When I was growing up on the farm, Saturday mornings meant chores, and the one chore we could always count on without fail was cleaning calf pens. The baby calves were kept in wooden, rectangle-shaped pens with a sand bottom and filled with straw and wood shavings. For a month or two, the calves would spend their lives in these pens, making it easier for them to be fed and cared for.
At the end of their stay, after they had graduated to more spacious housing, they left behind pens full of, well, fertilizer. These layered cakes of manure, straw, and sawdust could measure up to two feet deep. And it was our great privilege to fork it all out into a wheelbarrow and haul it out of the barn.
Lest you think this was child labour, rest assured that we were compensated – adding a little to our bank accounts and a lot to our work ethic.
Now, why am I telling you all this? Because those splendid Saturday mornings spent excavating mounds of manure and pushing wobbly wheelbarrows, recently came to mind as I was studying Romans chapter 2. In the first part of this chapter, the apostle Paul explains that as God continues to show us goodness and patience, both of which we do not deserve, He is urging us to repentance. Instead of just wiping us off the map and being done with us sinners, God continues to shine the sun on us, pour out the rain on our crops, and hold back on his final judgement. He is giving humanity time to turn their backs on sin and turn back to the living God.
But, not everyone does this. Not everyone responds to God’s patience with repentance. When they do this, when they dig in their heels and refuse to turn away from their sins, they are showing contempt for the patience of God and, as Paul puts it, accumulating (or storing up) wrath for themselves on the day of wrath.
There are then two options, or two responses to the patience of God. The first is what God desires: repentance. You dredge up all your sins from the murky depths of your life and lay them bare to the light. Then Jesus takes them all on his shoulders, nails them to His cross, and puts an end to them once and for all.
Since we sin every day, our need to do this is daily, and it is the grace of God that Jesus never tires of dealing with our sin.
The other response is to slink back into the dark and keep your sins hidden and unconfessed. You harden both your heart and your resolve to live life on your own terms, leaving God out of the picture.
The result? Your sins are not dealt with. They accumulate and begin stacking one on top of the other, like layers of manure in a calf pen. And if Jesus never steps into the muck of your sins to fork them out, those filthy sins just keep piling up, higher and higher.
It sometimes happened that before a calf pen could be properly cleaned out, we needed it for a new calf. We would then lay down new straw and cover it with a healthy dose of sawdust, covering up the old, dried out manure from the previous calf. Well, after another month or so the calf was moved and one of my siblings or cousins, or I, would have the laborious task of pitchforking out the thick mound of accumulated calf manure.
If you think about it, we were doing an immensely important job; a job crucial to the smooth operation of the farm. You see, if we kids never cleaned out those pens, we would have had mounds of manure steadily rising ever higher – towers of muck with little calves on top.
In the same way, if you don’t repent of your sins, they keep accumulating, ever higher. Seeing that you probably sin quite a bit each day, you’re going to accumulate a lot of sins. Then, on judgement day when you have to give an account for all your sins, you are going to be standing in front of the throne of the three-times-holy God with the tremendous tower of sins you have stored up over your lifespan. And your punishment will be equal to the accumulation of sins.
But here is the good news: Jesus is more than capable, and more than willing, to do the dirty work of dealing with your sins, no matter how many or how filthy they are. He promises to take them to the cross and remove them an infinity-distance away, where they will never be mentioned nor remembered ever again, including on judgement day.
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