My husband and I once knew a couple who always introduced themselves as having been married for x number of years, but together for y number of years. It struck me as odd. I mean, surely everyone has dated for some space of time prior to getting married. Why did they see the need to mark it during an introduction? At one point, after deciding maybe I was missing something, I copied their version and was surprised to see the couple in question exchange a smirk. Obviously, I was missing something. Years passed, and it gradually came to light that the “together for” number of years they mentioned considered when they started sleeping together.
I admit learning this made me do a serious double take. I asked myself why a solid Christian couple would make sure everyone they met knew how long they had sinned prior to their marriage. And why would they state the number as if it was something to be proud of? I certainly didn’t go around publicizing my sin to anyone who asked.
Or did I?
I used to love telling a story about a trip my husband and I took with friends. As we were traveling home, our flight got canceled. I was tired and angry, and in the middle of it all I was incredibly unkind to several people in the airline industry who were working their tails off to try to get people taken care of. At the time, and for many years following, I enjoyed relating the story of how I made them put us up in a hotel overnight and bullied us onto an earlier flight. I’d accepted the congratulations and high fives of the people I told the story to as if my behavior was something to be proud of.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I told a lot of stories that celebrated my sin. And ever since, I’ve been working to eliminate those from my conversations.
I’ll admit it’s been a challenge. Some of the stories are funny, if you don’t think about them too carefully. But I’ve realized they aren’t the message I want to send to the people in my life. They aren’t the witness I want to leave behind. I don’t want to shrug off sin and make it into a joke or a good family story. Doing that gives the world the wrong idea. It legitimizes its tendency to label Christians hypocrites. After all, if we treat our sin as no big deal—or worse, something to laugh about—isn’t that what we are, hypocrites?
Even though it seems to be acceptable—even desirable—in our culture today, I don’t want to be someone who finds her identity in her sin. If I choose to say, “Oh, well, I’m just an angry person,” as if that somehow excuses my choice to allow anger to have free rein in my life, then I’m not making way for the transformation of the Holy Spirit. Jesus calls us all as we are and welcomes us to his table. He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV). But he also tells us to “go, and sin no more” (John 8:11 KJV). We can’t do that if we cling to our sin and use it to define who we are.
I want to acknowledge my sin and let it bring me to my knees at the foot of the cross, not be someone who, with a wink and a nod, takes pride in my wrongdoing. I know I’ll never be completely free from sin this side of heaven, but I want the Holy Spirit to work in me so I become more like Jesus with every passing day.
I know I can’t do that if I treat my sin as something to celebrate.
Photograph © Crystal Shaw, used with permission