By show of hands, how many of you would be willing to admit that you talk to yourself? (Bonus point for actually raising your hand!) If you do, you’d probably also have to admit this happens often. I know it does for me. I think it’s a good thing to do: introspection is always beneficial. Though it can be embarrassing if done in public. Thanks to modern technology, however, we can just pretend we’re on a Bluetooth device, discussing important business matters, or something like that. But when was the last time you found your inner voice talking to you and asking the question, “What have I done? How did I get here?” Well, for me, the last time I asked myself this question I was staring up at the roof of an ambulance, strapped to a gurney, on my way to the emergency room . . .
I remember, I was still in such shock from the accident that I could barely speak in anything but mutters. I could hardly think clearly. But I do remember one thought constantly running through my head: “How did I get here? I didn’t mean for this to happen! How had I allowed myself to sink this low?” I hadn’t even realized how far I had strayed from God. That’s the thing with sin, it lures you in deeper and deeper, and gradually you justify more and more, and slowly but surely you slip into greater and greater — more egregious and more dangerous — sins. It’s a vicious downward cycle.
Then, all those seemingly “little” steps culminate in a tragic or painful event, and you find yourself way in over your head, as the saying goes. It’s around that same time that you start to look back, that you begin to wonder how you got to where you are now. It’s in these moments that God does some of his “best” work.
Comfort in conviction.
The world chides conviction. Any situation we don’t like or deem uncomfortable is cast aside and thrown away for the more easy or cozy one. We don’t like being uncomfortable; it’s awkward and unsettling. But believers can find repose in this: that it’s through these unsettling and uncomfortable feelings or circumstances that God is trying get a grip of you.
Don’t avoid conviction because it’s awkward — run to it, knowing that the joy of repentance and elation of renewed fellowship with Christ is far greater than any uncomfortableness or uneasiness. What’s more, you can’t avoid conviction. If you’re trying to go on with unconfessed sin in your life, those feelings of guilt, shame, and restlessness will never go away. Unconfessed sin is like our shadow: when standing in the light of the sun, it’s always present, following us, haunting us, taunting us, wherever we go. We can’t escape it or elude it, regardless of how hard we try. We can avoid our shadow, for a season under cover of darkness, of night, but the light of the sun will always return. So, too, will the guilt and shame and remorse of sin that has been left to fester. In the light of the Son, when we compare ourselves to him, we’ll never escape our darkness. We can’t evade or elude the fact that we are sinful and wicked by nature. But in the light of his gospel, a way has been made for freedom!
Deliverance from this darkness is possible, and only possible, through the imputation of the Son’s righteousness, the very glory of the cross. If you’re a Christian, this is why the Holy Spirit’s conviction can be considered wonderful. It is a gift of God that he sweeps over us and surrounds us with his presence to chasten his children. His conviction comes because of poor decisions and unconfessed sin and our failure to believe that everything we need in Christ we already have.
There’s nothing more miserable or more defeating than trying to hide your sin and repudiating any notions that your lifestyle is, in fact, deplorable and wicked. We only need to look at one of the great characters in the Bible for a prime example of the futility of existing with unconfessed sin.
Deterioration or deliverance?
The great king of Israel, David, pours out his heart in an awesome portrait of God’s wonderful conviction and beautiful forgiveness in Psalm 32, in which we can clearly see an accurate picture of the experience of confession and the ensuing cleansing through repentance and forgiveness. Historians and scholars alike have linked this particular psalm with the tragic story of Uriah in 2 Samuel 11–12. That, of course, is the account of King David’s sin with Bathsheba and the subsequent transgression in the even more disturbing attempted cover-up of the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband.
