I grew up pretty scared.
When I look back over my life, particularly my early life, I see that it was dominated by fear. Don’t get me wrong, I was brought up in a loving Christian home. I never lacked for food, clothing, shelter, education, or friendship. I am the fourth son of a Baptist minister, and so I was heavily involved in the life of the church. But really that was part of the problem, because out of everything I was afraid of, God was who I was afraid of the most.
After walking down an aisle at the age of nine during an altar call, I repented of my sins and was baptized. But then I kept on sinning. And from my experience, sinning as a teenager feels much worse than sinning as a nine-year-old. There were sins I wanted to shake but could not. So I was afraid.
I knew I was a sinner. That was clear to me. But I thought I was a sinner because I committed sins. At the time, I thought I was only battling against the individual sins we talked about in youth group, but it felt as if I was battling something outside of myself. So I continued to steel myself against threats in the shadows.
I had it all wrong. My problem wasn’t that I was a sinner because I sinned. My problem was that I sinned because I am a sinner. I was shooting at my shadows when I really needed to be directing all my attention toward something deeply wrong inside of me.
Imagine going to a doctor with a gaping wound that is bleeding everywhere, the blood seeping through your clothes and onto the floor. But when the doctor finally arrives, instead of treating you, he looks at you and says, ”We really to need to clean up that blood.” This is how I used to think about my sin. I thought my actions were the problem, but really they were just symptoms. The real problem was rooted in my own heart.
As Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, writes, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Learning this was revolutionary for me. I was good at repenting and wanting to fight against sins I was struggling with. But my pastor explained that, in the midst of my internal struggle and my repentance, I needed to believe the gospel. He helped me to see the fullness of the good news: Jesus not only justifies us, He also sanctifies us, making us more and more like Him as we trust Him to change us.
I was laboring under the delusion that I was justified by grace and sanctified by gritting my teeth and trying to become more holy. But the problem of my sin runs far too deep for that. I cannot work my way into righteousness. It seems so counterintuitive, but once I realized this truth—that my heart is the problem—I was able to turn to God in thankful desperation and repent. What’s more, I found it easier to say “no” to sin. And it wasn’t because I’d become a better person. No, when I saw the depth of my sin, I saw more clearly the beauty of the gospel. Because of Jesus I am reconciled to God. I don’t have to be scared of Him anymore. Fear is no longer my motivation for repentance—now it’s my love for Him.
Written by Matthew B. Redmond