There is the old Anglican bidding at morning and evening prayers for public worship. It reads: “Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and that we should not dissemble nor cloak them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father, but confess them with a humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart, to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same by his infinite goodness and mercy.
And although we ought at all times humbly to acknowledge our sins before God; yet ought we most chiefly so to do, when we assemble and meet together to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at his hands, to set forth his most holy word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary as well for the body as the soul…” (BCN)
Thereafter, the Christians, being miserable sinners, are called to confess and plead for the mercy of God. This is premised on the biblical injunction: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us: but if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to clean us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). The Church is established for various purposes.
A few reasons why Christians gather for worship are to render thanks for the great benefits God has given us, to praise God; for He is worthy to be praised, and to ask (pray) for those things which are requisite and necessary for the body and soul (Psalm 95). This is only achievable if we purge ourselves of sins through the mercy, faithfulness and grace of God in Christ Jesus.
Sin creates a huge lacuna between us and God. It alienates us from God. Only the holy ones can behold God. Yet, Jesus came for sinners. In His hatred of sins is also contained Christ’s love for sinners.
He desires to seek, wash us and deliver sinners to God as clean and perfect people. Nevertheless, there is a new theology that says once you are born again you have disentangled yourself from sin, and there is no need to confess your sin every Sunday.
Most of the early Christian denominations were accused of “going in and out” of sin weekly simply because of the bidding that acknowledged human sinful nature.
Without making much debate of this, one would only ask, is this world now a better place today, are we not witnessing atrocities of Christians; and even of pastors daily? Not acknowledging the sinful nature of man is being in self-deceit.
Let us not get entangled in the human delusion that Christians do not sin. “To the Lord, our God belongs mercies and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against him; neither have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in his laws which he set before us” (Daniel 9:9-10).
With a sense of humility, we must self-ask one another as the Psalmist has done. “Who can know his own unwitting sins?” And prays, “O cleanse me from my secret faults” (Psalm 19:12). In verses 13 and 14, he pleads, “Keep your servant also from presumptuous sins lest they get the mastery over me so I shall be clean and innocent of great offence. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight O Lord my strength and my redeemer.”
The Church is not a place where sin is encouraged and promoted. Members are called to a life of holiness. However, being members who carry body and flesh, they are encouraged to rely on someone who is the Strength and Redeemer of the faithful.
He is our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ (Psalm 19:14). The first thing the church must do is acknowledge human sinful nature. Sin is the cause of human suffering and limitations. It denies us the privilege of accessing God. It is exactly this message Apostle Paul puts across in Romans 8:20-22.
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labour with birth pangs together until now.”
Consequently, we should acknowledge our weakness as people who possess flesh and blood. A body of Christ (the Church) that does not underscore this fact cannot build a strong Christian community of great people of faith.
Christians should surrender themselves to the Holy Spirit. “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And He who searches the heart knows what the mind of the Spirit is because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). Only the Holy Spirit can free us from the bondage of sin.
The Holy Spirit makes us heirs and inheritors of the kingdom of God (Romans 8:31-33). It is in the Holy Spirit that we are justified in God. Christ Jesus teaches that we should be child-like if we are to be truly His disciples. He enjoins us to be converted, humble, receivers, not to offend and to shed off sin-bearer (vv. 3-9). With this Christians can be sure of being worthy Disciples of Christ and be heaven bound.
“For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.” The church must not cast out the sinner. Rather it should seek sinners and restore them to Christ. The way we must relate with transgressors is to forgive and reconcile them to the body of Christ; not to cast them out.
“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone, if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” The church of God is not a place for shaming sinners. It is a place for seeking and building.
“It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:14). It is in the Church we are taught about sins that kill. Such sins include trespasses against God’s law (John 1:29); unforgiving spirit (Matthew 18:15-17); false doctrines and offences contrary to Scriptures (Roman 16:17); hatred of Christ (1 Corinthians 16:22); disorderly conduct and disobedience (2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-15); apostasy (Timothy 1:19-20, 4:1-8); heresy (Titus 3:10; 1 Timothy 6:3-5); as well as fornication and other gross sins that are soul-killing (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 6:9-11).
We must recall that the church refers to those who have been called out and separated unto a holy and sanctified life (1 Peter 2:9-10). To continue to live in sin is to reject being ‘called’ or ‘chosen.’ For sin is the transgression of God’s known will or any principle or law regarded as embodying this. Sin is also “the condition of estrangement from God arising from transgression”. Let us, therefore, believe in the power of Christ to save us from sin and condemnation (John 3:17-19).
Shalom and be blessed.
The Rev’d Dr Karo Ogbinaka, an Anglican priest of the Diocese of Lagos West, lectures at the Department of Philosophy, University of Lagos. He is a member of the editorial board of The Trumpet.