Last week we began unfolding the story of Ezra and the exiles return to Jerusalem. We talked about how he reacted to his discovery of their deep rooted sin. Today, our goal is to unpack how we deal with our sin once it is realized. Before we can get to the practical part let’s talk about sin a little more.
I can assure you I am no stranger to sin, the temptation it produces or the devastation it brings. Please don’t hesitate to speak with me or someone you trust when it comes to your sin struggle. I guarantee you the enemy wants you to think that no one is as bad as you are. He wants you to live in secrecy and silence, all the while burying you deeper and deeper in guilt and shame, not to mention deeper and deeper in sin. Know that sin is not just bad for you like a gallon of curdled milk. Sin doesn’t just taste bad and can’t be ‘gotten over’ like the flu or a cold. Sin is deadly. Like untreated cancer, it eats aways at our souls, rendering us ineffective in the Kingdom and powerless in the home. Its death is not just spiritual or figurative. It is literal and has claimed the lives of untold millions since the beginning of time. The only way to fight this death is to submit yourself fully to Jesus. His cure is the ONLY CURE for sin. And just like cancer, a one time confession will not work in dealing with this deadly disease. You and I must walk in humility, daily picking up our cross and facing the reality of our need for a Savior. If we do not confess our brokenness and offer ourselves up for restoration on a daily basis we will fall prey to the enemy. There is no other way to say it.
God reminded His people through Ezra that the next step in their rebuilding process was to allow Him to reconstruct their hearts. This had to happen if they were to move forward with the Lord. What did Ezra lead them to do?
The first thing he did was talk in first person. Ezra said, “we have broken the covenant and we are before you in our guilt.” Ezra hadn’t practiced their sin but he owned it nonetheless. All of the people owned the sins of some of the people. There is no finger pointing or hierarchy. No one says, “You may have sinned by I stayed away from it.” The people understood that “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.” (Romans 3:23) We are tempted to reject ownership of our sin often. It’s easy for Christians to get into the habit of singling out sins we don’t deal with regularly. “Murderers are going to hell!” We do this because it makes us feel good for not doing those ‘bad’ things and it also helps us justify our ‘lesser’ sins. Jesus levels the playing field. He says, “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” (Matthew 5:22) He opens our chests and reveals the intentions of our hearts. If we are to deal with our sin we must be ready to own our sin…all of it.
The next thing they had to do was understand that their sin was not just a choice. If that were the case, some people might have a chance of squeaking by, depending on what choices they made. Sin isn’t an outside choice, but a part of us. It is woven into our DNA. We don’t sin because we choose to but because it is a part of us. We have to sin. We have no other option. We are sinners. That’s why the cross is so crucial. Jesus gives the world a second option for life. Before the cross, every single person broke God’s commands. They all lived under His wrath. But now the world has been given the opportunity to please God. Because of Jesus, our sin disease can be reversed and holiness created in us instead of death. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is found in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be/become sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Isn’t that beautiful?! In order for us to move forward with God, we recognize that our sin is buried in us as deeply as our DNA or our personality. Only God can deal with it.
Just how does He do that? He shows it to us. That is called conviction. Conviction is any brokenness God brings to us over our sin. It’s not shame or embarrassment. It’s not the bad feeling we get when we are caught doing something wrong. Conviction comes from God and is marked with deep grief, sorrow so serious we feel like we will break before it lets up, and a profound desire to change. Ezra pulled his hair out and tore his clothes. When God reveals a particular sin in our lives, we will hate it and want to put as much distance between it and us as possible.
That is when the practical begins to come into play. The word is repentance. It literally means to turn away from your sin and walk the other way. Once God has revealed a particular sin to you, it is impossible for you to move on with God and not deal with that sin. You and I must learn to practice repentance if we want to grow in our relationship with the Lord. We cannot treat repentance like a diet where we go back to the food we like once we are tired of eating the new food. We must learn in repentance to hate our sin so deeply that we will do anything to keep from entering back into it.
Repentance is hard work. It always hurts for some deep seated part of your life to be removed. But it always leads to life! Repentance always leads us back to the things we desire more than anything else. It will always lead to real satisfaction, real joy, real fulfillment and real achievement.
The Israelites realized something must be done so they looked at their leader and said “Arise, for it is your task and we are with you; be strong and do it!” Get over yourself, pick up the task before you, set down your sin and get on with the life God has called you to. DO IT!