A Clean Slate
Today begins a new calendar year and many of us are hoping for a better year than the last. Some of us are wanting to forget the last calendar year altogether, and wish we could just start from scratch. Some of us might be wishing we could push the ‘rewind’ button and have a ‘do-over’ of the last couple of years. Though certain science-fiction books and a few movies have that ability as a part of the story, it just isn’t possible, in reality. As much as we would like to ‘undo’ or erase the wrongs we have committed in the past year [or as far back as we can remember, and then some], we cannot.
And let us not take this fact lightly, either. The reality of our human existence is, “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23), and, “there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin” (Eccl. 7:20). We tell ourselves we are ‘good’ and we’re not as bad as someone else [for we can always find someone worse], but the reality is, we have all sinned. Furthermore, not a one of us has the power or ability to remove the guilt of sin from us — by ourselves. By ourselves, it is truly a hopeless position and condition, for we have sinned against God Himself and by doing so, we have become His enemies (Rom. 5:10; 8:7).
The apostle Paul understood well that frustratingly hopeless condition, and wrote as one with firsthand experience who tried his best to live a righteous life, but without success. In that effort, he wrote, “what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (Rom. 7:15), and, “the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Rom. 7:19). So frustrating was it that he would eventually say, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). Note well that he was not still trying to describe himself as ‘good’ or even ‘good enough,’ but considered himself “wretched” — he was miserable! He was miserable because he knew what the right thing was, but he kept falling short, no matter how hard he tried. He knew he was not righteous, though he strongly desired to be. I think we can all understand the feeling, having failed so many times as we try to be ‘good,’ but ending up merely miserable and disgusted with ourselves and wondering if we should even try at all.
When we fall into that way of thinking, it is because we forget [or maybe didn’t even know] that we will never escape that pattern of futility without Christ’s help. But Paul did know this! Though he would wonder who would deliver him from that hopeless condition, he now knew the answer: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:25). Now, as a Christian, he could look back at that futile effort and see how truly futile it was, but now, in Christ, could say, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1). Now — in Christ — he had forgiveness of those past sins, and forgiveness of sins he might commit now as a Christian when he prayed to God, confessing (1 John 1:9) and repenting of those sins (Acts 8:24).
And that is the amazing part about being able to be called a Christian [a disciple, a child of God]: Forgiveness! This is something God promised under the Old Law, telling His people through Jeremiah, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,” and in that new covenant He promised, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:31-34). That promise was fulfilled in the covenant [New Testament] of Jesus Christ (Heb. 8:7-13). For all who become a Christian, this promise of forgiveness is fulfilled, and that by the grace of God — not by any meritorious work we may do. The first Christians were told they had to “Repent, and…be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), but the power of forgiveness was not in their repentance or in the waters of baptism, but in the blood of Jesus Christ as the payment for our sins (Eph. 1:7).
When one does this, we may know that when the new convert arises out of the waters of baptism, the slate is clean! Paul describes this as being “baptized into Christ Jesus” and a “baptism into death” (Rom. 6:4), connecting with the blood of Jesus that we may then “walk in newness of life” — a clean slate! You see, it is in that act of being baptized “through faith in the working of God,” He will do the work we cannot; it is when we have faith in God and Christ that, when we are baptized, we are “buried with Him in baptism” and then we are “raised with Him” and where we are “made alive together with Him” because God has “forgiven you all trespasses” (Col. 2:11-13). Friend, the Bible teaches it is only through this act of obedient faith in the promise of God that we will be forgiven [and God does the work, not us], but when we obey, the slate is clean!
“But,” you may be thinking, “What happens when I sin, as a Christian? I know I won’t be able to live a sinless life even then!” You are correct; being a Christian does not mean you no longer sin. In fact, the apostle John wrote [to those who were already Christians], “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” and, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8, 10). Sandwiched in between those two verses is the answer for Christians when they do sin: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). A clean slate! This is the greatness of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness — that He is so longsuffering and ready to forgive!
Even still, some may doubt this. How can God forgive so often and for so many sins? And why would He? I don’t know that I have an answer that would satisfy anyone who would ask that question; all I can say is, I know He will because He said He would, and God does not lie (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). The simple, but often unsatisfactory, answer is because He loves us. Remember, it was because He loved us “while we were still sinners” that “Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). It was while the world was full of ungodly sinners that He “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). It is definitely not a matter of our worthiness of benefiting from His love!
That God who so loved the world still loves those in sin, and though He has promised this world will one day end, He has not yet brought that to pass because He “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). This same loving God still loves disciples of Jesus Christ who will occasionally fall short and sin again, and Jesus is still willing to stand for disciples as the one who offered Himself for our sins, and “He always lives to make intercession for” the Christians who may fail and “come to God through Him” in prayer (Heb. 7:25). It is because of the grace and mercy of God, and because of the willingness of Jesus to be our advocate, that we may “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16). We may come boldly to His throne because we know that, afterwards, the slate will be clean!
Begin this year with a clean slate; begin with Jesus as your Savior. — Steven Harper