Honest to God

Years ago, Anglican Bishop John A.T. Robinson wrote a critique of traditional Christianity called Honest to God. I never read it. I don't plan to; it's theology is a little "out there." But the phrase which provided Robinson with his title has played a major role in my own struggle with scrupulosity. Maybe it can help you, too.

Did you ever stop and think how much conventional Christian piety encourages hypocrisy? Do you feel jealousy toward someone else, or hostility? All too often, we're encouraged to deny it and make believe that our hearts are free of such things. Or perhaps we struggle with lust, or pride, or greed, or some other sin. Too many Christians treat these "besetting sins" much the way the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail reacts to having his arms and legs cut off in combat: "No, they're not! Have at you!"

Except, of course, that it doesn't work. Deny that you are jealous, or angry, or proud, or greedy, or lustful, and you're still jealous, or angry, or proud, or greedy, or lustful. You're just in denial about it. You're actually refusing to take the problem to the only One Who can help!

Hypocrisy is just another form of impenitence. Refusing to deny what is in our hearts, of course, must be carefully distinguished from struggling against that jealousy or sinful anger. All believers, by definition, want to please God, and are grieved at being less than He wants us to be. The Holy Spirit within us strives against sin, and motivates us to strive against it, too; indeed, as long as He is present in a heart, the struggle will continue.

Silencing His voice is dangerous in the extreme. Willful sin is fatal to faith; the Spirit will not abide in the same heart with it. But a besetting sin- a sin that grieves us, even if we have little success in striving against it, is another matter. Any believer will struggle against known sin in his or her heart or life. But OCD forces us to do more. It convinces us of the lie that we have to be successful or victorious in that struggle in order to be acceptable to God.

Jesus died for all of our sins, including our besetting sins. That's why they need not frighten us. Nor need we worried about whether we're sorry enough for our sins. The very fact that we're troubled by the thought that we may not be is proof of our repentance.

But it's crucially important to remember that repentance doesn't save us. Faith- trust in God's promise of forgiveness and mercy in Christ- is what does that! Repentance is the by-product of faith, and the gratitude which makes us want to please our Savior. Ironically, we often short-circuit that gratitude by making God, not into a Friend and ally in our struggle with sin, but as a combined Prosecuting Attorney and Executioner Who is just looking for an excuse to zap us!

OCDers are also often plagued by things which are not sins. Intrusive, blasphemous thoughts are an example. These are products of our disorder. They do not come from our hearts. If they did, they wouldn't bother us!

Yet we often put ourselves through needless anguish by worrying about whether a thought is sinful. That's where a sound understanding of Christ's work comes in. If we are bothered by the thought that it might be, that is repentance enough even if it is. So why worry? We're forgiven. The incident is closed as far as God is concerned. And if it's not a sin, again- why worry?

Either way, Jesus has you covered. Realizing that makes it possible to live lives of honesty, openness, and gratitude toward God, knowing that it's not just a matter of our not being able to hide the condition of our hearts from Him. So long as we trust in Jesus, there is no reason why we should want to. We will have sinful hearts as long as we live in this world. But Jesus died for even the darkest thing that lurks there. He looks upon even that as an Enemy He wants to help us with, and not as a reason to stop being our Friend!

Nobody who is concerned about sinning ever has to worry about whether or not he or she actually has. Instead, we can live our lives in trusting confidence, not even trying to do the impossible and hide our hearts from God. We can be honest with Him instead.

Lord Jesus, you have died for the worst my heart can contain. Grant that I may never try to hide even its ugliness and filth from you, Who always wants to heal it, and never to condemn we for it. Grant me the faith to be honest with You. Amen.


  1. This post started out hopeful, but the part about willful sin leaves me in despair. All my sin is willful; there is never an instance where I say, "oops, I sinned!" I often feel such despair about my life, hopeless (because it is) and I just throw myself into sin. And I'll do it again. I think when you get to a certain age life stops teasing you with hope and begins to just slap you around maliciously.

    1. It's not a matter of "oops, I sinned!" Nor is all sin in any sense willful. Most sins we commit we're not even aware of.

      But all sins a believer commits are a matter of weakness. Assuming that we are aware of them, we're tempted, and we yield to temptation. The Old Self temporarily gets the upper hand. Such sins happen many times every day, and are not what I mean by "willful sins."

      When you throw yourself into sin, as you put it, you come back to yourself, do you not ? You regret that, and want fellowship with God again. That lacks only one thing of being repentance- faith that for Jesus' sake, you are forgiven. That this happens is the work of the Holy Spirit.

      The whole problem is that when we push Him away (perhaps "sins of defiance" would be a better term than "willful sins;" you're not the first person in history to be confused by that term), we cease to be believers. We return to faith when we drop our defiance and once again desire His fellowship and believe that, for Jesus' sake, we have it. If we persist in rebellion and unbelief, or make a habit of it for two long, we can lapse into permanent unbelief. But as long as the New Self once again gains the upper hand and brings you back again, that hasn't happened.

      The fact is that the normal Christian life is a daily struggle between the Old Self and the New, and as I said, the Old Self gets the upper hand many times every day. So every day we put the Old Self to death in repentance, drowning him in our baptism (if only he weren't such a good swimmer!) so that the New Self can rise again. That's the way the Christian life normally works, and as long as that process continues- as long as the New Self continues to struggle with the Old Self- all is well.

      The problem only comes when the New Self stops struggling. Eventually he disappears. So defying God is never a good idea. But as long as we can drop our defiance and reclaim the forgiveness that is always ours in Christ- as long as the struggle continues- we can't finally lose it.

  2. Thank you for this post ! No more need to be caught up in myself and whether or not I’m doing enough— all that matters is that Jesus has forgiven us for all sins we have committed are committing and will commit— and because of that, we can get away from ourselves— we can stop focusing on our sins- and instead focus on His gift of forgiveness !


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