Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Cure Worse Than the Disease?

If It Hurts, It's Good for You
More than once I have heard this or a similar statement made in the context of physical labor or exercise.  Yet as difficult as those times of muscle strain might be, nothing in the ordinary seasons of life, compares to the internal strain wrought by the acknowledgment of sin, repentance, and confession.  Whether one is an addict who is driven by his fixation or a person who just needs to make amends for an unkind word, nothing quite affects the well-being so positively as the admission of guilt.

At the same time nothing is so difficult to accomplish.  People deal with their flaws in different ways: some conceal, some deny, and others will even flaunt.  Whatever means can be used to avoid squelching pride will be held tightly until convinced by the truth of God's word with its sharp, cutting work of exposing the baseness of who and what we are.

Tertullian recognized the effectiveness of confession as he describes the practice of ἐξομολόγησις (utter confession) for those who had recanted the faith in order to prevent suffering or death during the early persecutions. When they wished to repent, they were called on to publicly display repentance designed to move the church to once again accept them into fellowship.
With regard also to the very dress and food, it bids him to lie in sackcloth and ashes, to cover his body in mourning, to lay his spirit low in sorrows, to exchange for severe treatment the sins which he has committed. Moreover, to know no food and drink but such as is plain,—not for the stomach’s sake but the soul’s; for the most part, however, to feed prayers on fasting, to groan, to weep and cry out to the Lord your God; to bow before the feet of the elders, and kneel to God’s beloved; to impose on all the brethren to be ambassadors to bear his deprecatory supplication. (On Repentance 9)
Regardless of how one reacts to the degree of austerity in the practice, the personal elements—abnegation and supplication—were well-known reactions to sin in the biblical world (1 Ki 21:27; Neh 9:1-2; Jon 3:5-8).  On the Day of Atonement, God commanded the community, "afflict yourselves," "do no work," and "have a holy convocation" (Lev 16:29-31; 23:27-31; Num 29:7), not because there was a particular, identifiable sin, but because they were sinners.  The holy things needed to be cleansed because of what they were, not because what they did.

Avoiding It Like the Plague
All people, whether from the early third-century or early twenty-first, have a natural inclination to avoid disclosure for fear of "a public exposure of themselves," attempting to defer repentance
thinking more of modesty than of salvation; just like men who, having contracted some malady in the more private parts of the body, avoid the confidentiality of physicians, and perish because of their own bashfulness. (On Repentance 10.1)
The inability to face the truth inhibits us from seeking a needful remedy.  Many can attest to those they knew who avoided early medical attention for an affliction and slipped into a far worse condition.  We do much the same in the spiritual realm by turning away from the light of truth and the One who is the light:
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed (John 3:20).
We fear the both the Great Physician and his cure.  We know his condemnation is just, and that we cannot withstand its full brunt.

Putting on a Brave Face
Sin has a cascading effect: the more we do it, the more bold we become.  We seek out others who will engage in the same sinful activities and try to convince others to join (Prov 1:11-14; 7:14-20; Rom 1:32).  Attitude becomes more brazen as revelry and wantonness increase.

When faced with our own sin and the need for repentance, this turns to sheepishness.  Shame enters with a tendency to cower.  There is a feeling of being trapped—knowing that the only way out is to come clean, yet fearing what others will think of the admission.  Some “double down” on sin hoping to salve the conscience.  The rest struggle for a time as pride continues to wage war in a desperate attempt to maintain its inimical control as the person considers the possible reactions and scenarios from acquaintances if repentance is made.  Perhaps no other person knew of the sin, and when exposed, friends and acquaintances turn against him or her.

The spiritual understand that sinners are "a dime a dozen."  Their assemblies are filled with them and are represented from the elders down to the newest believer.  The difference is that they know and believe that Christ died for their sin.  They understand that the one wrestling with sin is no different than they who will exhort, care, and admonish for good.  That is the place of refuge—the body of Christ.
But among brethren and fellow-servants, where there is common hope, fear, joy, grief, suffering, because there is a common Spirit from a common Lord and Father, why do you think these brothers to be anything other than yourself?  Why flee from the partners of your own mischances, as from such as will derisively cheer them?  The body cannot feel gladness at the trouble of any one member, it must necessarily join with one consent in the grief, and in laboring for the remedy.  (On Repentance 10.2)
The church acts as nurse-maid, solacing and binding up the repentant one as the Holy Spirit does his work.  Being Christ's very body, it acts as his hands and mouthpiece to restore and correct what had been injured or lost.  Here there is the comfort of knowing restoration and acceptance of one whose sins are forgiven for Christ's sake.

No Pain, No Gain
Death is painful and ugly, tearing asunder what is a whole person with throes being a visible testament to the end.  In similar fashion our sin struggles within.  Though our old self is crucified with Christ (Rom 6:6) and we be considering our selves dead to sin (Rom 6:11), that nature still works in our members seeking to regain control.  Having been buried with Christ, the repentant person will feel the struggle in presenting his members as slaves of righteousness leading to sanctification (Rom 6:19).
But where repentance is made, the misery ceases, because it is turned into something beneficial.  Miserable it is to be cut, and cauterized, and tortured with caustic medicinal powder.  Still, the things which heal by unpleasant means do, by the benefit of the cure, excuse their own offensiveness, and make present injury bearable for the sake of a future advantage.  (On Repentance 10.4)
Yes, repentance hurts, but the sin had been doing far more damage, bringing misery and destruction upon us at our own hand.  Only the effectual work of God's word and Spirit allows us to now walk in newness of life, being cleansed from unrighteousness by virtue of Christ's atoning sacrifice on our behalf.

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