Old sins, new grace

Sunday, 04 July 2004 @ 11:22 pm SGT

Contributed by: Yinghuo Chong

It was as if I had been transported back in time, back more than 30 years, back with my high school friends, at a reunion.

We talked about what we did as if it was only yesterday. We sang, danced, reminisced, laughed and teased one another and we talked and talked. It was just like the old days.

Only traces of gray hair reminded me of what each and everyone must have been through since then. It was uncanny how we were still so much the same. Despite the long absence, we bonded quickly, slipping back into friendship with easy familiarity.

So much went through my mind that when I retired at night, I could not sleep. I was in hyper drive. It was such a joy to see every one. Only, one thing was troubling me. Somebody’s innocent remark brought up memories that made me cringe.

For the first time in decades, I thought about transgressions I committed in adolescence. My actions then did not seem to have suffered any consequences but now thrust among these familiar faces, reminders of my sin suddenly came to haunt me.

As I tossed and turned, I recalled how when I received Christ, I had been told that my past sins were all forgiven. Still, the spiritual battle raged on. I was young and naive, I rationalized. I did not know better. No one was hurt, except me. Why was it tormenting me again? After so many years, I was surprised that I still felt the regret, shame and anger at my stupidity. It was sin, sin against God. The accusations went on and it was hours before sleep came to me.

The next morning, surprisingly, I was awakened to new mercies. I was puzzled by my complete change of heart. I had a clear sense of being forgiven and washed cleaned. I felt the Lord saying that I had been brought to this awareness so he could purify me. Maybe what I suffered through the night before was my act of repentance. Conviction of sin is a purification process. He had done it, cleansed me. Forgiven, forgotten, my sin was moved as far as the east is from the west.

The Message version of Titus 3 described my state exactly: “It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands…He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit.”

“He delivered us,” is the Complete Jewish Bible translation. “It was not on the ground of any righteous deeds we had done, but on the ground of his own mercy” (Titus 3:5.)

What I went through reminded me of Saint Augustine’s Confession, certainly on a greatly reduced scale. Until now, I did not appreciate why this great saint had to confess even the minor misdemeanors of stealing pears in his boyhood, and the extent he shared in exposing the lustful chasing of his sexual desires. Now it seemed like I wanted to go through this purging myself.

As well, Augustine wanted to remind himself of his “past foulness and carnal corruptions,” he said, not because he loved them, but so that he may love God. His recollection enabled him to remember the sweetness in which his savior touched him.

Was what I went through a spiritual attack? Yes, indeed. I needed to struggle with what my heart wanted to convict me in order to grasp the grace of what God has to offer. Left on my own, I could only punish myself, but God is much bigger than that. Only he could cleanse me. He loved me more, much more than to leave me in that state.

I understood the woman in Luke 7, who loved much because she had sinned much and was forgiven. Jesus said: “He who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47.) How would I have known the depth of his love had I not been as tortured about how wrong I had been? In response, I felt such gratitude and a new love towards God.

Did this leave me in a state of holiness? Alas, not for long. Scarcely had I finished rejoicing in his forgiveness when sin reared its ugly head. Was I being tested again? Perhaps. And I fell. Again. Not that I jumped into sin, but I lost my foothold, exposing my gut reaction which was carnal and wicked. Maybe no one noticed. But I knew and was filled with shame. Same kind of temptation as 30 years ago was met with the same response. Perhaps there is a consequence to our initial feeding of our transgression after all.

Will I never learn? How long will it be before I get this right, before I can be refined into purity? Thirty years ago, I sinned and at least then, I was young and did not know Jesus. Today, I am older, wiser and supposedly, Jesus lives in me. I earnestly want Jesus to reign in my life. And yet, sin entangled so easily.

Romans 7 described me, too. “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”

Augustine described this dilemma as a house divided in itself. Our soul is so torn in conflicting wills and different directions. The battle in us, in me, is not a battle of good against evil, but of evil against evil. What he said is so true. Really, woe is me. There is no good-ness and hope in me. Left alone, the outcome is doom.

What a miserable creature I am, and who will rescue us from this death? Paul asked this and his answer in Romans 7:25 is simply: “Thanks be to God, he will! — through Jesus the Messiah, our Lord!” (Complete Jewish Bible translation.)

Through Jesus, the Messiah, our Lord. Simply put, but what a loaded statement.

Is my sin so wicked that the love of God cannot cleanse and give hope that I am cleared in his sight? If I believe that Jesus is the Messiah, then I must hold on to the truth that he has already done all it took and delivered me from sin.

Indeed, God is omnipotent, faithful and forgiving. Yet, we can easily block him and his involvement in our life. As long as my heart desires anything else, as long as the latent evil in me emerges to take control, I serve that master of evil. Peace will escape me.

Those evil inclinations will visit again. The rapid successions of the two lessons proved this to me. If I play host to those fleshly desires, the carnal longings, allowing those temptations and condemnation to reign, I know it will only lead to darkness and despair. They will distract me.

There is only one rescuer. Forgiveness, sanctification and holiness are within my grasp only through this Messiah. Only when I deny what my heart can wrongly lean towards and live my life yielding to the prompting of his Spirit is this possible. I had to willfully surrender to his teachings and trust in his promises. In other words, I bowed to him as my lord, our Lord.

I came to understand that what I had done in faith enabled him to work in me. In my disturbed state, my cries for help, my clinging to his word and my
prayer for holiness were heard. Through his Spirit, he helped me. From the lessons, I learned that his grace is within my grasp. And his power became a reality in my life.