Depart From Me For I am A Sinful Man

People say strange things when they encounter holiness.

Luke 5:1-11 (ESV)

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

This is a pretty typical Jesus miracle story until Simon suddenly changes the subject with the words, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.

Simon knows fish and he knows that this didn’t just happen. He had time to think while he was wrestling with the nets, and he figured out that the power of God is in the house.

Every encounter with holiness recorded in the Bible shows people afraid. Imagine being at a prayer meeting at church and suddenly the Lord (or an angel) pops into the room. We’d all run for the exits, right?

Well, not exactly. While holiness is always fearsome, no one ever runs away. Notice that Simon asks Jesus to leave, rather than running (or swimming) away himself. Why?

Encounters with holiness produce some interesting effects. First off, they cause people to see their sin. After a lifetime of denial and averting their eyes, suddenly they recognize sin for what it is. The incompatibility of sin and holiness is somehow obvious (maybe literally painfully obvious) and this clarifies their vision. That incompatibility is a problem – a life threatening one in Isaiah 6.

Secondly, not running away means not using one’s own abilities to solve the problem. When someone’s vision clears up and they see their sin, their overconfidence in their own abilities clears up too.

Seeing clearly for the first time, they left everything and followed him. Seems pretty rash to abandon their catch and all their equipment, but they “saw” what they were doing.

The essence of sanctification is seeing our sinfulness and being horrified by it. Sin survives by clouding our vision. It’s easier to stop doing something that makes you uncomfortable.

If you’ve got a sin that you’d love to be rid of, don’t just pray to have it removed; pray to be able to see it. Ask God to open your eyes to that aspect of your sinful nature. This can be pretty powerful stuff; don’t ask for more than one at a time.

And consider an accountability relationship. Others can see our sins better than we can. If you aren’t in a one-on-one relationship where you can (and do) call each other out, you need to get one.

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Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.