by Paul David Tripp
Since sin is deeper than bad behavior, trying to do better isn’t a solution. Only grace that changes the heart can rescue us.
There is a difference between a person in whom disappointment leads to self-reformation and someone in whom grief leads to heartfelt confession. I think that we often confuse the two. The first person believes in personal strength and the possibility of self-rescue, while the second has given up on his own righteousness and cries out for the help of another. One gets up in the morning and tells himself that he’ll do better today, but the other starts the day with a plea for grace. One targets a change in behavior, and the other confesses to a wandering heart. One assesses that he has the power for personal change, while the other knows that he needs to be given strength for the battle. One has to hold on to the possibility of personal reformation, but the other has abandoned that hope and therefore runs to God for help.
Self-reliant personal reformation and the penance that follows is the polar opposite of heartfelt confession with the repentance that follows. People who acknowledge that what they’ve done is wrong and then immediately lay out plans to do better unwittingly deny what the gospel of Jesus Christ says about them, how real change takes place, and where help can be found. What they have omitted or neglected is confession. When you confess your sins to God, you don’t just admit that you have sinned; no, you also confess that you have no power to deliver yourself from the sin you have just confessed. True confession always combines an admission of wrong with a plea for help. The heart then, encouraged by the forgiveness and presence of Jesus, longs to live in a new, better way (repentance).
A person who manifests a self-reliant recognition of wrong assigns to himself the power to do better and then gives himself to spiritual-looking acts of penance that make him feel good about himself and his potential ability to do better. But while he is acknowledging sin, there is no verticality to what he is doing. By that I mean that there is no Godward confession, no recognition of his desperate need for rescue, and no repentance that is motivated by a heart filled with gratitude for and worship of God. It is an “I can save myself” way of dealing with sin, and it is far more prevalent in the church of Jesus Christ than we would think. It never results in lasting change. It never produces a protective and preventative humility of heart. It never stimulates further worship and service of the Savior. It simply does not work. If you had the power to change yourself without God’s help, Jesus wouldn’t have had to come. The whole story of the gospel in Scripture is a story of people who are desperately trapped in sin and have no hope except the rescuing grace of the Redeemer. When your sin is revealed today, which of these two pathways will you take?
For further study and encouragement: Luke 15:1–10
New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional Copyright © 2014 by Paul David Tripp