Life simulator computer games are very popular and great fun. You can create your own character in a virtual world. Your character is whatever you want it to be, whether a little animal on an island, or a full-blown human character in a very realistically rendered world. Arguably, Facebook, Instagram and other social networks allow us to do this too. People don’t just airbrush their profile photographs; they airbrush their lives. Yet we’ve been doing this in our ‘in-person’ social lives for a lot longer than this technology has been around.
You will have heard a lot of messages like, “be true to yourself,” “be the real you,” or “be authentic.” But then you just set your sights on the person you think you should be, and not the person you actually are. Or you are led to believe that the wrong things that you desire aren’t really wrong, because that would mean there is something wrong with the ‘real you.’
There is something wrong, though, and we need to be honest with ourselves and each other. Though Christians are redeemed by Christ, we are sinful by nature. Only Jesus is without sin (as Article 15 of the 39 Articles reminds us); we are constantly battling with it.
It’s dangerous to pretend there isn’t something wrong when there is something wrong. During this pandemic, when people or whole countries have pretended there isn’t a problem, the fallout has been devastating.
1 John 1:6 says, “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” This is a warning for Christians, who believe in Jesus, who love Jesus, but who can still be walking in the darkness of their sin as if everything is just fine. John calls us to stop living a lie but follows this warning with an encouragement in v.7. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, v.8, but v.9, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
To live the real life we have been given by Jesus – to live in the light – we need to admit our sins and repent of them. Repentance means changing our mind – accepting that the way we think is wrong and accepting God’s way is right. Repentance means changing our hearts – accepting that we set our hearts on the wrong things and opening our hearts to Jesus. When we admit our sins and repent of them, we will be forgiven.
Hebrews 3:12-13 says, “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
As well as the encouragement of church gatherings and house groups, we need to have those we trust with the delicate and undignified catalogue of our sinful predispositions. We need relationships like that, but we need to build them: reading the Bible one to one, having intentional spiritual conversations, or just making the point of asking how you can pray for someone every time we see them.
Our relationship with each other matters because we are united in Christ, so we must not deny the place of forgiveness to those who truly repent (Article 16 of the 39 Articles). The danger is we all have our own taste in sin. Some sins seem repugnant to us, and others seem quite understandable. We get on our high-horses and condemn people for one kind of sin, and we almost congratulate other people for another. Let’s not do that. Let’s not stand in judgment against each other. Let’s stand together in Christ against sin.
This article was first published in the Church of England newspaper