By Brooke Stacia DeMott
As a kid with Italian grandparents in the overwhelmingly Catholic region of central New York, it was a rite of passage to undergo the rituals of ‘first confession’. Though our home wasn’t remotely religious, my mother gave a nod of respect to her own upbringing by requiring some of her children to carry that flickering torch.
Since we had no religious groundwork and little understanding of the hallmarks exclusive to the Catholic Church, it was a peculiar experience.
I didn’t know what to expect as I slipped into the confessional. After a few awkward moments (“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned… it’s been never since my last confession”), a hidden priest gently encouraged me to come clean.
I struggled to identify ‘my sin.’ I knew about stealing, murder and lying- but otherwise, the concept was foreign to me. I mumbled something about being mean to my siblings, and threw in a few fabricated sins, to add some color to the affair.
As we drove home, my mother half-proclaimed, half-asked “There! Don’t you feel better?”
‘Better than what?’ I thought. I hadn’t felt bad to begin with. Actually, I felt a little worse, after lying to a priest- although, I reasoned, at least I’d have something to confess if I had to do it again.
My child’s mind concluded three things that day: First, church had something to do with sin; second, church was supposed to make me feel better; and third- for some reason- it didn’t work.
After decades of searching for God within the echoing stone walls of tradition, and the polished coffee-bar concert halls of contemporary Christianity- I have come to the conclusion that sin is worse than we realize, ‘church’ is not what we think, and feeling better is not the same thing as getting well.
Let’s start with sin.
The screaming, belligerent nature of gross sin (like murder or sexual perversion) tends to be specific to a small minority- which, miserably, eases the conscience of the masses who are generally not given to such things.
More common sins, like lying and coveting, get shoved into the ‘Well, nobody’s perfect,’ category, and smothered in excuses.
But God doesn’t grade on a curve, because sin is primarily a condition of the heart.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah17:9)
What a stark contrast against today’s post-modern reliance on the heart’s compass! Ironically (or, strategically), ‘follow your heart’ is a tune piped by the enemy of your soul, intended to dance you off the edge of a cliff.
So, we are born at a deficit, our reason tainted by deceitful lusts and confused by the siren calls of a twisted world system.
“Everyone is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then, when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren!” 1James1:14-16
If our hearts -marked by raw emotion and impulse- are treacherous, unhealthy, and twisted by the world, then it isn’t simply ill-advised to ‘follow’ your heart; it’s satanic.
“For from within the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Matt7:21-23
Lust- an uncontrolled craving for something you don’t have- stirs the coals of temptation, and acts on our heart’s behalf to fulfill our desires. If allowed free reign in our lives, lust will rule our decisions, birthing sin which eventually manifests in death- the death of our health, mental prowess, relationships, peace of mind, and eventually our bodies.
But how can we identify sinful temptation, if our very inclinations betray us?
God has given us three checkpoints to identify sin; our conscience (which speaks softly but often, if we choose to hear it), access to the Holy Spirit by the sacrifice of Jesus (who is far louder and more specific than the conscience!) and a clear picture of sin in the scripture.
Sin, simply defined, is ‘whatever sets itself against the nature of God.’
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves has been born of God, and knows God.” (1 John 4:7)
Love is the act of living for the best interest of another. Love is ‘patient, kind, not envious or proud, boastful or disrespectful, self-seeking or easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love always protects, hopes, trusts, and perseveres- love never fails.’ (1 Cor 13:4-7)
Truth: “If you continue in my word, you are my disciples indeed; And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32) God is utterly true in his words, deeds and intentions; truth is found in God’s unchangeable nature, and the enduring words of scripture.
Just: “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and please the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17)
Merciful: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Eph 2:4-5)
Holy: “He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct (1Peter1:15) The word ‘holy’ means ‘set apart’, distinct from what is common to the world. To be holy is to be utterly contrarian to this world’s systems and accepted norms.
Sin begins in the heart, not the hand- so to confess our sin to God, we must bring Him the inclinations of our hearts, no matter how ugly they may be. For, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1John1:9)
— Brooke Stacia DeMott is a columnist with In Good Health newspaper. Got a question for Demott? Feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. The beliefs and opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this newspaper or any other agency, organization, employer or company.