It was early in the morning on New Year's Day in 2006, in Rio de Janeiro, and I was having trouble sleeping. The noise of the New Year festivities had kept me awake. So I decided to take a walk along the beach. As the sun rose over the beach, I noticed a white rose, cut and in perfect condition, lying right along the shore. I had recently gotten engaged and so finding this rose seemed quite timely. I decided I would take that rose back to my fiancée's house, thinking, "For sure, she will love it."
As I continued to walk, I found another rose. I thought to myself . . . "How strange; another rose in pristine condition." I picked it up and went along my way. Over the course of the next mile or so, I found a few more roses, enough for a bouquet. I had no idea where these roses had come from, or why they were in such perfect condition. Nonetheless, I felt that they needed to be used. So I made a bouquet out of them, and later that day, presented them to my fiancée. I was certain she would love this beautiful bouquet.
The first question my fiancée asked was, "Where did you get these roses?" For a moment, I was tempted to not tell the truth, but I shared the story. After all, it was a unique story. She began to laugh, and threw the whole bouquet in the trash. I was surprised.
"You don't understand," she said. "All of these roses were offered up to the spirits. They are part of Macumba, a spiritist religion here in Brazil. They do this every New Year's Eve. What you are giving me is something that was a sacrifice for the demons." My heart sank. I was so certain that she was going to love the bouquet. After all, it was a beautiful bouquet. Did the origin of the roses or what they had been used for really make that much of a difference?
I like to think of these roses, this bouquet, as our righteousness.
We are called to be righteous. In 1 John 3:7, we are told, "Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous." Righteousness is a testimony of the Christian life of God's Spirit living in us. We have a righteous standing before God because of Jesus, and His Spirit in us produces righteousness as a part of the process of sanctification.
Yet, oftentimes we are like the macumbista spiritists, and we attempt to offer up a sacrifice of righteousness to God. A sacrifice of our own effort. We do this, believing that our works will enable us to be righteous enough to gain favor in the sight of God.
The challenge is this: the Scriptures teach that righteousness that originates from humanity is as filthy rags before the Father. All of it. And so while a bouquet of righteousness may give evidence of the Christian life, our works will never be good enough to cause us to be declared righteous in the sight of a perfect God. They will never be a sufficient sacrifice.
That's why confession is so important to the Christian life. Because our propensity to sin, even "in our righteousness," is so great, our need for confession is even greater.
The challenge for the Christian is that we need to not only confess our sin, but also confess our righteousness before God. This is because so often our sense of righteousness is not rooted in Christ, but in pride. In 1 John 3:4, we read, "Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness." Pride is among the most obvious, daily habit of sin seen in our lives. It's where we say, "I don't need you God, I've got this on my own. I am not under your law." Sin is lawlessness.
With such great daily sin, daily confession is necessary. It is by our daily confession that we demonstrate to the world that we abide in Jesus. In 1 John 3:6, we are reminded that "no one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him." This is a wonderful truth and a terrible warning at the same time. To abide in Jesus means that we have a new Master. Not only are we free from the need to practice sin, but He has given us His Spirit to overcome it.
We know that obedience is not optional in the Christian life. Confession is not optional, either. Martin Luther once said, "All of life is repentance." All of life. In essence, all of life is confession and turning from sin.
The life of repentance is a life of confession. This leads to joy, hope, and peace. To avoid the "practice of sinning" we read in 1 John, we must increasingly engage in confession and repentance. This can only be done by reflecting on the gospel.
The "practice of sinning" is not overcome by relentlessly focusing on the act of our sins; it is overcome by consistent, daily reflection on the gospel. When we reflect on the gospel and the beauty of Jesus, it becomes easier to confess our sins and to confess any righteousness that is not rooted in Christ. It is in this way that the "practice of sinning" can be overcome. A relentless focus on Jesus. As a result, any bouquet of righteousness we have in our lives is no longer rubbish. Why is that? Because Jesus is the bouquet; He is the offering. And when Jesus is the bouquet, the Father will never reject it. All sin is, and has been, overcome.