July 16, 2019

Saturday with Michael Spencer: The Things that Won’t Go Away

Saturday with Michael Spencer
The Things that Won’t Go Away

They’re back.

My sins, that is.

Just in case you need to know, my name is Michael Spencer. I’m a Christian minister who has given 33+ years of my life to telling people…

My sins, O the bliss of this glorious thought
My sins not in part, but the whole
Were nailed to the cross and I bear them no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul…

and other similar things about sin and forgiveness.

Unlike some people in this business, I actually believe this stuff. Like the creed teaches me, I believe in “…the forgiveness of sins…” As a reformation type Christian, I’ve got it all worked out how my sins were atoned for, taken away, tossed into the depths of the sea, put behind God’s back and so on.

The problem is that while God has forgiven me and God has put my sins on Jesus and God has replaced my sins with the righteousness of his own Son, etc., etc., some of the persons I sinned against have taken a different route.

They’ve brought my sins back up. They’ve been holding on to them for years, filed away, still affecting them and now at a particularly point of clarity in their own journey, they’ve brought those sins back to me, put them on the table and announced we have a big, big problem here.

We have a song we often sing where I work, saying that Jesus died for our sins AND for the sins that were done to us. Because I’ve sinned against many other persons, I’ve always liked that verse. Apparently, too much; now I have to deal with my sins- several decades of them- and Jesus’ death, forgiveness, etc. is going to be of limited help. Those I have sinned against say that these sins matter and life is unalterably changed by them.

I’ve grieved over these sins, and I’ve asked forgiveness many times. But I haven’t successfully repented of all of them or abandoned all of them. Again and again, some of these sins have reappeared in my life. Prayer, accountability, counsel, more prayer, good theology, tears, more prayer…..none of it has killed off these sins entirely.

Jesus may have forgiven me, but my sins have followed me. Their footprints in the lives of those I’ve sinned against are still there, and they are calling me to an accounting.

I don’t know what to do about these sins.

I can’t honestly promise that I won’t sin again. I can say that with all my heart and all my efforts I will fight to never sin in these ways again, but these are sins that are deeply wound up in my personality, my upbringing and my physical/emotional make-up. Promising to never get angry again would be very unrealistic, and talking some pietistic trash would be deceptive. Somewhere out there, this sin will reappear.

I once knew this guy….well…I’ll let him talk…

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

What I’d like to ask that guy is this: Jesus may love you, but what about the people other than Jesus? The ones who can’t love you with those sins you don’t understand still on the record? What do we do for those who aren’t interested in imputation, but want accountability? Payment? Consequences? What about those who have been sinned against, but aren’t offering me the Gospel, but purgatory?

How do we take hold of the grace of God for ourselves but then deal with people who aren’t God and can’t be God? People who are going to hold us to the law for their own protection, and who won’t risk further dealings with me until guarantees of repayment and promises of no future sin are on the table?

Protestants are often faulted for having a view of “cheap grace.” Is this what “cheap grace” looks like? The forgiveness of the prodigal’s father on the one hand, and the real-world demands for repayment and improved behavior on the other?

Roman Catholics often refer to the Protestant Gospel as a “legal fiction.” Is this what they mean? A sinner enjoys forgiveness, but cannot adequately make amends, repayment or restoration for his sins against those he loves?

My sins have returned. God may have forgotten them. Other persons have not.

What do I do?

Comments

  1. johnbarry says

    https://www.ariseandshine.org/

    I think that David Berkowitcz is a good example of someone who gets it right. Now I realize that the Son of Sam killings are far more terrible than the “average” sin, if that is a good description.

    I know God though Jesus has forgiven/forgot my sins but I do not expect the people in this world to be as full of grace and love as Jesus. As a matter of fact, I am not personally a forgive and forget person. There are some crimes, some acts that people must be held accountable for in this world to have a functioning this world. Son of Sam knows he is forgiven by God but knows he must pay society for his terrible actions.

    Under the Jewish tradition the only one who can forgive a person who wronged them is the “victim”. I cannot forgive Son of Sam for what he did as I was not harmed.

