Three Hard Words That Could Change Your Life
“You can’t help a liar.”
That was the man’s conclusion based on years of experience with college students. Occasionally he is faced with difficult disciplinary decisions when the young people break the rules of the group. “I’ve dealt with everything you can imagine,” he said. “Every sort of sexual sin. Cheating. Breaking the law. You name it, I’ve seen it.” There is an established set of procedures in place to deal with those who get in trouble. Very often they are able to help the young people make amends and set their lives on a new path.
During our discussion the man made two comments that stayed with me. First, he has learned that lying has almost become a non-issue today. Everyone lies, and they lie all the time. It’s almost as if it’s not a sin to lie anymore. Perhaps it is a sign of postmodern relativism that we have come to accept that lying isn’t wrong. Or perhaps it is just a fulfillment of Romans 3:13, “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” After discussing how people routinely lie to cover up their sin, he offered this conclusion:
You can’t help a liar. You can help anyone struggling with any sort of sin as long as they tell the truth. But you can’t help a liar because you can’t trust anything he says.
The situation is compounded by the fact that when most of us get caught, we confess as little as possible. That’s not a student problem; that’s a human problem. And that leads to the second key point. One sign of true repentance is when “they tell you something you didn’t already know.” If you knew A + B + C, but the person then adds D + E + F, you know their repentance is deeper than just, “I’m sorry I got caught.” True repentance always involves coming clean, and coming clean means owning up to the whole pattern of wrongdoing, not just to the thing you happened to get caught doing. God desires “truth in the inward parts” (Psalm 51:6) or as Eugene Peterson puts it, “truth from the inside out." It is very hard for us to come to this place of total honesty with God and with others. For most of us, it is a continual battle to be transparent in all our dealings, especially when we have sinned because it’s so easy to cover up.
Lying has almost become a non-issue today
I can’t get one statement out of my mind because it contains so much truth: “You can’t help a liar." As long as a liar is telling lies, you cannot trust anything he says. It’s like the old riddle, “If a liar says he’s telling the truth, can you believe him?" It’s tremendously difficult for any of us to take personal responsibility. We live a culture of victimization, a culture that rewards us for blaming others. You may remember the shooting that took place at Virginia Tech a few years ago. The gunman left a note behind that said, “You made me do this.” That’s an easy way out, isn’t it?
It’s easy when we’ve done wrong to say, “Everyone does it."
Everyone cheats on their spouse.
Everyone yells at their children.
Everyone breaks a promise now and then.
Everyone lies a little bit.
Everyone uses bad language.
Everyone covers up their sin.
Although we live in a society that encourages us to make excuses, most of us don’t need any encouragement. We are born knowing how to pass the buck.
Back to Eden
It all goes back to the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. The serpent came to Eve and tricked her into eating the fruit. She offered some to Adam and he ate, knowing full well the consequences of his action. Suddenly the world became a very unfriendly place. Fear entered the human heart for the very first time. When Adam and Eve heard God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, they hid. Sin had changed everything. Where once they talked with God freely, now they hid in the forest lest their sin be discovered.
We are born knowing how to pass the buck.
At length God called out to Adam, “Where are you?” Adam answered and said, “I hid because I was naked.” God said, “Who told you that you were naked?” Then the dreaded question: “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
Adam is cornered, caught red-handed, stripped of all his excuses. God knows! Adam does what men usually do. He passes the buck. His answer is a classic form of evasion: “The woman you put here with me-she gave me some fruit from the true, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12).
Did you get that? “The woman you put here with me." Adam passes the buck twice. First it was the woman. Then it was the woman you put here. “Lord, it was her fault. She gave me the fruit and so I ate it. What was I supposed to do? Say no and watch her pout all night? And anyway, who put her in the garden? You did! She wasn’t my idea. I’m not complaining, Lord, because she’s beautiful and cute and all that, but I didn’t have this problem when it was just me and the animals.”
Adam passes the buck twice
And so it goes. The first man, the father of the human race, is also the first one to pass the buck. Make no mistake. The Bible is telling us something significant. It is in our nature to deny our own guilt and to try to shift the blame to others. That’s what Genesis 3:7-12 is all about. It’s no coincidence that the first sin led to the first cover-up. The first disobedience led to the first denial. The first trespassing led to the first buck-passing.
