Fulton J. Sheen
The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen was visiting a maximum-security prison. In his message to the inmates he stated, “The only difference between you and me is that you got caught.”
This must have startled the criminal crowd, the Archbishop standing before them, putting himself in the same league with them. The message he conveyed is one of the key concepts anyone seeking to be a Christian, a follower of Christ, has to adopt: we’re all sinful people in need of God’s forgiveness and restoration.
The tendency for us, however, is to soften this reality by comparing ourselves to those who we believe have acted far more badly than we have. We’re selective in this comparison game, careful to identify real scoundrels with which to compare ourselves.
The problem with this approach is that it denies us a meaningful and dynamic relationship with God and healthy relationships with others. The right course of action is to move from prideful self-deception to a humble awareness of our true condition.
Much of popular thinking, including much self-help literature, tells us we’re inherently good. It’s not true; our natural tendency is to be selfish and want our own way at the expense of others. The good news is that we can have the boldness to ‘fess up to our own sinful nature and actions because we’re guaranteed God will forgive us. There’s no risk in confessing to God; His gracious nature means He’s willing to forgive.
I remember when our son was a little boy. When he did something wrong he would resist confessing his wrongdoing. He would be in a fowl mood, was cool toward me and his mother, and life with his sister didn’t go very well either. After some time he would eventually admit his wrongdoing, sometimes with gentle and loving coaching from his parents. There was sometimes a form of punishment, but there was also forgiveness on the part of his mother and me. Having been freshly forgiven, he was in an exuberant and joyful mood, willing to relate to his parents again, go about his play with delight, and even enjoy playtime with his older sister.
It seems counter-intuitive, but the way to experience life in its fullness is to admit to our own sinfulness. We’re then in a position to let God carry out His wonderful plan of forgiveness and restoration!
“If we confess our sins he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9