    I do not know nor did not know M. Spencer as well as many here. I know he was being honest and open but I just do not know where he was going with this. To the very few people in my life that I believe I have wronged or even sin against , I do not expect them to forgive me, I cannot forgive myself and have to let it go that Jesus has forgiven me. Sometimes we must stay away and let people keep their feelings toward us as that is best for them. I admire in a small way the absolute forgiving nature of the Amish but know it is beyond my earthly ability to “forget” when someone has hurt others such as Son of Sam. David B. expects no forgiveness from the victims but he knows he have the forgiveness that Jesus brings. “Other” people are not Jesus and I do not expect them to be. Cannot do the time, don’t do the crime.. Beretta?

    I am sure I have missed the point of M. Spencer piece and wish he were here to expand on it.

    • Cannot do the time, don’t do the crime.. Beretta?

      “You can take dat to da bank.”

    • Sometimes we must stay away and let people keep their feelings toward us as that is best for them.

      There is great wisdom in that sentence, jb. In addition, sometimes we must ask that others stay away from us, even if we have truly forgiven them, or are in the process of doing so, as this is what is best for both them and us. Expecting and/or striving toward a conditionless, contextless perfectionism in this area has been one of the great failings of Christianity as it has been practiced down through the centuries.

      • Especially as it has been misapplied to the growing storm of scandals in the Catholic and Reformed wings of the church. I wonder if this might be one reason why the church has typically ruled (if not always followed in practice) that pastors guilty of great sin should give up their posts.

        • anonymous says

          Pride goeth before a fall

          we what worships ‘the God of Wrath’ are ourselves angry and judgmental souls who point the finger and hold ‘those other sinners’ in great contempt;
          but we have no humility in us to pray “Lord have mercy on me”, so we have opened the door for the devil who comes to feast on the souls of the prideful

          But God protects those who take refuge in humility as it was taught to them by Jesus Christ who said ‘learn of Me’ . . . . these are ones who trust in the mercy of God to save them . . . these are the ones who receive peace in this sad world

  2. Iain Lovejoy says

    The above article to me highlights the real problem that I have with the notion that what the cross saves us from is being sent to hell. It doesn’t really qualify as “good news” or indeed any overall benefit to me at all. The gospel story becomes that (unknown to me) I was going to go to a Very Bad Place when I died because of how horrible I am but (again unknown to me) it turns out I am not after all going to go to the Very Bad Place because Jesus died on the cross. So the end of the story is as the beginning: I am back where I started, not going to the Very Bad Place that I had no idea I was going to before you started telling me the story (but now only if I do what you tell me I have to do). This simply isn’t “good news” of any kind: it’s bad news which isn’t quite as unqualifiedly bad as when you started talking.
    I will call the good news *good* news if two things are true. The first is that ultimately I will in fact be cleansed of my sins, that I will be rid of them and no longer subject not just to some external punishment for to sin but from sinning and my own sinful nature itself, whether now or in God’s future kingdom. The second is that God’s kingdom will come. Not that I will fly off away from the consequences of my sin to some exclusive country club in the sky, but that the kingdom will come here on earth: that sin and suffering will be wiped out, that the wrongs I have done will be remedied, that all will be reconciled together in love, that somehow God will enable amends to be made to all those against whom I have sinned and we will be restored into a right relationship again.
    That would qualify as good news and true redemption for my sin.

    • “The first is that ultimately I will in fact be cleansed of my sins, that I will be rid of them and no longer subject not just to some external punishment for to sin but from sinning and my own sinful nature itself, whether now or in God’s future kingdom. The second is that God’s kingdom will come.”

      Those have always been an integral part of the Gospel as presented in the NT, just as Christ’s atonement is. The problem is that American evangelicals have separated the atonement out from the other two parts – perhaps due to evangelicalism’s roots in the South, and the South’s “peculiar arrangement”?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The gospel story becomes that (unknown to me) I was going to go to a Very Bad Place when I died because of how horrible I am but (again unknown to me) it turns out I am not after all going to go to the Very Bad Place because Jesus died on the cross. So the end of the story is as the beginning…

      If the End is the Beginning, that WOULD explain the revolving door repeat rate at Altar Calls.

      “The worm Ouruborous, which constantly devoureth its own tail…”
      (and ends up getting nowhere)

  3. Roman Catholics often refer to the Protestant Gospel as a “legal fiction.” Is this what they mean? A sinner enjoys forgiveness, but cannot adequately make amends, repayment or restoration for his sins against those he loves?