The first seven verses of 2 Samuel 12 are really the climax of this account, in which the prophet Nathan tells a parable to the king. (2 Sam 12:1–7) David is overwhelmed by the conviction of the Holy Spirit and recognizes his failure and shame and realizes his desperate need for repentance and grace. “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.’” (2 Sam 12:13) Further down in the narrative: “David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground.” (2 Sam 12:16)
David undoubtedly felt the weight of conviction, but it is his response to Nathan’s pointed accusation and the Holy Spirit’s chastening that should serve as an example to us. He foolishly conspired to bury his betrayal and adultery by concocting a plot that led to innocent Uriah’s death. But the flood of guilt overwhelmed the king, as he confesses, “For when I kept silent (that is, ‘when I tried to continue living with unconfessed sin’), my bones (or vigor or strength) wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” (Ps 32:3–4) David was silent about his sin and that silence proved to be extremely taxing and condemning. The phrase “wasted away” (or “waxed old,” as it is in the KJV) literally means “to wear out,” “to waste,” “to fall away,” or “to fail.” David’s resistance to obvious conviction was eating away at his soul, and the effects of this were all-encompassing, deteriorating his mental, physical, and spiritual strength. The great theologian Charles Spurgeon illustrates this idea by commenting:
Unconfessed transgression, like a fierce poison, dried up the fountain of the man’s strength, and made him like a tree blasted by the lightning, or a plant withered by the scorching heat of a tropical sun.1
This is the inevitable end for you if you’re trying to live with “hidden” sin. All energy will be sapped from you and all joy will be lost. The more you try to hide, the deeper you’ll sink into despair. The psalmist continues to say, “Many are the sorrows of the wicked” (Ps 32:10) — and certainly there can be found no joy or happiness when attempting to live with stagnant sin and refusing to recognize and revel in the conviction of God.
Inescapable guilt, relentless grace.
You can try and cover your sin but ultimately you will fail. You won’t be able to escape the guilt and the dread that follows when you try and hide your wrong doings. The point is, that’s exactly how God designed it to work. Those feelings of guilt and shame are allowed by God, by the Holy Spirit, to work on you — to get your attention. They’re there on purpose. As verse 9 illustrates, sometimes we have to be directed by harsh jerks on the reins, as a horse would. “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle.” (Ps 32:9) Isn’t that a flattering picture of us? We’re just like a horse or a mule, which has “no understanding” (which is just another way to say that we’re stupid), and must be controlled by a bit and bridle. And just as horses can sometimes stray off the intended path of their rider, so too do we stray from God’s path for our lives. It’s in those seasons that God gives us a trial to experience. He allows things to happen in our lives that stir us back to reality, that get us onto our knees.
God uses the bit and bridle on us too, and if we were to see adversity and hardship more as God pulling back on the reins to get us to gaze on him, we’d accept and appreciate the trials much more. So often we spend our time looking for peace and searching for contentment, striving to get things settled, all the while not realizing that our lives are unsettled for a reason. You’re not supposed to find transcendent peace if you’re living with unconfessed sin. (Phil 2:7) To find joy, we must find Christ. To experience peace, we must be living in his gospel of grace. There are many things that God designed to work in a specific way, and in this case, we aren’t designed, humanly and spiritually speaking, to live with unconfessed sin. It goes against our nature.
We can try and cover it up, we can try to hide our sin, but nothing can be hidden from God. Eventually the guilt will destroy your spirit and that guilt will keep you from experiencing any true rest or lasting joy. Joy and rest are only found in recognizing the wonderful conviction of God, in experiencing the love of God, and in receiving the forgiveness of God — that is, in reveling and rejoicing in his glorious gospel of grace!
This is the eternal encouragement for the Christian: God doesn’t let us remain in our sin. When we are caught up in rebellion, we don’t want to admit it, we don’t want to think about it. When we consciously think about our sins, then we feel obligated to do something about them. But if we can shove our sins back into the corners of our minds and not dwell on them, we think we can live easier with ourselves. But this is futile rationale because God cares so deeply for his children that no matter what it costs, he will get their attention — somehow, some way.
God always provides the right jerk on the reins to get us back on the right path. That’s what God did for me. He saw me wallowing in my sin and he provided a jolt to get me back to him, to get me to realize how far I had really gone away from him. We are often too prideful or too content in our sin to confess it to God, but thankfully God doesn’t allow the believer to stay that way. Through his wonderful conviction and unending grace, Jesus provides a way — he is the Way!
Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vols. 1–3 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988), 1:2.83.