Stains. I hate stains. But alas, as a father of an energetic three-year-old son and a bubbly one-year-old daughter, my role intrinsically involves my shirts and pants being spotted with a whole variety of stains: juice, milk, vomit, jelly, butter, grease, and general goo. Usually we can wash out my assortment of spots with our arsenal of stain-removers. But unfortunately I have found there is one substance that simply cannot be removed: ink. No matter how hard I try to scrub, rub, and wash ink stains out of my clothing, the worse it gets.
You know just what I mean. The ink smears, spreads and seems to become a permanent part of the fabric, as if it was meant to comfortably abide with the fabric as long as the two shall live; ink and fabric in mutual love forever. And so another perfectly good shirt reaches the ultimate destiny: the rag pile.
Not too long ago I was attempting to remove some of Hudson’s fancy “artwork” from the walls in our home. At first he wanted to “help Papa clean,” until he found out that I was trying to erase his “mountains…his big mountains” – yes, mountains of crayon, pencil, and unfortunately, ink.
“No big deal,” I thought to myself, “This “magic eraser” sponge stuff is supposed to take care of anything.” So I went to work, scrubbing the walls ferociously with my “magic eraser.” Before I knew it the crayon was gone – swiped clean. “Awesome!” I remarked to myself. Away went the 8 and 10 foot long pencil markings too. But then came that beautiful blue and black ink that Hudson so adored. I scrubbed. I rubbed. I scraped. Eventually I began to grind away the wall and punch it to see if it would obey my will with force. The paint was coming off easier than the ink. Oi vey.
No matter how hard I tried, the ink would simply not come off the walls. It didn’t matter what cleaning solution I used. The same is true for my clothing… and our couch cushion (but that’s another story).
No Detergent Will Do.
All of this sticky, inky mess got me thinking: this is exactly how sin operates in our lives. I once heard another pastor say, “We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.” The whole inky darkness of sin is intrinsically a part of who we are. The apostle Paul said, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…” (Rom. 5:12). When the first man, Adam, chose to act out in unbelief and rebellion against the God who created him, we all became part of a singular race of sinners (Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 3:23; 5:12-15). And we all prove our relation to Adam every single day by continuing to sin like sinners.
No matter how hard we try to scrub, rub, or wash away our sin with so-called detergents like good efforts, right-living, loving behavior, church attendance, modesty, baptism, generous giving, or even Bible reading, you and I will never be able to wipe away our sin or take away the impending punishment for sin.
The King-poet David knew the honest depths of his sin and the consequences he faced for his innate and personal depravity. He dove head-long into sin by lusting after the wife of his friend, Uriah the Hittite. He then proceeded to act on his sinful-lust by bringing her into his bedroom and committing blatant adultery. To make matters even worse, he tried to cover up the tell-tale track of his sin by eventually having Uriah killed in battle.
David knew the inky darkness of his sin and when confronted by the prophet Nathan; what does he do? Does David try to strike a sin-bargain with God? David: “Okay, God. I’ve really messed up. Yes, I’ve sinned big time. So, how about I promise to give the Temple administration and the priests 90% of all my profits for the rest of my life? Will that cover it? How about I also promise to never commit adultery EVER AGAIN, never get drunk, and always worship with great diligence on every Sabbath Day? Will that suffice, God?”
No. David does not even come close to any sin-bargaining. He knows the depths of sin – innately and personally – and so he prays:
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:2-5)
David understands that something much greater is needed to scrub away his sin. He was born in sin and so are we. And so he prays with deep intensity, “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your loving-kindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…” (Psalm 51:1-2). This sinner-of-a-king knows the only way he will ever be clean is by God’s shockingly amazing and compassionate grace.
So why all of this about stain and sin? Well, it’s all because of snow. As I look out the window of my study on this beautiful, wintry day I see soft white snowflakes gently drifting to the ground. The pure, blindingly white appearance of snow is the perfect picture of what only God can do with our sin. The LORD used this beautiful analogy when He spoke through the ancient prophet Isaiah,
“Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
King David poetically heightened this metaphor in his prayer of repentance,
“Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7; italics added for emphasis).
David understood that the only way he could be completely clean from the inky stain of his sin was through the compassionate grace of God. No other detergent would do. Only God’s grace. His sin could become even whiter than snow. Pure. White. Clean. Forgiven.
Most of you probably know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. But we can still get caught up into the my-detergent mentality. We begin to think that the better we are (the less we sin outwardly) the more God will love us. I can fall into this trap so, so easily… almost without thinking about it. I begin to believe that the better I preach, sing, pray, or study my Bible, then the more my sin-stain will fade. But here’s the reality: the dark ink of our sin can only be washed away by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. No other person or action or effort will ever erase even one solitary sin. Only God in Christ offers grace and compassion and mercy, and you must come to Him without anything in your hands as extra detergents or erasers.
David reminds us what God really desires:
“For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17).
David had to realize God wanted only a heart surrendered in humility, clinging only to God’s sufficiency in grace, not one’s own good efforts and religious zeal. We cannot do it. Ever. We will never be able to fade the ink of our sin. Only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone can you and I be free from the stain of sin. So let’s come to God as David did… everyday. David looked forward with hope in the promise of God’s provision of grace in the Messiah and we look back in wonder and faith at God’s provision of grace in Jesus the Messiah. He alone wipes away our stains.
So everyday… Honestly repent of your sins, remind yourself of the Good News of God’s grace in Jesus, and return in humility and joy to the foot of the Cross, where we find grace upon grace forevermore.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
~ from Rock of Ages, Augustus M. Toplady
Michael J. Breznau. 2.25.2013