Confession of Sin and Closeness to God

‘But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5.8, NRSV).

Over the past few weeks a friend from the US has been ringing April and me to talk through some problems she is having.  As the situation intensifies, so does our friend’s anxiety.  I of course cannot detail the problems, so I will leave it to say that it involves hurt from another person.  The issues she has been dealing with have been enough for one person, but the church she has been attending appears to be compounding the problem.

Going to the church leaders (whether ordained or lay, we cannot tell) for help, the message from the church leader says, ‘You need to get yourself right with God and confess your sins to him, and then you can be close to God.’  (This is more or less the message as it was handed on to me third-hand.)  The implied message, you are in this because of your sins, and there is no way God will help you while you are still sinful. Our friend rang us, heartbroken.

I don’t want to say that I take sin and its effects lightly, or that sin in our life not dealt with can cause a rift in our relationship with God.  But even in this God is still close to us.  God continues to pursue us no matter how hard we resist (Jonah is a great example).  This strange form of works righteousness advocated by this church leader that says God will only help you in your suffering once you dealt with all your sin is rubbish. The message of the cross is that God came to us when we had no way of helping ourselves – either in our own sin or in the sin of which we have been the victim. I don’t doubt that this church leader was attempting to be helpful, and as my anger grows at this leader, I need to remember what I am writing.

It’s easy to see how the message of this church leader is easy to believe.  Whether its presidential candidates trying to win us over or a judicial system that works only on retribution/punishment and not restorative justice, I wonder if all of us have something inside us that feels we have to earn God’s love. All we see around us is how we have to ‘earn’ love and expect punishment when we fail.  We don’t even have to go to the big sins for this:  I know in my own life where I can hold a grudge over a small slight that from years ago.  Forgiving love is hard to accept when we see little of it.

So, to our friend:  God is close to you now, and please don’t let anyone give you another message as you work through all that’s going on.  On this blog in the past week, we have had a discussion about the incarnation, and this is a doctrine for more than just Christmas.  In Jesus, God emptied himself to be one of us, living alongside us whatever comes.  God is with you now.


6 thoughts on “Confession of Sin and Closeness to God

  1. This blog made me think of my first ever house group meeting where I realised that even though everyone has a different relationship with God and that other found my weriod it was ok cos we are all one family.

    I personal see God as a father figure who is all powerful and knows me prefectly (better than I know myself) with this view in mind I feel he would never leave me, or hurt me as parents do not normally behave in the way. I also think God can take me however I am angry, shouting at him, crying and proclaiming love for him because he knows I need to move through things and turn to him to support me.

    I would leave any church which told me how to have a relationship with God as this is a personal matter for him and me. How can you preach he is good, kind, loving, there for everyone, forgiving and your father – then say its not like that cos you are doing it right. Children learn by pushing boundaries and growing up the same as people faith is built by talking to god, other Christians, worship and occassional getting it wrong.

    I hope your friend finds peace but as someone who has had many issues with finding her place in the Christian faith due to church teaching I always remember the following:
    1) The Bible was actually written by mankind hand and although it helps us to follow God it is not prefect.
    2) I do not have issues with God or believing in him just with church politics and the way some churches do there teaching / spreading the gospel

    Good luck to your friend & I hope you help them find peace with the situation

  2. This made me think of one of my dad’s old sermons. He quoted from a book called “101 things Jesus never said” regarding a common phrase: “god helps those who help themselves”. Churches should be communities who help us through the times when we can’t help oursleves, when we need the support of others.

    It seems what your friend needed most was someone to listen and possibly some guidance, what they got was a cryptic answer which proably left her with more questions.

    I don’t think any of us have all the answers, thats what makes life so much fun. I have never liked the premise that if something good happens in our lives it is Gods doing and if something bad happens it is our fault! God is with us through the good and bad.

  3. Thank you all for your comments.

    Natalie: I think your comment about your anger at God is a great expression of what we find in the Psalms. The Psalmists are a great guide for how we can talk to God in all situations of life.

    Tim: I think it’s a temptation of all church leaders to ‘fix’ problems when likely what is needed is just someone to listen and to know someone cares. Your assessment in your final paragraph is pretty spot on!

    John: I know what you mean, and at the moment, I am choosing to give the benefit of the doubt. I have emailed some folk to see if they know anything about this particular church.

  4. I found nothing but admiration in your defense of your friend. The zest of righteous “church leaders” oftentimes finds their members lying wounded in the aisles and then they defend their positions as God’s ambassadors. As with the Pharisees, it is for these I believe that God’s wrath is reserved – specifically so when God sees in their hearts an attitude of self-righteousness. Then there are others who are simply following misguided good intentions. Either way “hurting people” end up being hurt all the more. Sad but true. Too bad we cannot all be more Christ like. But I must confess I too sin and need to be careful that the fingers are not pointed at the other fellow, but rightly examine my own good intentions.

    I would like to add to what you said about sins “can cause a rift in our relationship with God.” The writer of Hebrews tells us that God may discipline for our own good as a loving father would do. And YET at the same time, God is waiting with open arms for us to come back to Him; and as you noted, He pursues us. In our coming back I believe it behooves us to enter into His presence “dressed in the right clothes” as one of my favorite preachers said – meaning covered in the blood of Jesus. While I am concerned that some will misunderstand or be offended by that comment, this preacher’s point was that we come humbly before the Throne of Grace recognizing our sinful nature being thankful that we have Victory with Christ. I think if we seek God in this manner, it does not matter what are sins are or have been, we recieved comfort, love and guidance from our Savior. Hopefully your friend will find someone that wil lead her to Jesus in this manner rather than one of criticism and condemnation (whether the leader intended to do this or not, it certainly was the result).

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