Our Deepest Need
Of all the events in my life, one is by far the most important. Of all the blessings in my life, one is without a doubt the most wonderful blessing of all. Of all the things I most needed, but could never provide for myself, this was my deepest need.
One summer my mom and dad decided to empty their house of their four children. I ended up with my younger brother at a children’s camp in the middle of nowhere in northern Pennsylvania. It was a long way away for a long time for a nine-year-old boy. I remember dragging a heavy wooden locker that my dad had made up the long hill to my cabin. I was bunked in with a rowdy pack of eight- and nine-year-olds, whose faces would change at the beginning of each week.
I can remember being a bit upset that I had been assigned to the oldest male camp counselor on the staff. He didn’t look athletic and he was a bit bald, so he looked ancient to me. I just knew he would be boring and strict and that I would be stuck with him that long hot summer. What I didn’t know was that God was going to use that man to give me two wonderful gifts, gifts that we all need, whether we know it or not. That summer turned out to be the most significant, life-altering, and eternally important of my life.
I was being raised in an imperfect Christian home, and I carried with me a God-awareness from day one. My family attended church whenever the doors were opened and had family worship every morning. I knew every biblical story and could quote many key passages from memory, including the entire Christmas story as told in Luke 2. But the one thing I lacked was the knowledge of my own sin. I was the quintessential Christian-culture kid who was not a Christian. My problem was that I had no knowledge of the difference, and because I didn’t, I had no sense of personal spiritual need. But at camp that would change dramatically and forever.
My old bald counselor decided that before our bedtime devotions each week he would teach his fidgety pack of nine-year-olds the first several chapters of Romans. So, I got Romans 1–5 over and over again that summer. God knew what I needed and put me right where I would get it. One particular night the words of Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” cut like a knife into my heart. But I fought the conviction that gripped me and tried my best to hide the emotion that accompanied it.
I climbed into my third-tier bunk, but couldn’t sleep, so I began to do what no nine-year-old boy ever wants to do in bed at camp: I began to cry. And I could not stop crying. I had been given an unexpected and undeserved gift, the knowledge of my sin. At nine years old, it gripped me, scared me, and would not let me go. I lay there crying and knew I needed to pray. Why? Because I had been given another gift: the knowledge of a ready, willing, and capable Savior. I had been blessed with the awareness of his offer of forgiveness to all who confess their sin and by faith seek his forgiveness.
A Need for Confession
In my tears, I had no idea how blessed I was. I had no idea of the horrible deceitfulness of sin. I had no idea of the natural self-righteousness that is in the heart of every sinner. I had no idea that most people have no idea how dark their condition actually is. I had no idea how skilled we sinners are at giving self-atoning arguments for what we have said and done, in an attempt to remove any real guilt for sin. I had no idea that I had been chosen and was being called to no longer be a cultural Christian, but a true child of God. I had no idea that the only thing in life more important than the knowledge of sin is the knowledge of the Savior’s grace. And I had been given both. I had no idea that I had to experience the terrifying knowledge of sin, or I would never seek the Savior’s forgiving grace.
What I did know was that I needed to pray. I needed to confess my sin and cry out for God’s forgiveness. And I knew I needed to do it right there and then. But in my nine-year-old mind I thought it was disrespectful to pray such a significant prayer lying down. So I crawled out of my bunk and down the ladder as quietly as I could. I knelt in the middle of the stone floor and confessed my sin and placed my little-boy trust in the forgiving grace of the Savior. Then I quietly climbed back up to my bunk and fell fast asleep.
The Lenten season is about the sin that was the reason for the suffering and sacrifice of the Savior. It is about taking time to reflect on why we all needed such a radical move of redemption, to confess the hold that sin still has on us, and to focus on opening our hands, in confession and submission, and letting go of sin once again. But as we do this, it is important to remember that the knowledge of sin is not a dark and nasty thing but a huge and wonderful blessing. If you are aware of your sin, you are aware of it only because you have been visited by amazing grace. Don’t resist that awareness. Silence your inner lawyer and all the self-defending arguments for your righteousness. Quit relieving your guilt by pointing a finger of blame at someone else. And stop telling yourself in the middle of a sermon that you know someone who really needs to hear it.
Be thankful that you have been chosen to bear the burden of the knowledge of sin, because that burden is what drove you and will continue to drive you to seek the help and rescue that only the Savior Jesus can give you. To see sin clearly is a sure sign of God’s grace. Be thankful.
This article is adapted from Journey to the Cross: A 40-Day Lenten Devotional by Paul David Tripp.