion difficult. Often, we hide our sin because we don’t want others to think less of us when our failings become evident. Sometimes we struggle with repentance, especially if our sin is deemed ok by the culture because repenting would put us at cross-purposes with the rest of society. Therefore, we let our reputation, peer pressure or public opinion compel us to choose the path of least resistance which Jesus warned us about [John 12:25]. If we are to break free from our depravity, we need to be courageous enough to choose the road less travelled.
That passage in Hebrews tells me that Jesus faced every temptation and struggle I could ever face. So, He knows what it’s like to be me, and He wants to help. Some of us can hide our shame with fame, wealth, power, a duplicitous personality and so on, but some people can’t. The Bible details an example of someone who couldn’t hide his shame encountering Jesus in Mark’s gospel. As Jesus was ministering in Galilee, a leper approached Him [Mark 1:40-45]. Under the Mosaic law, someone with a suspected case of leprosy was to be isolated for at least 7 days [Leviticus 13]. If it’s a confirmed case, the leper was to wear torn clothes and a face mask, leave their hair unkempt and whenever they were in public, shout “unclean! unclean!”. A leper was someone who lived under considerable public shame. Sometimes, our depravity may not be so obvious but our shame is just as real. We may successfully hide it from others, but we know it and God sees it too.
This leper, unwilling to remain in his situation, reached out to Jesus and said: “if you are willing, you can make me clean”. Jesus, full of compassion, responded:” I am willing, be clean” and the disease was cured instantly. I wonder what the leprosy is in your life. Is there something holding you captive and suffocating you with shame? Are you desperate enough to push past your reputation, peer pressure and public opinion or any other reservation to get to Jesus? We don’t know how long this man had been a leper before he met Jesus. He could have resigned himself to his fate and either succumbed to hopelessness or obstinate resentment. Instead, he chose the option available to all of us.
Jesus sees us as we are, foibles and all [Genesis 16:13]. However, instead of condemning and rejecting us, He invites us to come to Him so that He can transform us into whom He intended us to become. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous, He came for the rebellious [Luke 5:31-32]. He didn’t come to judge us, but to offer us grace and salvation, free of charge [Titus 2:11-14]. Therefore, just like the leper, you and I have a choice to make. Stay as you are or bring your depravity to Jesus. Remain a slave or become free and live an abundant life, not just now but for all eternity.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. [John 3:17 NIV]