There’s no support group called “Sinners Anonymous,” but if there was, I would definitely be the first one through the door.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a particularly terrible person (I hope). I don’t rob banks on the weekend or post movie spoilers on Twitter. But there have been times on this crazy journey called “being Catholic” when I’ve struggled with going back to the same sin over and over again.
That’s where I was about a year and a half ago. I was still going to Church every Sunday, and I was involved in a youth group, but I wasn’t praying as much. Life slowly became less about loving God and loving the people around me, and more about what I wanted. Sin, and one form of sin in particular, started to make its way back into my life.
With that cycle of sin came a whole flood of negative thoughts. After giving into temptation, I would always eventually come to this moment of silence where I would have to face myself and I would just feel worthless.
I would go to Reconciliation and commit to doing better in the future, but there would be this little voice in the back of my mind saying “Who are you kidding? You’re going to be right back here next week. You’re too weak to beat this.”
I was meant to be this faithful young Catholic. Someone that other people could look up to. Someone that had it all together. Instead, I felt like a total fraud. I was terrified of what people would think if they knew. I figured that if anyone ever found out, they wouldn’t want anything to do with me.
What Jesus Thinks
But there was always one Person who never thought like that: Jesus. It wasn’t until I started to read the Bible every day that I began to realise that what I think about my sin and what Jesus thinks about it are two radically different things. The Gospels are full of powerful encounters where sinners come face to face with Jesus – Simon the zealot, the Samaritan woman at the well, and Zacchaeus the tax collector, to name a few.
My favorite has to be the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). In this passage, a group of religious leaders want to kill a woman who was caught committing sexual sin. So they take her to Jesus, and they ask him whether He thinks she should be stoned to death. To the religious leaders, this girl is worthless. As far as they are concerned, the only thing this sinner is useful for is to prove a point about divine justice.
What does Jesus do? ? He calls out the religious leaders for treating this girl like she’s garbage. He reminds them of their own shortcomings and, one by one, they drop their stones and leave. When Jesus and the woman are alone, He turns to her and says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin again.”
“Neither do I condemn you”
Unlike the woman caught in adultery, when you or I sin we probably don’t have to deal with a crowd of religious leaders throwing accusations at us. But if you’re anything like me, you probably facing a barrage of condemnation inside your own head – voices telling you that you’re worthless, that you’re weak, that you’re unworthy.
Jesus doesn’t think like that. He doesn’t condemn you. He isn’t up there thinking “Ha! You sinned! Off to Hell you go!” Jesus is thinking the same thing that He was thinking thousands of years ago, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1). Jesus doesn’t love us more when we are being good and less when we aren’t. God just loves us. Unconditionally and always.
I’ve found that one of the most power ways to overcome negative thoughts of self-condemnation is with Scripture:
- If you feel like there’s no way God could love someone who keep going back to the same sin over and over, know that “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
- If you feel too broken to start over, know that Jesus is one who makes “all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
- If you feel too weak to overcome the temptation, believe that you can do all things “through Him who strengthens you” (Philippians 4:13).
“From now on, do not sin again”
Being free from sin isn’t a condition of Jesus’ love. Rather, it is because Jesus loves us that he wants us to break free from sin. To understand why, it’s important to understand was sin really is.
Sins aren’t sinful because they are “bad” or “dirty.” Sin is sin because it’s a failure to genuinely love for God and for our neighbour. It gradually destroys our connection with God and with others.
Often, trying to overcome the sin in our lives can feel exhausting. We want to grow and do better, but we’re weighed down by the weight of our mistakes. Even St. Paul faced this struggle, writing “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).
So how do we follow this instruction to not sin again? We follow the example of the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and the sinners that we see time and again in the Gospels – we draw near to Jesus.
Draw near to Him at church (the actual support group for sinners!). Draw near to Him in in the sacrament of Reconciliation, ideally with a good confessor (a priest that you go to regularly for this sacrament). Most of all, draw near to Him in prayer every day.
Apparently, Mother Teresa would often encourage her Missionaries of Charity to go into the the adoration chapel, sit before the Lord, and pray, “Here I am, Lord. Love me.” If sin is fundamentally about a lack of love in your life, then this has got to be best thing you can possibly do.
Spend time with the one who will never think less of you, who will never condemn you, and whose mercies are new every morning. Jesus.