I had a talk with a pastor friend of mine and the topic was sin. I went to talk with him as a friend but also as a pastor. I have known him for a long time [even before he was called to preach]. Don’t get me wrong, he was a devout Christian before pastoring but he had his issues.
It was good that I knew his personal concerns. Even when a man or woman is called to preach, I don’t believe problematic issues necessarily go away. I recall blogging on a book by well-known Pastor John Bevere. He confessed his weakness before becoming a pastor and sure enough, that same weakness dogged him for many years as he pastored his first church.
My friend admitted as much to me; his weaknesses still existed. God had not taken them away. He was a fighter though and he refused to give into sin. He gave me good advice. “When I sin, I am ashamed, but God understands me. He knows everything about me. It is not long before I repent, seriously repent, praying for forgiveness. I don’t want to grovel too long because God has work for me to do. Essentially I try to pick myself up as soon as possible, dust myself off and move forward with His grace.”
I really thought this was good advice.
Pastor Billy Graham calls this regeneration by the Holy Spirit. I have written on the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation. Certainly the Holy Spirit manifests itself when a person is saved or “born again”, but like my friend, sometimes we need to be “born anew.”
Graham writes “The Spirit of God takes the Word of God and makes the child of God. We are born again through the operation of the Holy Spirit. . .God’s spirit brings life to men. At this point, the Holy Spirit indwells a person for life. He receives eternal life.”
But that does not mean we are “sin free.” In Acts 8:21, Simon Peter tells Simon the Sorcerer after baptizing him “Your heart is not right before God.” To get a better relationship with the Father means a commitment to long-term change. John Wesley referred to this as sanctification. This means that salvation is not a static, one-time event in our lives. It is the ongoing transformation of God trying to make us into whom God intends us to be. Through God’s “sanctifying grace”, we grow and mature in our ability to live as Jesus lived.
It is a daily challenge but our inner thoughts and motives, as well as our outer actions and behavior, can come to be aligned with God’s will over time. Graham says that many find Christian life a terrible problem as they try to attain a stronger relationship through “good works.” Titus 3 says it best: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done but according to His mercy.” A person can join every civic club in town, volunteer for every charitable project and still not be regenerated.
I have tried making resolutions but that does not work either. Trying to clean up a life and moving forward based on one’s will alone does not work. We don’t have the power to accomplish our goals alone. Isaiah 64:6 states “All our righteous deeds are like filthy garments” in the sight of God.”
Graham says “Some well-meaning people even try to find regeneration through imitating Christ, but try as hard as we might, we are sinners.” Graham even says we are “dead in sin.” Jesus was pure and what we need can only be supplied by the Holy Spirit through transforming regeneration.
There is no doubt that an honest effort at committing your life to Christ will bring about a change in your relationship with God and that change can cause an alteration in how you relate to your family, yourself and your neighbors, but God wants us to have a new life for our whole life. Too many people rest on their salvation, thinking I have done all I have to do to get to eternity. A cold hard look at ourselves will reveal that we all have a lot more to do. For most of us, the Christian life is like the old carnival game “Whack-a-Mole.”* When you whack one mole down, another pops up instantly.
We fail daily. At least I have to admit that I do.
I think my friend’s advice is appropriate. Repent, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep moving forward, with His grace.
You can do this, but only with the help of the Holy Spirit and the power of regeneration.
*apologies for comparing life to a carnival game, but it seems appropriate…