When we first came to the United States fourteen years ago, we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves churchwise. We had been in conservative Dutch churches for most of the preceding years, but that no longer worked very well for us as a family. The cultural differences seemed to loom larger and larger for my children. In any case, there did not seem to be Dutch alternatives in the Atlanta area. We considered different PCA churches, but for one reason or another did not feel ready to throw our weight in there, either.
So, of all things, we ended up in Charles Stanley’s First Baptist Church of Atlanta for a year, or so. I do not mean to disparage Dr. Stanley. It was a privilege to sit under his preaching for the time that we did. But the theological differences were substantial.
One sermon in particular threw those differences into sharp relief. Dr. Stanley was talking about sin, and for some reason- I don’t remember why – was using himself as a hypothetical case of the sinner. He said something along these lines: “Let’s say I sin once a day…I don’t like to think I do; I don’t think I do; but let’s just say I do….” And he went on from there….
John and I listened politely, and then discussed that statement on the way home. He truly thinks he doesn’t sin each day? How can he possibly think that the God who examines heart and mind so minutely could agree with him in that? (“Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no thoughts are hid…”)
And John just looked at me and said, “And what about the sins of omission? We owe the God who has created us, then bought us, total consecration of body and soul each second of each day. Our chief concern moment by moment should be His glory. How can any human being feel that he has rendered that to God? And not to do so is sin.”
What a strange phenomenon that theology is that tends toward perfectionism in this life. How in the world can you look in the mirror most evenings and see someone who has obeyed the law of God fully in the preceding twenty-four hours? What mental and spiritual gymnastics and reinterpretations you would have to become adept in!
I adore the realistic biblical theology that affirms Christ’s perfection and his alone, applied forensically to the forgiven sinner, and then slowly but surely worked into his heart. Substantial sanctification in this life. Perfection in the next. It is vital to understand ‘timing’ in this area of theology, as in so many.
Our sin may surprise us but it never surprises God. There is no need for “Let’s pretend” and hiding. God is so realistic – just another area of his character as Truth.
I was brought up with these words from the Book of Common Prayer:
“Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have offended against thy holy laws, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us….”
How I love the plea of the old Anglican bishop who cried out, “Lord, forgive all my sins, but especially my sins of omission!”
And, of course, he does. That is his loving, fatherly heart.