I recently learned of the infidelity of a former colleague. I am troubled by the news - both out of heartfelt love and concern for my friend, and also because of the dishonor done to Christ and His preaching office. The damage on both counts is great and I mourn the loss.
When we learn of such infidelity, there is always the temptation for judgment. We pretend that we know better. We tell ourselves we would never do that. We pretentiously select the character flaw that we assume contributed to their demise. This is naive and unrealistic. Sinners fall into sin because they are sinners. And we are all sinners. Any one of us could just as easily fall into the same sin at a given moment. After all, who among us has not felt in some moment of weakness the bitterness of life and its great pressures weighing heavily on us? Who among us might not have fallen at that moment had the opportunity presented itself? It is only the grace and mercy of God that preserves any one of us from duplicating these sins. Such occasion calls each of us to repent and beg the Lord for mercy.
While we are foolish to pretend to offer explanations, what is of concern is that there often seems to be an influence of pietism on such situations. Pietism has at its heart the notion that the individual is and can be better than they are. Pietism promotes a self-delusion of personal righteousness that one must hold on to at all costs. Because pietism is built on your moral improvement you have to hold out for your own goodness, you have to pretend on the surface that you are "pulling it off", that you are living the Christian life, that you are an example for everyone else to follow. As a result, pietism forces us to overlook the sin that lurks within.
Pretending we are righteous doesn't make the Old Adam go away. He's still there, still lurking in the shadows. Still waiting for his opportunity to get out and do exactly the sin he has been scheming. Pietism overlooks that Old Adam. It pretends he isn't' there, that he has gone, that we have wrestled him away. But then, when the moment of weakness arrives, the old man is provided with just the opportunity he needs to sneak out and surprise us with what we should have seen coming.
The only antidote against sin is the gospel. Confession and absolution. Daily drownings in the waters of baptism. Paul commands us to shine the light of God's Word into the deep, dark places of our hearts and walk as children of light (Ephesians 5). Covering up the sin in a pietistic self delusion won't due. Only turning the bright light of God's Word into our hearts can expose that sin so that we acknowledge it, confess it, and are absolved from it. The sinner does not have the strength to overcome his sin. The sinner needs Jesus!
The only confidence we can have is in the grace and mercy of Jesus. For all those who have fallen, there is the promise that He will not hold their sins against them. "Though their sins be as scarlet, yet they will be whiter than snow." For those of us who have been preserved from such a fall, the only confidence is Jesus - in turning our hearts in confession and repentance to Him and daily living in the forgiveness that He provides in His means of grace.
Lord Jesus, may the New Man of my baptism spring to life again today as I confess my sin to you. Amen.