In the thousands of years since then, nothing has really changed. Human nature is the same. Passing the buck is in our spiritual bloodstream. We do it now because Adam did it back then. He established the pattern:
Disobedience which leads to
Guilt which leads to
Shame which leads to
Fear which leads to
Hiding which leads to
Let me come to my thesis: It is a fundamental mark of spiritual health to be able to say, I was wrong." Blessed is the man who can say those words because that man is on his way to spiritual health. If you want a verse to go with my thesis, jot down Proverbs 28:13, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
When we sin, we have two options. Option 1 is to conceal it. That means to cover it up, to make excuses, to rationalize, to pass the buck. When that happens, we do not prosper. We go through the internal hell of living with a guilty conscience. In the words of Psalm 32:3, our bones waste away and our strength is sapped. We suffer physically and mentally because we conceal our sins. Nothing works right.
We must confess and renounce our sins
Or we can confess our sins and renounce them. Both those words are important. To confess means to own up to what you did. When you confess your sins, you are saying, “Yes, I did it and I know it was wrong.” To renounce your sin means taking steps to break the destructive patterns in your own life. When you renounce your sins, you are saying, “I’ve been walking in the wrong path and now, with God’s help, I’m not going to walk in that path anymore. I’m going to change the direction of my life."
“I Was Wr-r-r-r-r-r-”
Not long ago I spoke for a week of Bible conference at Word of Life Florida. On Wednesday morning I gave this message. Before the service I told the young man overseeing that sound system that I would be speaking on three words: “I was wrong.” He wrote it down and then said, “Those are hard words.”
It is not easy to say “I was wrong.” Most of us would rather do anything than to admit we were wrong. Do you remember how much trouble Fonzie had with this issue on the TV series Happy Days? Fonzie was too cool to ever admit he was wrong. Richie Cunningham would say to him, “Go ahead, admit it, you were wrong.” So Fonzie would go, “I was wr-r-r-r-r-r-r-.” He couldn’t get the word out. So he would end up saying, “I was wr-r-r-r-r-Not right!”
But “not right” is not the same thing as “wrong.” If you’re wrong, you’re wrong. But if you are “not right,” nobody really knows what you are.
“Not right” is not the same thing as “wrong"
Sometimes we make our excuses so subtly that we don’t realize what we’re doing. In one of his books, Bruce Larson uses the following example. Let’s say that you are describing an argument you had with your wife. You say, “All I said was, ‘Is your mother coming again?’” Now you don’t have to be an Einstein to figure out that you’re in trouble the moment those words come out of your mouth.
Whenever we preface something with the four words, “All I said was,” we’ve made a big mistake. Those are four of the most destructive words in the English language. They imply that you are sane, logical and loving and the other person is a nut. When you use those four words, you’re really saying, “It’s not my fault. I don’t have a problem. Somebody else has a problem.”
As long as you continue to say that, you cannot be forgiven.
As long as you say that, your relationships will remain broken.
As long as you say that, you will struggle with bitterness and resentment.
As long as you say that, you will remain locked out of the abundant life Jesus came to provide.
As long as you blame others, your life will remain broken and fragmented. You’ll never know holiness or wholeness or mental and spiritual health.
“I Have Sinned”
In Luke 15:11-32 Jesus told a story about a young man who felt an urge to leave his father’s house. It’s a familiar story, one that has happened in almost every family. This young man asked for his portion of the family estate and left for a distant land. There he squandered his money on wild living. Days passed, then weeks, then months. At last the day came when the young man had spent all his money. Now broke and destitute, he found himself in a desperate place, far from family and friends. Although he was ashamed, he hired on with a farmer who put him to work slopping the hogs. He was so hungry that he found himself ready to eat with the pigs.
At that precise moment the light turned on in his brain. In a blinding flash, he saw himself and he saw what he had become. Most of all, he saw that it was his own stupidity that had gotten him in such a mess. No longer would he blame his father or criticize his older brother. No longer would he pretend to be something he wasn’t. In that moment of self-revelation, he saw what he had become. He knew that there was only one way back.