    As the unfolding child sex abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church illustrates, with new revelations in the news this very day about 120 priests in the Diocese of New York having been credibly accused of child sex abuse, even having resort to the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, which many of these abuser priests no doubt availed themselves of, can be nothing more than an escape hatch away from accountability, and a way to hide and protect both the predator and the reputation of the Church within the Seal of the Confessional. No, Catholicism has not figured out a way to better deal with the problem that Michael Spencer is talking about in this post, because what is transacted in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is as likely to be nothing more than a “legal fiction” as what Spencer describes as “the Protestant Gospel”, albeit with more ritual hoops to pass through. Cheap grace is a pervasive problem for Protestants and Catholics alike, and the persistence of the long-term effects of confessed and repented of sin wreaks as much havoc in one group as the other.

    • Iain Lovejoy says

      “Cheap grace is a pervasive problem for Protestants and Catholics alike, and the persistence of the long-term effects of confessed and repented of sin wreaks as much havoc in one group as the other.”
      They arise from the same mentality – the problem is not ending the suffering caused by sin, but that daddy will be angry if he finds out.
      This is of itself the most serious sin, in that you neither love your neighbour, since you do not care about your hurting others, nor love God, since rather than trusting in God’s good intention towards you, you are afraid of him and think he has to be appeased or bought off.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        They arise from the same mentality – the problem is not ending the suffering caused by sin, but that daddy will be angry if he finds out.

        And Hellfire/Damnation and other “Scare ‘Em Into the Kingdom” doctrines and preaching just make it worse. Like the Chinese curse “May you come to the attention of those in Authority,” your only hope of survival is coverup, coverup, coverup. Avoid Punishment No Matter What.

  4. senecagriggs says

    My Great, great, great grandfather owned slaves in North Carolina. He died in his mid 50’s and then my Great, great Grandfather immediately freed them. He moved himself and his mother to Indiana, was injured in the Civil War, went to Missouri and ended up painting houses in Socal. While in Missouri, he was a Sunday School superintendent. As a Christian, he didn’t believe in slavery and did something about it when he had the chance. I’m sure he was a better man than me.

    • A better man than any of us, to put actions to his beliefs like that.

      I’m sure his move to Indiana was necessitated by the (potential) reaction of his “good Christian” neighbors to his actions.

  5. Steve Newell says

    In the traditional Christian liturgy, there is a point where there is confession of sin and absolution of that sin by the pastor/priest. The liturgy starts with 1 John 1:8-9

    “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 start with the position that we are all still sinners who still deserve God’s judgement and it’s only by God’s grace that we don’t get want we desire, then we can show more compassion to those who sin outside of God’s grace.

    For many Christian churches and traditions, confession of sins is that people do become a Christian and not something we do because we are Christians.

    • anonymous says

      ‘once saved, you cannot be ‘unsaved’ even if you sin’ seems to be the teaching of many Christian communities

      back-sliding into sin after ‘being saved’ ?

      “no need to repent, ’cause your saved and nothin going to change that:

      (?)

      Where does this stuff come from?

      • It has no bearing on anything and means nothing when you break it down. Nothing about it is verifiable in any meaningful way. It’s just lips smacking. They are known by their love, one for another. The end.

  6. rhymeswithplague says

    John Barry said above, “Under the Jewish tradition the only one who can forgive a person who wronged them is the “victim”.”

    This has always made complete sense to me. I heard Dr. Laura Schlesinger say this very thing on the radio a few years ago and it immediately clicked in my brain. My mother and that whole side of the family were Jewish, and even though I have been a Christian since childhood, being the child of a Jewish mother makes me Jewish also according to the rabbis in Israel. Hearing families forgive the murderer of their child, hearing churches forgive the murderer of their members has never sounded noble or loving to me, it has always rung a bit hollow and unrealistic. I agree with Dr. Laura and what John Barry said: only the ‘victim’ (and why should that word be in quotation marks?) can forgive the one who committed the offense.

    Come to think of it, that’s what Jesus did. He was the victim of our sins. A judge and jury in a courtroom can declare a person “not guilty” (which is not the same as “innocent”) and a governor or president can “pardon” a person in the sense of granting clemency, but that is not the same as forgiveness. Only the victim can do the forgiving. Perhaps that is why only Jesus can forgive our sins, because our sins caused him to be crucified.

