And Moses interceded for the people. 8 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” 9 And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. Numbers 21:7-9
“I’ve failed you again, God, fallen into the same sin for the umpteenth time. You must be so sick of hearing me ask for forgiveness, must be tired of listening to me make excuses, crying out after having given in to worldly pleasures. I’ll be better next time, try harder, be strong against the flesh…I’ll be more like You…”
I’m not sure how many times I’ve prayed this prayer, or one similar to it, but by now I’ve probably got it memorized. The more my mind forms the words the worse I feel, the more fake and insincere. This struggle frustrates and often sucks the joy from my life to the point that my whole mind is consumed by my unworthiness, my failure and stench. Sin goes against God’s very nature, it is wholly opposite of Him, a lack of everything that makes Him God. Though tempting and blinding and momentarily pleasing, afterwards when sanity returns I feel wrong and empty, like I’ve just eaten an entire bag of chocolates because I was hungry; full but by no means satisfied and headed for a crash. I feel guilty because I am guilty.
This burden has laid on my so heavily in the past that I’ve been tempted towards the foolishness of penance, of trying to pay for my sin on my own. Good deeds, giving up miscellaneous things like certain foods or TV (temporarily of course) or other acts of “self-sacrifice” all fell into this category of trying to make right what I had made wrong. I wanted to do something. I wanted to pay, to no longer be in debt. I wanted to clear the record.
The problem? I can’t.
Recently, after a slip into a particularly humbling “pet sin”, I found myself in prayer repeating the words I shared above. What came near the end, however, stopped me in my tracks. Rather than going into promises of “being better” or “more like” God, I stumbled across a statement that made me pause: “Father, there is nothing I can do to make up for my sin. All I can do is fall at Your feet and trust in Your mercy and grace.”
Nothing, absolutely nothing I can do will ever satisfy the wrath of a perfectly Holy God Whom I have offended. No amount of community service, no amount of sacrifice, no amount of suffering, not even my physical death will pay for the sin I have committed. My only option is to look to the One Who He sent in my place; the One Who became sin for me, for the Church His body (2 Corinthians 5:21), and trust in His provision.
My sin, all of my sin, has been completely paid for and any attempt on my part to pay on my own is not only foolish, but offensive. I can abide in Christ, wrestle with His word, seek to know Him, but in the end it is His good work and faithfulness that saves and changes me. By this I will grow in holiness and look upon others with gracious, God-given mercy.
Look to the One willing to be clothed in the guilt of others, and rest in His good work.