I am a pastor. And I cover up sin for a living.
In order to talk about such things intelligently, the gospel must always come first. God gives sinful man a most reasonable offer. Come, let us reason together, He says. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow. As far as the east is from the west, so the Lord God, through the death of Jesus Christ, removes our sins from us. What is this grace? What does it mean to be forgiven? It means that Jesus Christ, the chief shepherd, the chief pastor of all His saints, covers up sins. But He does not cover them with lies, or by skulking in dark places, or by clearing the guilty. He covers sin with the blood of the eternal covenant, shed in the efficacious death of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus died, sin died, and death died, and all His people are ushered into newness of life. How is this possible? Everyone who is forgiven in this way is one whose sins are covered. And this is why I am able to be a pastor, who covers up sin for a living.
But law and gospel are not adversaries. God wanted to be just and the one who justifies. God could have been just and condemned us all to Hell, but then He would not have been the one who justifies and saves His people. And He could have simply declared that we were all going to Heaven now, but without the blood of Jesus Christ on the heavenly altar, God would not have been just in that declaration. God wanted to be just and the one who justifies. And so justice and grace are not adversaries. Because of the cross, the two have been married together. And because of this, a man on death row can cry out in repentance to God and go to eternal fellowship with Him upon his just and necessary execution. Secular conservatives want justice and secular liberals want mercy, but neither one can have what they want. In order to have either, you must have both, and the only way to have both is through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And this is why I preach the cross. This is why I am a pastor, who covers up sin for a living.
Of course, in one sense, covering up sin is the way to forfeit the blessing of God, as Proverbs teaches us. Openness and honesty is demanded in Scripture, and James tells us to confess our sins to one another. The apostle John tells that if we confess our sins, God will be faithful and just to forgive us our sins. This means, if words mean anything, that there is a certain kind of “covering up sins” which is evil and wicked. Evil men seek out darkness because their deeds are evil. And yet, in line with the constant scriptural challenge to not tie our Bible verses into neat little Sunday School bundles, we are told that love covers a multitude of sins, and that love suffers long, and that we are to be slow to anger. Joseph, believing Mary to have cheated on him, showed his righteousness by refusing to disgrace her openly. Jesus Christ, the very incarnation of the holiness and righteousness of God, let off an adulterous women with a warning. And so, as a pastor, I am responsible to teach our people to confess their sins honestly and openly, as necessary, and to forebear with one another, covering sin, as necessary. Only the grace of God working in the midst of a people is sufficient to teach how to do this. And because the grace of God is promised in His Word, this is why I am willing to be a pastor, who covers up sin for a living.
When someone covers up sin for a living, and if he has enemies, the accusations are not long in coming. You must have a vested interest in this. You must be an unctuous and oily holy man, an Elmer Gantry, a poser, a showboater, a hypocrite. You want to cover up other people’s sins so that they will turn a blind eye to yours. You must want to cover up sin for all the reasons obvious to every carnal heart. This gospel of yours sounds like a real sweetheart deal. But this is the point where one of the true glories of the gospel is revealed. The psalmist was honest with God about two fundamental moral realities. The first was that if God were to mark iniquities, no one could stand. He knew, and confessed to God, that it was in sin that his mother conceived him. David had sent a faithful man to his death so that he could keep his wife, and he taught all Israel to sing his psalm of repentance together with him.
But the second feature of the psalmist’s prayers is that he frequently pleads his case before God on the basis of his innocence and righteousness. In the sight of God, he knew himself to be sinner, in great need of the mercy of God. But at the same time, he knew that he was not being attacked because he was a sinner before God, but rather because he was righteous among men. Sometimes, when he sinned, this gave his enemies some extra taunts to throw at him, but the reason they were throwing such taunts in the first place was because he was a man after God’s own heart. I can confess a working acquaintance with these same realities, on a much lower level. I am not enough of a man to sin like David, and not enough of a man to repent like he did. Not in his league at all. But I have many times known what it is to sin, to be striken in my conscience before God, and to confess that sin to Him and to others I have wronged. In this respect, I am a minister in the same way the sons of Aaron were ministers. Before doing anything in their ministry, they had to offer for their own sinfulness first. And so I confess, together with all God’s people, that I am a sinner. But that is not why my current enemies are hot for my head. They are hot for my head because I have been righteous where they have been unrighteous. It may sound odd to modern Reformed ears to hear someone say, in the midst of a controversy, that he has been “righteous.” This may not line up with some people’s understanding of total depravity, but it lines up perfectly with the Psalter. And it was the Reformed faith that taught me to love and sing the psalms, and to internalize what they teach. My enemies resent this, and hate it, and throw every poisonous taunt they can think up. Am I haughty to point this out? Not at all — if they knew only a small fraction of what God knows about me, they could really nail me for good. But I am not in danger on that front — because God has forgiven me, they are not about to attack me for my real sins. And because of this mysterious and potent gospel, it is possible for forgiven sinners to live in such a way that it necessarily provokes unrighteous men. Because I have sinned, I have been grateful for those pastors who taught me the gospel, who in their generation covered up sins for a living. And this also is one of the central reasons I am glad to pastor others now, covering up sins for a living.
But despite a deep desire to bring the inexplicable grace of God to the congregation of Christ’s people, in a manner consistent with the whole character of God, there are still times when someone revolts against this grace of God in a high-handed way. He might desert his wife and refuse to return home, and you have to explain it to a grieving community. He might molest little children, and you have to call the cops. He might set up a slanderous and snarky web site, and proclaim himself the victor in all debates. He might stew in petty bitterness for a decade or so before erupting, and do what bitterness always does, which is defile many. He might be an elder who disqualifies himself in his governance of his household, and does nothing about it but justify himself. When men do such things, and refuse to repent of them, they soon discover two axioms of war. The first is that the best defense is a good offense, and the second is that there is strength in numbers. Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate. And so they band together in order to attack “the cult” they left, the place where (they hear) sins are covered. Whatever that is, it sounds troubling to them, and the brow furrows. What did you know? When did you know it?
What did you know? That men are grievous sinners. When did you know it? I was taught it as a child, but I have known it experientially for as long as I have been a pastor. What did you know? That the church is not a sweet people convention. When did you know it? The first time I saw a Christian man treat his wife like dirt, and act like it was the church’s fault. What did you know? That sexual sin is not limited to the blue states. When did you know it? As long as I have pastored in this reddest of red states. What did you know? That men when confronted with their sin will frequently counterattack. When did you know it? Many years ago, when I learned that the Christian pulpit is no place for cowardice. What did you know? That men will accuse you of things that they know are not true. When did you know it? When they stopped being able to look me in the eye.
What did you know? That the deepest and most grievous sin can be washed away with just one word from a forgiving God, our God who saves to the uttermost. When did you know it? When He spoke that word to me, and told me to preach that one name to others. For the many hundreds I have seen believe His promises, I have seen Him keep His promises, and the result is joy and gladness in transformed lives and families. God is good, and His mercies endure forever.
But those who won’t have it charge me with trafficking in the grace of God. I acknowledge it. I am a pastor. I cover up sins for a living.