Our Sure Consolation
My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the righteous one. He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)
A few years ago, memories of past sins came flooding to my mind, such that I was overcome with grief, fear, and anxiety. At that moment, I began doubting the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, namely that my sin had been forgiven and I no longer stood condemned but was clothed in the righteousness of Christ. In this moment of panic, Jesus’s atonement for my sin was no longer enough, so I began looking inwardly for the answer. At first, I thought about what I could do to add to what Jesus had done, either by way of punishments or good works. When that mental exercise led me into more despair, I turned in another direction. I began making a list of all the sins I had not committed. But as soon as I began that exercise, Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount and Paul’s words in Romans came rushing in. Instead of finding consolation in what I had not done, by the end I realized I had broken all Ten Commandments. The more I searched for consolation within, the more I found sin.
By the end, I found myself staring face-to-face with my pride, the root of all sin, and it was uglier and more terrible than anything I had ever done in this life. My pride was directly opposed to God, preventing me from accepting, in that moment, that I could do nothing for myself and only Jesus Christ is able to save. My pride was obstructing faith.
In tears, I found my husband, who had no idea what had been going on in my head, and shared with him the thoughts that led me to this place. He grabbed me by my shoulders and exhorted me to believe once again in Jesus.
In his speech of consolation, he said: “Kristen, you need to ask God to help you to believe in your moment of despair, for if you cannot believe the gospel is true for you, then how will you be able to help our son believe when he comes to you in despair over his sin? You will have no answer for him.”
His statement jolted me.
If Jesus Christ’s death on the cross cannot make full satisfaction for my sin, then how can it make full satisfaction for the sins of others? To put it another way, if the gospel cannot be true for me, then it cannot be true for anyone else, including my son.
Martin Luther said that the devil is like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8) “seeking where the fence is lowest to cross and where the wagon is leaning to push it over. . . . The devil can devise the most extraordinary arguments: ‘You sinned. God is enraged against sinners. Therefore, despair!’ In this matter, it is necessary for us to proceed from the law to the gospel and grasp the article concerning the forgiveness of sins.”
This is why the article on justification in the Thirty-nine Articles describes justification by faith in Christ as a “wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort” for we are fully justified by and through Jesus Christ!
This is also why Thomas Cranmer, in his first Book of Common Prayer, called Holy Communion a “comfortable sacrament” and provided the invitation: “draw near and take this holy sacrament to your comfort,” because at the table we hear once more that in Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven.
Only the God of comfort, the Paraclete, can provide true and everlasting comfort to us in our sin, memories of sin, shame, hurts, trials, and tribulations, because the Comforter is also our Righteousness—Jesus Christ, who is now our life.
I’m so grateful to worship in a church that uses The Book of Common Prayer.For every week, I join with fellow Christians in being able to cry out to God again that I have sinned; this sin is grievous to me, and the burden of my sin is intolerable. I repent, and I ask God for his abundant mercy.
Then I can hear once more the priest reassuring me of God’s forgiveness for those who “with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him” and of the “Comfortable Words,” which end with 1 John 2:1-2, reminding us that if we sin (and you and I will) we can know and believe that we have a Paraclete (or Comforter) with the Father, Jesus Christ, who is righteous, and he is the perfect offering for our sins and the sins of the whole world.
Then, after hearing these words, I eventually taste the bread and the wine, tangible and concrete reminders of Jesus’s gift to me, his full life, which he gave for the oblation and full satisfaction of my sin and the exchange of my sin for his righteousness.
The devil hasn’t left me alone since the episode I described above. Sometimes, when I’m least expecting it, when I’m about to close my eyes to sleep or when I’m driving to meet someone for lunch, a memory of past sins or a mirror of present ones is thrown up in my face.
When this happens, Luther gives us some good advice, namely to continue to point to Jesus and away from ourselves: “And when the devil tempts us to doubt, we say: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know the One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there, I shall be also!’”
The Heidelberg Catechism opens with this question and response:
“What is your only comfort in life and death?”
“That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
Jesus Christ is my life and your life, our only sure consolation.
Thanks be to God!