If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
—1 John 1:8-10, NIV
At various times in my life, I have met people who have just recently awakened to the sordidness of their past and the evil of their ways. That is, these people have confessed their sin and stand on the brink of repentance; they desire to start a new life of service to God, but they hesitate. They hesitate because they wonder if there is a point to mending their ways; they wonder if they might not have sinned past the point of repair.
So I have always told such people both good news and bad news. The bad news is that they have indeed sinned past the point of recovery, as have I. The good news is that God is more interested in saving people than balancing the books; upon repentance He will throw away the record and start afresh, lending every assistance; for God’s mercy overcomes God’s justice.
A few years ago, I read an article in The Washington Post about a new trend in pop psychology: people are discovering that they have a dark side. The therapists who work in this field term the evil side of a person’s personality their “shadow” —and when they work with a client to acknowledge and deal with their less acceptable traits, they call it “shadow work.”
As a Christian, I feel vindicated that psychology is finally coming around to what we knew all along: that people are sinful, that they need to acknowledge their sins and repent of them. Oh, pop psychology uses a different vocabulary, but the process is the same, and the fact that they have discovered it independently serves as corroboration that we had it right all along. For the last century, psychologists denied the existence of sin and evil. They taught that the soul was perfect in its pristine state and traced all dysfunction back to outside influences. Thus for the first century of its existence, psychology taught that the remedy for a troubled soul was restoration, not redemption as Christianity has taught. Then in the last few years, there has been a growing movement to recognize evil as a psychological problem, and now finally to recognize that even in its pristine state, the soul has a shadow side.
The Washington Post ran this article two days before Lent, which I found to be an edifying, if ironic happenstance. For Lent is the time that all branches of Christendom have set aside to concentrate on instructing converts in the faith, for reconciling sinners and bringing them back into the company of the faithful, and for encouraging the faithful to face up to their “shadow side” (to use the modern jargon); to set things aright in their souls and in their lives. Now the secular doctors of the soul have discovered the existence of sin, the necessity for repentance, and the value of Lent even for the righteous, although admittedly they speak in different words.
So if secular counselors have come around to what the church has taught for 1,959 years, what extra value does Christianity offer us that these counselors do not have? Simply this: We have the assurance of the outcome. A person in secular counseling must wrestle with his dark side, uncertain how the matter will come out, not knowing what will prevail. He cannot be sure in advance what truths will emerge or whether they will overpower him or cripple him if he cannot bear them. But those of us in Christendom who participate in the Lenten discipline of seeking and rooting out the evil from within us—at whatever time of year—are assured of victory! We have the assurance of Jesus Christ, that whatever ugliness we find within, we can face it, because He has already faced it. He already knows what we have yet to discover, and despite whatever that is, He has already loved us to the point of dying for us.
Therefore the Christian can plumb the depths of his soul in confidence, knowing in advance that he will be acceptable to God despite it all. We can face any ugly truth about ourselves and overcome it, because we are assured in advance of God’s acceptance and His love.
Therefore, participate in this Lenten spring cleaning of the soul! Of course, house cleaning must be done on a continual basis, but now is as good a time as any to clean out the closets of your soul. Sometimes, if we haven’t done it in a while, we are afraid to look behind the refrigerator, for fear of what creepy things might be living back there. But you can do the spiritual equivalent without fear, because Jesus already knows what you will find. He will in no wise cast you out, for He has already committed Himself to helping you clean the mess and to bringing you into His glory on the Last Day.
So you see, the fleshly person is moral on speculation that it might work out all right. If there is adversity or hardship, his resolve may fail, because he has no guarantee of results. But we have certain assurance, because Jesus, after many hardships and much adversity, conquered even death and rose from the grave! Therefore there is no hardship, no pain, no suffering, no evil, no adversity on this side of death that can deter us from a holy life, because we know that whatever evil may befall us, He will lead us by the hand through death to life beyond, transcending all the evils of this world.
Secular people may think that coming to terms with their dark side is an elective course, necessary for some and profitable for most, but our Master revealed its universal necessity. Therefore we have a head start. We lose no time determining the necessity of repentance, we can get right down to repenting.
Thus Christians have advantages: We have certain assurance of the outcome when we confess and repent, and can own up to our sin in joy and confidence. We also understand the necessity for doing so. We know where we are going, and we are certain of the welcome when we arrive.