    This is long and rambling and I’m truly sorry. You are the victim of my stream of consciousness style of writing. Please forgive me.

    • I don’t know if you have children or not, but believe me, if someone murdered your child, you are also a victim. Not sure I could forgive that one.

  7. Michael Z says

    “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1) When it comes to just ordinary friendship and fellowship among believers, I hope that most people would be able to put past sins behind them. But if you’re dealing with a relationship with someone who is in authority over you (which is what this sounds like), it’s much harder to regain trust once it’s lost, because of that unequal power dynamic.

    That is unfortunately coupled with the fact that most people in Christian leadership are expected to put on a show and never go through dry times or doubt. The result is that many evangelical leaders have their spiritual and emotional growth stunted compared to an ordinary layperson who has no need to perform.

    And, of course, there are many people who go into leadership for completely the wrong reasons – I’m not saying that’s the case with Michael, but it certainly is for many. For example, I’ve read estimates that at least 30% of pastors are clinically diagnosable narcissists.

    Those are all flaws inherent in the way evangelicals understand leadership and design our authority structures. The only workable solution is a church where the pastor has more accountability and less power, where leaders are given freedom and permission to struggle and doubt just like everyone else, and where the congregation calls leaders who show Christlike gentleness and humility instead of leaders who fit the world’s model of leadership.

  8. Rhymeswithplague I put “victim” in quotation marks as I was trying though incorrectly to get people to think of who the “victim” is? If a person kills the breadwinner of a family of four , not only is the victim the one killed but the entire family who now are surely a victims as their lifes have been changed forever. The baby born into a family of drug addicted parents or sadist are the victims of their parents actions. Innocent children are not judged by the sins of their parents but they will pay the price for the sins of their parents every day of their lifes. This is also why I had to take remedial English as I make up my own rules or as I say I am the father of ebonics, which I like.

    Michael Z., People in positions of trust and authority especially in the realm of faith should be subject to absolutely no second chances if they abuse their trusted positions. Child molesters, sex offenders and other crimes that prey on others trust and vulnerability deserve no chance to prove they are cured , they must never be put in positions of trust again and their past follow them.

    The stupid do not forgive and forget.
    The naïve do forgive and forget.
    The wise forgive but do not forget.

    I mangled it but that is the essence of a better thinker than I.

    To err is human, to forgive is divine. I would modify that to be forgive is human, to forgive and forget is divine. We are not God. Somethings are beyond us in this world.

    You cannot buy love or forgiveness, it is a gift. We do not need our fellow man to forgive us except for our own earthly conscience if we know like David B. that Jesus has forgotten his terrible sins but he knows his punishment is just and deserved He has atoned and apologized to his victims families but does not expect them to forgive him as they a

  9. “John Barry said above, “Under the Jewish tradition the only one who can forgive a person who wronged them is the “victim”.” ”

    and

    “Come to think of it, that’s what Jesus did. He was the victim of our sins. . . . . .
    . . . . . . Only the victim can do the forgiving. Perhaps that is why only Jesus can forgive our sins, because our sins caused him to be crucified.”

    This is a brilliant analysis, Rhymeswithplague. And Christ died in three hours on the Cross, during which time, He forgave from the Cross. . . .

    Three hours on the Cross
    . . . such is
    ‘the terrible speed of mercy”
    (phrase from Flannery O’Connor)

  10. This is classic Michael Spencer, where he dared to ask difficult questions of himself and dared to expose some of his own garbage. Indeed, what do we do with sins that we’ve been forgiven of by God, yet others not so much (and not so much maybe with good reason)?

    To me, all we can do is follow Jesus.

    Luke 6:36-38.
    “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

    And the beauty of following Jesus is that he backed up his talk with a walk which led to the cross. He didn’t say, “Hey, do this and that” and then not do it himself. He said, “Do this and that,” then did it. That’s the kind of savior I’ll follow. The extra benefit of Jesus as savior is that when I get in my own way and mess it up, he goes the extra step to cover for me.

    Yes, others may never forgive us. But that shouldn’t stop us from doing what Jesus asks us to do; that also shouldn’t stop us from realizing His blood still covers us, whether others want to see it that way or not.

  11. senecagriggs says