On February 10, I began a series of discussions about the consequences of sin based on Chapter 6 of John Stott’s book Basic Christianity. Since then, I have commented on how sin alienates us from God, sin enslaves us to sin and sin encourages us to be so selfish that we find ourselves in conflict with others and God.
When I began this series, I introduced it with a post entitled “Social Comparison: A Waste of Time for the Christian.” I conclude this series with a post designed to give the reader some answers about sin, for you see I have a problem with it.
For you see, I sin quite frequently.
And yet I call myself a believing Christian [a note for all you folks who are really “into” social comparison, I have broken a cardinal rule of living the Christian life]. I readily admit to having a sin problem. I am not trying to present a Christian façade.
What am I going to do?
That is what this post is all about.
I have been reading a very good book by the Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr where he makes a statement that riveted my attention: “Jesus is never upset at sinners (check it out!); He is only upset with people who do not think they are sinners.”* Christians who refuse to accept their own darker moments of sinning don’t understand God’s message. God knows we are all destined to fail at “spotless living.” If God had wanted a perfect man or a perfect woman, He would have created automatons instead of human beings with the power of choice.
Let’s begin there. All of us sin [even though some don’t want to admit it].
As we have referenced alienation from God, enslavement to sin and conflict with others born out of our own selfishness, let’s admit that these “consequences” are really not pleasant. Most people would prefer not to live life like this.
What do we do to avoid it?
First, we must be honest and accept who we are (I think I did that above). I have accepted Christ in my life already (anyone who has read my blog will know that). Now I have to admit that I don’t have the power to sin less by my own power. So many people today turn to gimmicks, expecting some self-help guru or some huckster’s device to rid them of their troubles. Some think that they can rid themselves of sin with sheer will-power.
I am here to tell you, none of this will work.
What we need is not will power but a “higher” power, the power of God and His Son Jesus Christ to help us with our sinning. In particular we need the power of God’s Holy Spirit working in our lives. God’s design is for the Holy Spirit to flow out through me to others. I have been locked in a battle with sin for many, many years and I have never made any headway against sin on my own. Any progress against sin has been made possible by the power of God working in me through the Holy Spirit.
“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” Romans 8: 9-14.
The Bible is not an easy read, but what the Apostle Paul is telling us is that when you accept Christ into your life, the Spirit gives you a chance to have a victory every once in a while over the problems we all have with sin. We still have “mortal bodies” but we can begin to have a power that can diminish our sinning [our flesh] and reveal our Spirit-filled goodness [“put to death the misdeeds of the body”].
Will we fail from time to time even though we are attempting to “live in Christ?”
When we dedicate ourselves to Christ, we may see some changes that are instantaneous, but other habits are extremely hard to break. Improvement is a journey, a process. We may prefer to pray and the sin goes away immediately but it will not work that way most of the time. For example if you stand in judgement of people that you find “stupid,” that sinful judgement may not go away quickly, especially if you have had it in place for your whole adult life. You know it is wrong but certain people’s actions trigger that response. God will not force you to get rid of these thoughts, but over time, if you keep asking Him for help, He may see fit to give you Holy Spirit power over the sin and it may go away.
In the meantime, we need to repent of the sin. When I write the word repent, I mean that I am truly sorry that I have sinned. Going through the motions of saying “I repent,” knowing that I intend to sin again is not really repenting. If I am truly sorrowful, God will cleanse me of my sin. Note that I did not write “rid me of my sin.” I may indeed fall again. Romans 3: 23 “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” Falling short is so common in life but God may have an eventual victory plan for some of our sins. I have to wait for this victory. It will come in His time, not mine.
I want the Holy Spirit to minister to my needs. I need forgiveness. Too many times in my life I have wallowed in guilt as I have not been quick to accept God’s forgiveness. God does not want me to be defeated by sin. He has much bigger things for me to do with my life. To stay defeated is to give in to the dark powers of evils, to prefer alienation, enslavement and selfishness to freedom from some sins. I have written this before but He wants us to “get back up, dust ourselves off and try to move forward.”
The Holy Spirit gives us the grace to move forward, the strength and ability to resist temptation in the future. It will not be by our willpower that we will do this; we know we won’t be able to resist temptation on our own. Christians know they are not alone in the world anymore. We have God to help us. We have the Holy Spirit living in us to help us with temptations. God does not expect us to clean ourselves up so we can prove to others that we are “good” Christians. God does not expect us to be good enough so He can love us and accept us. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” [1 Corinthians 10: 13].
Sins have one purpose. They exist in my life to convince me that I need Jesus Christ. I need His understanding, I need His forgiveness, and I need His advocacy on my behalf at the right hand of God as I live my life and face God’s judgement. John Stott writes “We shall never put our trust in Christ until we have first despaired of ourselves” . Jesus says “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” [Luke 5: 31-32].
“When we have realized and faced up to the seriousness of our illness will we admit our urgent need for a cure” .
Remember, I sin quite frequently.
My only hope…
Help me God! Help me Jesus! Holy Spirit, do a work within me!
*Richard Rohr Falling Upward, 59.