Have you ever walked in some place and detected a very strong odor but after some time realize that you don't smell it any longer? This is called odor habituation. Our brain has adapted to the scent and recognizes that the constant smell is not dangerous and stops identifying it so it is not overloaded with redundant information. This can be beneficial for those who live or work in strong smelling environments such as fish markets or factories. Unfortunately though this process can happen in regards to our sin. We can get so habituated to our sin that we no longer recognize it as offensive to God.
Zechariah 3 describes the fourth in a series of eight visions of the prophet Zechariah. In this vision, Zechariah pictures Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord wearing filthy clothes (Zechariah 3:3). Leviticus 16 describes the proper way for a high priest to come before the Lord. For Joshua to be wearing filthy (the word literally means excrement-soiled) clothes is a terrible affront.
How does the Lord respond? Firstly, the Lord rebukes Satan! Zechariah 3:1 tells us that Satan had been at Joshua's right side accusing him of his guilt before the Lord. But instead of rebuking Joshua, Satan is rebuked. Zechariah 3:2 "The Lord said to Satan, 'The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?" Secondly, Joshua's filthy clothes are removed and he is clothed new fine, clean clothes. Zechariah 3:3b "Then he said to Joshua, 'See I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.'"
From this story, I see three ways that we can look at sin:
1) Who me? We have become so habituated by our sin, we no longer recognize it as sin. We know this is happening when we start thinking, "Everyone else is doing it, what's the big deal?"
2) Woe is me! The second way of looking at sin is focusing so much on our badness, that is all we can see. In this sense we are too aware of our sin and we can become consumed by it. We know this is happening when we keep feeling guilty and condemned, thinking, "I'm a terrible person, I'm not good enough." Our sin has become a huge deal.
3) Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. The third way we can look at sin is the cry of the tax collector in Luke 18:13. Our sin is something that we surrender to the Lord knowing that we need His help and mercy. As we believe and trust in the death of Christ, our sin is now a done deal. We are forgiven.
How have you been looking at your sin? Have you become habituated to it so that you don't even notice it? During this Lenten season, it may be a good time to sit quietly and ask God to highlight any areas in your life that need cleansing. But if the Lord does bring to mind some things, don't make a huge deal about it. Resist Satan's temptation to feel condemned and guilty and instead cry out, "Lord have mercy on me, a sinner." Then remember that our sin is a done deal. 1 John 1:9 tells us that "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."