R . KELLY, THE R&B SINGER, was recently charged with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse against four victims, three of whom were underage at the time of the alleged crimes. He pleaded not guilty to all charges. Responding to how women described him during a docuseries that recently aired, R Kelly said, “They was describing Lucifer. I’m not Lucifer. I’m a man. I make mistakes, but I’m not a devil, and by no means am I a monster.”
I find such justification alarming. Making mistakes. Not owning his actions. Comparing his behavior to something worse. But then, as I think about it I behave in similar ways. Maybe you do also.
■ I defend my actions. When confronted, my tendency is to explain things away, talk about my successes, or to justify my decisions.
■ I tend to hide as much as I can about my life, especially the “bad stuff.”
■ I am quick to blame others for sin or circumstances. I have a difficult time “owning” my contributions to sin or conflict. My actions are not my fault.
■ I tend to downplay sin or circumstances in my life, as if they are not that bad.
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SUCH RESPONSES are because I am not “owning” my sins. I am not condemning my behavior. I am still living in that sin.
Isaac Watts wrote the hymn we know as “At the Cross.” In that hymn he referred to himself as a “worm.” “Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I.” Later it was changed in hymnals to “sinner such as I.” Now, I understand, some versions even read “for such a one as I.” We don’t want to consider ourselves as sinners, certainly not the lowest of sinners — a worm.
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PAUL SAYS, “JESUS CAME into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the foremost.” The chief sinner. Public Sinner No. 1. Was Paul the worst sinner ever? I can’t judge that. But he sees himself as despicable, he used to be. But no longer. He is a changed man. Because of Jesus.
To make sense of what Paul’s saying you have to know the story of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1–22). When we first hear of Paul his name is “Saul.” Saul persecuted Christians. Persecute means to treat in a cruel and mean manner.
Saul was on his way to a city named Damascus to arrest or kill any Christians that were in the synagogues. Then an amazing thing happened. As he came near Damascus, a bright light suddenly shone down from heaven.
Saul fell to the ground, and a voice said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Go now into Damascus and you will be told what you must do.”
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WHEN SAUL GOT UP from the ground, he was blind. Others had to lead him by the hand into the city. For three days Saul was blind and did not eat or drink anything. God told a man named Ananias in a dream that he should go see Saul. He found Saul and laid his hands on him, and Saul was able to see again.
Saul was sorry for the things he had been doing and he repented. Repentance is deciding to stop doing that stuff. It is changing your ways. Turning around. Going a different direction. Saul began doing the things that Jesus wanted him to do. Paul changes from killing Christians to being one of the biggest leaders of the Christians.
■ David asks God to help him change his ways, “create in me a clean heart.”
■ Jesus eats with “known sinners” because he believes they might change and calls on the religious leaders to also change.
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BUT WE HAVE TROUBLE believing others can change. “That is just the way she is.” He’ll always….” So we don’t share with them the life-changing love of Jesus.
And we believe we don’t need to change. “I’ll never be … I’m just too….” We keep on being Public Sinner No. 1 while defending our actions.
Our reading today is written by Paul many years after his conversion. He remembers what a sinner he was. “Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am “Public Sinner No. 1.” No excuses. No defense. No comparisons to others.
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JESUS HAS THE POWER to change the chief sinner. Jesus can change you. Change me. Turn us around.
No matter what I do, no matter how hurtful I might be. No matter how I act in ways that cause God and others pain. I can find a way to defend, hide, downplay, or excuse my actions. But that’s not confession. That’s not repentance. That’s not changing my life.
Repentance begins with that acknowledgment. I’m not who I can be, should be. I am the chief sinner. I am Public Sinner No. 1. But Christ can make me something better. Something new. Christ can and will change my heart.