He saw what he had become
The strange irony of his situation hit him like a ton of bricks. His father’s servants were eating their fill back at home, while he, the master’s son, was living with the pigs. Then he thought to himself, “I’m going to get up and go back home. When I get there, I’m going to say, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands.’”
With that, the young man got up, brushed himself off, gathered his things and began making the long journey back home. He was still a long way off when his father spotted him trudging up the dusty road. Before the young man knew what was happening, his father ran to him, threw his arms around him, kissed him and said, “Welcome home, son.”
The son said what he had memorized in the pig pen. “Father, I have sinned against you and against heaven. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
His father ran to meet him
But the father cut him off. He would hear no more of it. The cry went out, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Find the fattened calf and kill it. Call the neighbors and spread the good news. Tell everyone you see. This son of mine was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found.”
No More Sleeping With The Pigs
I make one observation and one only. This young man, whom we call the Prodigal Son, turned his whole life around by saying three simple words: “I have sinned.”
He said it while he was still living with the pigs.
He said it while he was still far away from home.
He said it while he was still broke and hungry.
But those three words turned his life around.
It is a parable of your life and of mine. When we have sinned, we are so ashamed to find ourselves in the pig pen that we dare not tell anyone where we are. So we try to clean ourselves up, we try to be presentable, we brush our teeth and comb our hair, but we still have pig slop under our fingernails.
Everybody knows we’ve been with the pigs.
Everyone knows we’ve been with the pigs
This story is for everyone who is tired of eating with the pigs. If you are ready to go home, I’ve got good news for you. The Father is standing in the road waiting for you. His arms are open wide. He knows where you’ve been, and he is still waiting for you. The only thing that matters is for you to come home.
That’s what the grace of God is all about. You can come home. You can start over. You can be forgiven. The slate can be wiped clean. You don’t have to live the rest of your life in hiding. You don’t have to live in fear that someone will find you out. You don’t have to eat with the pigs forever.
It is possible, and it depends on one thing. You have to do what the Prodigal Son did. You have to come to your senses and say, “Father, I have sinned.” When you do, you will find the mercy that Proverbs 28:13 talks about. When you do, you will discover 1 John 1:9 is true. He is faithful. He is just. He will forgive your sin and will cleanse you from all unrighteousness.
The Citadel Of Self-Justification
That brings me back to the basic problem. Ever since Adam, we tend to do things when we sin.
2.We blame someone else.
Most of us are pretty good at it. We know all the good hiding places and we’ve memorized a thousand excuses.
Until you come clean, you cannot be forgiven
Listen carefully. As long as you live that way, you can never be forgiven. Never. Your refusal to own up to your sin means you will live with the burden of your past hanging like a millstone around your neck.
Through Jesus Christ it is possible to be forgiven. That’s the good news. Now here’s the bad news. As long as you refuse to admit you’ve done anything wrong, you can never be forgiven. Therefore, you will stay like you are right now: unforgiven, unhealthy, fragmented, broken, confused, divided, locked inside the citadel of your own self-justification.
But if you own up to your mistakes, then you can be forgiven.
Here are three hard words that could change your life: “I was wrong.”
Let me ask the basic question this way: Are you ready to say, “I was wrong?" I hope the answer is yes. This is where your spiritual journey must begin.
Would you like to be forgiven?
Would you like to see the power of the Holy Spirit released in your life?
Would you like to see God do something miraculous in the relationships that matter most to you?
Are you willing to say the hard words that lead to freedom? If so, the healing can begin right now.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, that we don’t have to be perfect to come to you. If we had to be perfect, who among us would qualify? They called you the Friend of Sinners. Thank God it is true. You are the friend and we are the sinners. Thank you for taking us in.
I pray now for those who are truly frightened by my words. May they have the courage to say, “I was wrong.” Help those who feel uneasy to yield to the gentle wooing of the Spirit. Speak to each of us and show us the truth so that we might be set free. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
- Listen to this sermon (29:26)
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