Not far from my typical Sunday morning, I was kind of blanking out during Danny’s latest message, “Freedom.” I know he was talking a lot about David and his great sin with Bathsheba and all that jazz, but at the time I was more interested in imagining myself as Robin Hood and wondering how good I might be with a bow and arrow. I have yet to see the latest movie of Robin Hood, but the thought suddenly popped in my mind and while Danny went on and on about how David wrecked his whole life by adding sin on top of sin, I couldn’t help but imagine how far away I could go and still knock an apple off Danny’s head. I’m half Cherokee and back in the day, my people made bows that could pierce a horse halfway through their body starting in the front from over a hundred yards away. That’s pretty cool if you think about it.
But what shook my mind from these needless – though awesome – daydreams was one little phrase: “Repentance stops the cycle.” Immediately I tried to backtrack and recall all of what he was talking about before I pictured the fruit on his head. I imagine it was a great message, though I don’t remember all of it. The gist of it was basically this; David could have made his life much better if he had stopped himself at any time during his sequence of sins. And then as we all got up to “sing the last song,” I started trying to apply the message to my life and how often I have that choice to either repent or continue in sin.
There have been so many moments in my life that were very similar to David’s greatest fall. I sin once and begin to see some repercussions emerge. But instead of repenting by confessing the sin I committed and trying to move forward, I sinned again and the cycle continued until the situation was so bad that there was no way out. My shame and guilt hurt with three or four times the effect because I had gone so far into sin. And maybe a few minutes after the whole thing was over I started to think, “If only I had stopped before I started or before I went too far.” Choosing not to repent makes self forgiveness so much harder in the long run. The error we make, though, when we beat ourselves up over the missed opportunities to choose repentance is looking backward when Christ is pulling us forward.
Jesus says in Luke 9:62; “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Now contextually speaking, He was referring the would-be followers who looked back to the life they would have to leave behind in order to follow Him. But in an alternative interpretation, He could be describing someone who looks to his past in general. What I mean is, no matter what we’re specifically looking at, if we’re looking to the past, we’re not moving forward very well. This is my biggest recurring struggle: lording my own sins over myself.
Back in high school, I played on the golf team. The worst thing you could do in a tournament or in a round in general was to replay the errors of previous holes over and over again. If you shanked a ball on the third hole and thought about it on the fourth, you probably shanked another on the fourth. This makes me wonder why repetitive sins are so repetitive; is it because we just can’t accept the sin for what it is and keep doing it without thinking about it or is it because we replay our error over and over again in our minds? Is it because we refuse to see our sinful behavior as sinful behavior? Or is it because we know it’s sinful behavior but we feel so guilty about it we can’t let it go, so since it’s on our minds we do it again?
The answer we should be saying is that it doesn’t matter why we repeat our sins. What does matter is the ability we have to turn around. “Repentance stops the cycle,” no matter what. As soon as we start considering the temptation and start contemplating giving in, we have the power to turn around. The freedom we have in Christ isn’t a freedom to do whatever we want without considering the repercussions; it’s a freedom that enables us to choose not to sin anymore.
I find it somewhat interesting that I was thinking about shooting arrows off Danny’s head while he talked about the cycle of sin being broken by repentance. The word “sin” has its root meaning in Greek as “to miss the mark,” like someone firing an arrow and missing the target. What Christ’s death on the cross enabled was for us to get a second, third, fourth, or a two-hundredth chance to try again, to pull back yet another arrow and try not to miss the mark. But we can do so if we choose to make that change, if we choose to let Christ make that change in our character, in our heart. It takes discipline and patience, but most of all it takes a repentant heart.