The great actor and film director Woody Allen claims to be an atheist. On one occasion he was asked the question: “If there is a God, and if that God should speak to you, what would you most want to hear him say?” Woody Allen’s answer speaks for all people. He said:
“If there is a God who should speak to me, I would most want to hear him say three words, ‘You are forgiven.’”[i]
John says in 1 John 1:5-10 the only way you will ever hear from God the words “you are forgiven” is if you speak the words “I have sinned.” J. B. Phillips said there are nearly as many wrong ideas about sin as there are false ideas about God.[ii]
As a Christian, what do you do when you sin? What should you do when you sin? Sometimes, even for Christians, sin is something we do and then deny. We love to rationalize it and we love to refine it. Sometimes we just don’t take seriously the reality and consequences of our sin.[iii]
We claim closeness with God but then defy his will and live contrary to his character! What scandal! Even for Christians, sometimes the three hardest words to say when they ought to be said and like they ought to be said are “I have sinned.”[iv] But when we utter those words in sincerity, God’s response is always “You are forgiven.”
Sin in our lives should be the aberration, not the norm. We should be sensitive to the Lord and his word such that the moment we become aware of sin, we immediately confess and forsake it.
The more you grow in awareness of personal sin, you should become like Paul and shift from saying you are “less than the least of all saints” (Ephesians 3:8) to you are the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). When you become mature spiritually, your sense of sin matures as well. You not only see it as breaking God’s laws, which it surely is, but wounding God’s love.[v] If you keep God at arm’s length, you will always have a hazy view of sin in your own life.
But when you do sin, you have one of two choices. You can choose to cover your sin. You can hide it, deny it, and lie to God, others, and yourself about it. Proverb 28:13 is a pungent verse to remember when you choose to cover your sin:
“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
Your second option is to confess your sin. Admit it to God and come clean before Him and with yourself. Confession is the order of the day for a believer who sins, according to 1 John 1:9.
[ii] J. B. Phillips, Plain Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1954), p. 49.
[iii] Augustine, in his sermon on 1 John 1:1–2:6 (Homily I of his sermons on 1 John), speaks with reference to 1:6 of not “making light” of these sins which we sometimes call “light,” an example of his occasional rhetorical play on words in his preaching. Augustine, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, I.6, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 7, ed., Phillip Schaff (Edinburgh: T&T Clark/Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), p. 464.
[iv] My gloss on a line by George W. Truett, famed pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas Texas for 47 years (1897–1944) , in his sermon on 1 John 1:5–10 in A Quest for Souls (Dallas, TX: Baptist & Standard Publishing Co., n. d.), p. 241.
[v] F. J. A. Hort, Cambridge and Other Sermons (London/New York: MacMillan, 1898), p. 107.