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What if it’s true . . . that God wants your broken heart

I had never thought about it this way until I heard him say it. “Imagine how smoothly our school year would go if our classrooms were filled with 25 Pharisees.”

What a lightbulb moment that was for me. He was absolutely right. Twenty-five perfect little angels with their feet firmly planted underneath the desks, their hands respectfully folded in front of them. They’d be driven to get the best grades and have the best attitudes. They would raise their hands every time a question was asked. No one would come up with an excuse for why they didn’t do their homework because they always had their homework done! Twenty-five dream students.

Wow! Imagine it! Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Pharisee-like spouse? child? co-worker? boss? parent?

God wants your guilty mess

It’s a laughable scenario. We know that our classrooms and our homes are not filled with little Pharisees. They are filled with little sinners who are good at sinning! We understand that, and we get frustrated by that at the same time. We want perfect little Pharisees because they always listen, they always strive, they are dedicated, they are the hardest workers. We want the people who are “not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11).

But is the Pharisee what God wants? Jesus made it a regular habit of preaching sermons to the Pharisees, and the sermons were not exactly thanking them for their upright, righteous lives. On one occasion Jesus said to them, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’ ” (Matthew 15:7,8).

What then does God want from you? What if it’s true that God wants your broken heart? King David, who was suffering from his own guilt, said, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:16,17). God doesn’t want your vain attempts at righteousness; he wants your sin. He wants your honest confession. He wants your guilt. He wants your mess.

God’s righteousness covers your sins

Think about what that means for us. Think about how hard we strive to present ourselves as perfect little Pharisees. We work so hard to hide our mess so no one can see it. We post the perfect pictures on social media that paint us in the perfect light so everyone can see that we have it all together. But the images that paint the real picture? Those get sent to the trash. And the truth of our hurts, our sins, our guilt, our frustrations, our trials? Those get hidden while we stand in the front of church thanking God that we are not like those people.

But it wasn’t the Pharisee who went home justified. It was the tax collector who knew his sin and knew what he deserved because of it. It was the tax collector who begged for mercy at the hands of a righteous God. He went home justified because he placed his guilt right where it belonged.

I’m certainly not suggesting that you must air your dirty laundry for all the world to see. But consider what a blessing it is that you do not need to hide from your God—and he doesn’t want you to.

Martin Luther once wrote a letter to a fellow pastor who was experiencing melancholy on account of the guilt he was carrying. Luther had some rather interesting words to share with this man. He said,

Therefore I beg you, join us truly great and hardboiled sinners so that you do not diminish Christ for us, who is not a saviour [sic] for imaginary or trivial sins but rather for real sins—not only small ones but great ones—yes even the worst, and for all sins committed by all people. In this way Staupitz used to comfort me in my melancholic periods, saying “You wish to be a ‘painted sinner’ and to have a ‘painted Christ’ as your saviour. You must get used to the fact that Christ is a real saviour and that you are a real sinner.”*

Luther is not encouraging us to sin. Rather, he is reminding us that hiding our sin diminishes the work of Christ for us.

Lent is a time of contrition and repentance. If you desire it, it can be an especially meaningful time for personal confession and absolution from your pastor. You don’t have to hide. Confess your sin. Acknowledge your guilt. Christ’s righteousness is his gift to you!

*doxology.us/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Luther-to-Doctor-George-Spalatin-on-Melancholy.pdf


The importance of confession

In Grace Abounds, Daniel Deutschlander highlights why the Confession (see an example on p. 154 of Christian Worship) is part of our church’s weekly worship:

It is because of the importance of this use of the law as a mirror that the major liturgies of the church have a confession of sin at the beginning of the service. . . . Without the law as a constant mirror we become self-righteous; without the gospel as the healing balm for the guilty soul we despair. Both self-righteousness and despair are the opposites of faith. . . .

As Jesus pointed out so well, only the sick, yes, those who recognize how desperately sick they are, will pay heed to the Physician who heals with the gospel in Word and sacraments. What good does it do for people to feel good about themselves if their good feeling is nothing more than self-righteous self-deception? . . . Woe to those who soft-peddle the law and thus prevent the Holy Spirit from accomplishing the work he wants to accomplish through the law, namely, the work of driving us to a despair that longs for the relief which Jesus longs to give us through the gospel. (p. 236)

Christian Worship also includes an example of private confession and absolution for those who want personal assurance of their forgiveness from their pastor or a fellow Christian (p. 282).

Learn more by registering for “What if it’s true. . .”, a virtual Forward in Christ Bible study led by Pastor Lyon. More information is available at forwardinchrist.net/online-study.

Author: Gregory Lyon
Volume 111, Number 3
Issue: March 2024

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