Way back a thousand years ago, people thought that if someone hurt or killed a member of your family, you were duty-bound to take revenge. Feuds could go on for generations, like a deadly tennis match, one person murdering your cousin, your uncle avenging that, someone on the opposing side getting rid of him, your big brother retaliating… which means when someone gets around to knocking him off, it’d be up to you to right the balance. Otherwise you’d be a rotten creep who didn’t value the lives of your family or their reputation—or your own honour!
This whole idea of reciprocating revenge was called ‘hefna sinum’—and it’s the origin of our word sin. In our culture, sin goes back to the idea of unforgiveness and personal vengeance. It focuses on disrupted relationships between people.
But the Hebrew idea of sin is quite different. It focuses on the disrupted relationship between ourselves and God. The Hebrew word for sin is ‘chata’ and it means to miss the mark. It’s to fall short of perfection, it’s to fail to do right, it’s to choose to do wrong, it’s to mar the image of God in us. It goes much further than not valuing the lives of our family or their honour; it is about not valuing God and His honour.
Sometimes we try to excuse a ‘little’ sin in our lives by telling ourselves that what we’re doing is not hurting others. And besides, we’ve tried praying but it didn’t work. The temptation was too strong. If you’ve done that, then you need to repent. No matter how many times it takes before you’re free.
An artist I know had a terrible problem with violent anger. He knew it was wrong and he kept going to God and asking for forgiveness and telling God he repented. And every time he did that, he’d paint a picture of a leaf. He thought he’d have to paint, at most, seventy times seven pictures, but he had over a thousand. And nothing was changing!
He was getting pretty desperate and starting to slide into unbelief. But then he discovered it’s not about willpower, it’s about Jesus. So, he started to pray a bit like this: ‘Lord, I repent of my anger and I ask Jesus, through His blood and His cross, to empower my repentance. I can’t stop being angry or violent without His help.’
And, suddenly, things started to change! Because we can’t change our sin nature, only Jesus can.
When you’ve missed the mark, dishonoured God, fallen into temptation and done a relationship crash-and-burn with Him and with others, then ask Jesus to empower your words of repentance or forgiveness. Jesus not only forgives us but empowers us to overcome sin. When you’re in trouble, go to Him.