Endure the trial of yourself and your own faults and sins peacefully and serenely, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.
Sin is a hard reality to deal with. There are some fairly common ways to approach sin that are typically unhelpful. One approach is to see our sinfulness as something that with enough effort can eventually be conquered. It’s good to keep in mind that God’s mercy is given to us free of charge. It is not something that can be earned. Catholics are often accused of believing that it is possible to secure our place in heaven through good works. While I am sure that there are individual Christians who believe this, the Church, on the other hand, condemned this idea in the 5th Century. Perhaps for some, this belief comes from the practice of receiving a penance during the sacrament of reconciliation. There are many Catholics who believe incorrectly that the forgiveness received during confession is dependent upon completing their penance. In reality, a penance is given in the same way that medicine is given to a person who is sick. It is meant to be a way of strengthening a person for the next time they are tempted to sin again. The lie that many buy into is that God is angry with us when we sin. The truth is that he misses us when we choose to walk away from him and he will help us up as many times as we fall.
Another unhelpful approach is to downplay the seriousness of sin and the negative effect it has in our lives. There are Christians who fall into the sin of presumption, which I would describe as confusing God’s mercy with a false sense of permissiveness on his part. While it’s true that God’s mercy is limitless, that doesn’t mean God wants us to keep on sinning or to give up our struggle with temptation. Sometimes we can even go so far as to convince ourselves that a particular sin isn’t wrong in order to avoid dealing with its presence in our lives.
The best approach is the one described in Fr. Hopko’s maxim. First we have to take the time regularly to honestly examine our lives so that we can clearly see our faults. Once we have exposed them, we can make an effort to change while asking for God’s mercy each time we fall. And we can do so peacefully knowing that despite the increase of sin, grace has far surpassed it. (Romans 5: 20)