Against thee only have I sinned and done that which is evil in thy sight…(Ps. Li. 4)
Ultimately when we sin we rebel against God. Even when we sin against our neighbors, we are sinning against God because they are His craftsmanship and work and deserving of our righteous respect. At the end of the day, whether we sin against others or ourselves, we shall have to give an account of our sinning before God our Righteous Judge. In the final reckoning, all sinners must deal with God.
The good news is that God’s nature and property is always to have mercy and to forgive. (Penitential Service, BCP, p. 63) God desires that we should approach Him and repent so that He might forgive us. Sin for God is something that we must claim, confess, and own. Sin for God is something over which we must be contrite, compunctious, remorseful, and ashamed. Sin for God is no call to punishment, but a signal for forgiveness. God is love and that love is always ready to forgive sorry sinners.
But God does not forgive sinners without conditions. The sinner must repent and be in possession of a temper that is truly sorry for his sins to be forgiven. What God forgives is sin and man’s way of obtaining forgiveness is through sorrow over the wrong that he has done. To obtain forgiveness, we must submit ourselves to God’s judgment and then to express our deepest remorse and grief over our rebellion against His Will and Law. God cannot and will not forgive us if we are not sorry.
Now this brings up an interesting point. When should we repent? When we have transgressed God’s Law for human beings. Where is God’s Law found? In Holy Scripture. What is that Law comprised of? Well, basically, what the Church has concluded from Scripture as the Seven Deadly Sins. These sins are not simple but complex and multifarious in meaning. They are pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust. A good enumeration of their multifarious expressions can be found in the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book. The Seven Deadly Sins comprise all sins that ignore or neglect, violate or overturn, or reject and deny God’s plan for human life. God’s plan includes the redemption of our minds and hearts, or of reason and will. God’s plan involves every choice that we make and every motivation that fuels it. God’s plan involves not only what we do by why we do it. Sin against God’s will is exhaustive and exhausting. And if we don’t repent of all of our sins, we shall not be saved and returned to God.
So we must locate, name, claim, confess, and grieve all of our sins. Only in this way can and will God forgive us. God is too respectful of our created being, of our reason and free will to expect anything less from us. As men are free to obey or disobey the Law of God, so are they free to accept or reject the forgiveness of sins He is always ready to offer to them. (Times of London, The Christian Year, p. 69) Forgiveness is never forced. It cannot be. It must be only and ever be God’s desire for our betterment and perfection. Desire and love are never forced. God longs for us to desire to die to sin and come alive to righteousness, to move out of exile and towards intimate communion with Him. Forgiveness must be desired as what alone can bring sinners from their vice into the operations of Divine Virtue. Forgiveness must be longed for as what alone can bring us all from death into new life
Neither does God overturn the Laws of His truth. Sin is its own punishment. Those who suffer the effects of their sinful choices often endure the abuse, suffering, torture, chastening, discipline, and correction that might very well awaken the soul to its wayward meanderings. Sin often disappoints, especially if the sinner is conscious of his desire for the more lasting, enduring, and permanent joys that he finds in others. Sin might alert him to its imperfect approximation of perfection. Sin might cause a deluge of sorrow and unhappiness to arise in his heart. Sin might hurt his body, his soul, and his spirit. Sin might hurt others and stir the conscience to guilt. Sin might bring pain to those who are awakening to the Spirit. Such pain may very well trigger the desire for forgiveness and the love that heals and saves. Whatever effect sin has on the human soul, God desires that the sinner might turn away from his wickedness which he hath committed to do that which is lawful and right so that he might save his soul alive. (Ez: xviii. 27) The turning is found in conscience that desires finally to abandon alienation and exile from God and to embrace the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sin is freedom from its power and must issue in righteousness which rejoices in the liberty of service to God. (Idem, 69)
To come to see and experience the forgiveness of sins brings the deepest sense of liberation, joy, and peace. It is an act of creative Goodness. (Idem) A man can be said to come alive truly only when the forgiveness of his sins has been registered and appreciated. God alone has created us for Himself and His redemption in Jesus Christ promises always to enlarge the creation by way of the forgiveness of sins. With the forgiveness of sins comes an awareness of new life and the meaning that attaches to it. With the forgiveness of sins comes that piercing truth that life is made for return to God with all of the creative energy that newborn babes desire as they embark on life in God’s new creation. Man is born again, born from above, and regenerated through the forgiveness of sins. The forgiven man becomes aware that he has passed from death unto life, from slavery unto freedom, and from darkness to the light of God’s presence. (Ibid, 70)
Will we accept the forgiveness of sins? We must repent to receive it. We must repent to enjoy its benefits. Will we accept that Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, became the Forgiveness of Sins for us? Will we embrace Him as God’s forgiveness? Will we participate in His mercy and forgiveness and share it with others? Will we see that the Forgiveness of Sins is alive and well in the Holy Spirit of the Father and Jesus His Son? Will this Forgiveness of Sins issue forth in Jesus’ Death and ours? In Him, will we begin to be dead unto sin but alive unto righteousness? This is what Lent is all about.