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I used to keep lists of my sins.
That way, I wouldn’t forget any of them when I went to confession.
Those first few minutes after confession were pretty much the only time I felt “clean.” Forgiven. Safe. If I died walking away from that confessional, I was pretty sure I would go to heaven. Any other time, I wasn’t so certain.
I did a lot things to try to make sure I went to heaven. Observed rites, followed rules, tried very hard to avoid certain sins, and felt very guilty when I committed them. I also made it my business to tell those around me what they should and should not be doing. (I hadn’t yet learned that judging others is a sin, so I didn’t feel too badly about that.)
In college, my best friend (who would later become my husband) asked me why I practiced the rituals and traditions that I did. My response was defensive. Because I was supposed to! Everyone is supposed to!!
Some time later, after a painful falling out with the aforementioned friend (unrelated to our religious differences), I turned to the Bible for comfort. I had tried to read it before, but for the first time it was making so much sense to me. Two verses from the book of Romans changed everything. The first was in Chapter 5.
~~But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8, NIV).~~
The reason this verse was so earth-shattering, was that it said that God’s love had nothing to do with my “goodness.” He didn’t wait, and wasn’t waiting, for me to be good enough for Him. His love–that sent Jesus to the cross for my sins–preceded any good or bad I had ever done!
Then five chapters later, I found this:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved (Romans 10:9-10, NIV).
What?? Let the trumpets sound! Let the earth rejoice!! All this time I had been trying to earn salvation, which was impossible and quite unnecessary. Jesus had already done the job. Better than I ever, ever could! I was giddy. I couldn’t believe the good news. I was leaving Bible verses on my outgoing voicemail recording and writing them on my college homework assignments and papers. 🙂 (May I always be so overjoyed by God’s love!) As I grew to learn, it still matters how I live–how I treat people, what kind of wife and mother I am, how I spend my time and money. But my motivation should now be love for God, not fear of eternal damnation (John 14:15, 2 John 1:6). And when I fall short, the “clean” feeling that I used to get only from reciting my list of sins to another person, can now be only a prayer away (1 John 1:9).
I have to confess, while I’m no longer living in fear of hell, I’m still learning not to fear what may happen on earth. Will my marriage succeed? Will my children thrive? My mind can go on and on. So, my testimony is a work in progress. But the same God who started this work in me will be faithful to finish it (Philippians 1:6).
Thank you for stopping by,