If asked to make a list of my chief sins, dishonesty is not among them. Indeed, I tend to pride myself on my truthfulness. I don’t fudge numbers at work, cheat on my taxes, or tell “white lies” to my friends (even if those lies might make them feel better about themselves or their circumstances). I don’t look to blame other people for my own mistakes and I would certainly never tell an outright lie, whatever the cost. I have plenty of sin problems, but lying is not one of them.
I had been considering my near-Christlike level of honesty as I headed for my congregation’s Ash Wednesday service and was a touch surprised when I opened the bulletin and discovered that the topic of dishonesty found a prominent place within one of the evening’s responsive readings. I quickly scanned the page, then tucking my bulletin into my Bible, determined that I would simply remain silent during that particular portion of the service. It would, after all, be dishonest to confess to dishonesty when one hadn’t been dishonest.
We were well into the service and, noting that we were coming up on the reading, I began to set my bulletin aside when the Spirit prompted me with the rather significant question, “You don’t lie to others, but do you lie to yourself?”
At first, I wanted to brush off the question. Of course I didn’t lie to myself. In fact, if I had any fault at all, it was that I was too honest with myself. The closer I got to Christ, the more aware of my sins I became… to the point where at times, the knowledge of the sacrifice He had made to atone for those sins seemed an incredible weight to bear. Had I never sinned, He never would have had to die. And it was with this admission that I began to understand.
In Galatians 2:20, the Apostle Paul declares that, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Christ did not die for us grudgingly or because He was compelled to do so, but like the cheerful giver of 2 Corinthians 9:7 He offered His sacrifice as He had determined in His heart. Yes, it cost Him. But what He did, He did because of His love for me.
Romans 5:6-10 reminds us that, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
I had not asked God for the gift, but He had given it anyway. Wiping away the past, He granted me the gift of a glorious future. Yet I continued to focus upon what I had done to make the gift necessary in the first place. In doing so, I was lying to myself about the forgiveness which had been purchased through that gift, acting as though God still held something against me just as I continued to hold things against myself. In telling myself that lie, I was missing the true wonder, the enjoyment of all that Christ had purchased through His blood.
Sitting in the pew, I spoke the words, “God forgive us for the times when we lie” and then quietly added, “especially when we lie to ourselves.”