Sin Boldly: Psalm 51

Psalm 51

51 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

I have a confession to make: I can’t stop sinning.

Not long ago, I would have phrased that differently: I won’t stop sinning. Or I haven’t stopped sinning. Both word choices would have reflected my perceived control over the situation: it’s up to me; I just haven’t gotten there (tried hard enough, recommitted fervently enough, done enough altar calls and really meant it this time).

Courtesy Eder Capobianco (https://www.flickr.com/photos/antimidia/)

Courtesy Eder Capobianco (https://www.flickr.com/photos/antimidia/)

I know now that no amount of will is going to get me to a sinless existence. Or to be honest, even a better existence. All that more effort will do is tire me out and leave me wondering, as my high-school self did, whether I should continue in this Christian walk when it’s just so exhausting.

I want to reach back through time to pat that girl on the head…and maybe pummel her a bit. Because she was so missing the point.

There’s nothing quite like living in New York City…or getting married…or becoming a parent to show you how high your Sin Potential is. And I’ve done all three. In recent years, I’ve become intimately and daily acquainted with what a jerk I am. You would think this would be bad news, and to that high-schooler so fixated on grades and performance as a reflection of self-worth, it would be. But now? Now it sets me free. It frustrates, and offends, and terrifies me–but it sets me free. Because where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. And forgiveness is transformed from an idea to a reality. This is messy, painful, beautiful stuff. This is grace.

My husband and I saw the musical Hamilton last week, so expect that to show up in every post I write from now on. In the song “It’s Quiet Uptown”–one that reduces me to tears by the mere thought–the following words wreck me even further:

There is a grace too powerful to name

We push away what we can never understand

We push away the unimaginable…

Forgiveness. Can you imagine?

The tune is sung in the aftermath of a son’s death, while a couple is learning to live again: life in the face of death. Forgiveness in the face of betrayal. And this is the Gospel–not getting better, but dying and being reborn. I think about how I’ve been killed–by life, and by my own sin. The remaking process–redemption–can be exquisitely painful. It can feel like death. But I’ve never once landed afterward where I was before. There is new life. And part of that process is believing that I am forgiven. Accepting that forgiveness. This is how I honor God, how I acknowledge his work in my life: not by vowing to stop sinning, and not just by practicing forgiveness myself, but by accepting his. Taking him at his word, and moving forward. Beautifully, it is that forgiveness that makes me want to change–but it’s not me who makes the change happen. This is a grace almost too powerful to name: that I would never have known forgiveness without sinning. That I keep messing up, yet not ending up in the same place. That I am more and more alive in the Gospel.

It all makes me want to not sin–which I will fail at. But more importantly, it makes me want to sing.

Written by Stephanie Phillips

Stephanie Phillips

Stephanie Phillips is a former Southern belle and recovering fundamentalist who was exiled to New York City for five years to think about what she’d done. After a widening of life experience and becoming reacquainted with grace, she now lives in Atlanta with her husband and two young boys, where she practices pediatric dentistry just often enough that it helps pay her Netflix bill and allows time to write her blog (plansinpencil.com) and contribute to her favorite websites (thewheelhousereview.com, mbird.com, bodypoliticblog.org).

About Stephanie Phillips

Stephanie Phillips is a former Southern belle and recovering fundamentalist who was exiled to New York City for five years to think about what she’d done. After a widening of life experience and becoming reacquainted with grace, she now lives in Atlanta with her husband and two young boys, where she practices pediatric dentistry just often enough that it helps pay her Netflix bill and allows time to write her blog (plansinpencil.com) and contribute to her favorite websites (thewheelhousereview.com, mbird.com, bodypoliticblog.org).

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