This past week I counseled two people who had a similar struggle. They both were discouraged by their patterns of sin. Rather than seeing sin as an opportunity to lean into God, their experience with sin led them down the road of frustration and fear.
This kind of thinking created a double-sin paradigm—they sinned and then they sinned in response to sin by despairing or being frustrated. Though sin can be discouraging, our main point-of-focus when we do wrong should be the Gospel, not our wrongs. Our sinfulness should create a spiritual momentum that moves us toward Gospel solutions rather than fear, despair, justifying, rationalizing, or blame.
If our response to sin drives us away from the Gospel, then we not only misunderstand the biblical purposes of sin in our lives, but we under-appreciate, under-value, and under-utilize the power found in the Gospel—sin’s only solution.
At conversion God begins a good work in you by making you new. The real you that will live forever is forever changed when you are born from above. In order for this to happen, all of your sin has been nailed on the cross. Past, present, and future sin is forever declared “not guilty”. Then when Christ was raised from the dead and ascended back to heaven, the work of salvation was completed and you were able to receive Christ’s righteousness.
If you believe this Gospel, then you are completely forgiven and completely righteous because of the finished work of Christ. Your new righteousness, that belongs to Jesus, is a gift from God.
His perfect record of obedience is credited to you. This is a staggering doctrine. Think about it. You are no longer the person you used to be. The Spirit of God has come into you. You are not defined by your past or your present struggles and you will not be defined by any future struggles.
This is an already, but not yet theology. All of these things I have laid out for you are true, but you have not experienced all of them while living on earth. Though you are perfect in Christ, you still live in a fallen body that is drawn to our fallen world.
The LORD made Adam and Eve with a desire to find life, meaning, and purpose in their world. This was a good thing because everything in them and around them was good.
Then came Genesis 3 when sin entered the world. From that point forward the world and all its inhabitants were no longer good. We are depraved. Through and through, we are sad, bad, and mad. Paul said we were worthless (Romans 3:10-12).
Our world and our hearts are fully corrupted, like a giant magnet (the world) drawing our hearts (cold, hard iron) to each other in irresistible ways (James 1:14-15). We are so easily lured by our sinful desires that find things in the world to continuously crave. This means the new you, who was made new by Christ, is still corrupted and drawn toward evil.
The not yet part of our salvation is still in the future, an incorruptible body that we long to receive. When the LORD Jesus comes for us, we will receive that new body and our salvation will be complete.
In the meantime, we have a problem—we Christians are being pulled toward the things of this world (Ephesians 4:22). The magnetism of sin is in full-effect until we see Jesus. This is the in-between time—a time between regeneration and glorification that we call sanctification.
Weakness is a gift from the LORD
This does raise a few questions we must consider:
Why did God not make us complete at salvation?
Why did He leave us in our bodies to where we still struggle with sin?
Why can’t we be sinlessly perfected today?
Why do we have to wait until heaven to be totally free from our sinning ways?
If being sinless was of most importance to the LORD it seems He would have made us sinless after He regenerated us. But He didn’t. The implication is there must be something of more importance to Him since He did not perfect us.
What about if we turned sin on its head by viewing it from the LORD’s perspective, rather than our own? When we view sin from our perspective, we can become discouraged, angry, or even justifying. When we view sin from the LORD’s perspective, we can become hopeful, strengthened, and even grateful.
Paul does not want us to be ignorant of the sin, suffering, and other human weaknesses that come into our lives. His appeal was to turn these things on their heads by seeing them the way the LORD sees them.
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.
Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. – 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 (ESV)
It appears that one of the reasons the LORD did not totally clean you up at salvation and the reason sin still remains in your life is to regularly remind you that apart from the LORD you cannot do anything (John 15:5). God did not make you perfect in this life and He will not allow you to be perfect in this life.
When you view your sin, suffering, and other personal weaknesses through the power of the Gospel can’t you see how the LORD wants to teach you not to rely on yourself?
When sin happens
This Gospel view of sin means humility must precede your holiness or your holiness will shipwreck you. If you see that your path to holiness is more about humility, then your obedience will be without the snares of Pharisaical pride.
Any claims of obedience or holiness should be seen through the lens of your inability, your weakness, and your dependence on the LORD. Any other way of working on your holiness will be born out of self-reliance that will lead to arrogance, high self-esteem, and condescension toward others.
The self-reliant person will be discouraged or frustrated by their sin, while redoubling their efforts to conquer their weaknesses. This plan will not work. It will lead to additional sin patterns. For example,
Justification – They will begin declaring their actions as not guilty. Because they can’t overcome their sin, they will alter their sin by making it okay.
Rationalization – They will begin to compare themselves with others, always putting themselves in a better light in order to soothe their consciences (2 Corinthians 10:12).
Blame – Because they are compelled to give an answer for their sin, coupled with their unwillingness to own their sin, they will blame what’s wrong with them on other people or other things.
Alleviation – The end result of the preceding sinful mental maneuvers will lead to addictive behaviors, which form escapes for the person who refuses to repent of their sin.
The God-reliant person will be spurred on by humility. This is God-empowered favor on their lives that motivates them to cooperate with the LORD in ongoing transformation.
Their humility will give them clarity on what they have done. The humble person has a clear perspective on sin. They are not on a sin hunt and they are not sin-centered, but when they do sin, they are not overcome by it, but motivated to engage it.
They understand the reality of their imperfection and are able to label it correctly They perceive the LORD’s allowance of the sin in their lives and trust Him in the ongoing transformation of their souls.
If we are not willing to clearly identify what is wrong with us, then we will be overcome by what is wrong with us. This will hinder any person from ever perceiving how the LORD wants to take what is wrong with them to a new place in their ongoing sanctification.
Sin is the opportunity for the LORD to be magnified in your life.
Sin is the platform upon which you will access the Gospel’s power.
Sin is the doorway that will lead you to God’s grace.
Sin is the unrighteousness that brings heaven down to change you (Luke 5:32).
Sin is the confession that beckons the LORD’s cleansing (1 John 1:7-10).
You do not have to be afraid of or frustrated with sin. God loves you in spite of what is wrong with you. Sin does not alter the LORD’s opinion for you. The LORD is never angry at you or disappointed with you. Think about it this way:
God the Father is never disappointed with Jesus.
God the Father is never angry with Jesus.
God the Father is never frustrated with Jesus.
After you were born again, you received the righteousness of Christ. You were united with Christ. You were placed in Christ. When the LORD sees you, He sees the gift He gave you—the righteousness of Christ.
Therefore, the LORD is never angry, disappointed, or frustrated with you. You are His child and He sees you through the finished work of Christ. Your sin does not change this theological truth.
If you are a person who believes your sin alters how God thinks about you, it’s time to change. That is not what sin does to your relationship with the LORD. What should happen when you sin is you should see it as your time to continue to lean into the good work God is doing in you, while progressing to a greater depth of holiness.
In Christ, you are cherished; you are washed; you are clean; you are blameless; you are wrapped-up tightly in the robes of Christ’s righteousness. He is everything you are not and He stands before the Father on your behalf as everything you are not.
And if you understand how these rich Gospel truths connect directly to your daily struggle with sin, then owning up to your sin will not be a problem because when you call sin, sin and believe the Gospel, you run directly to Jesus. You run directly to the cross. You run into the loving arms of your heavenly Father. – Charlie Boyd
A call to action
Our inability to overcome sin is how God works humility into us. If we were able to overcome sin because of our ability, then we would not need Him, the Gospel, or His grace.
The LORD wants us to cooperate with Him in the sanctification of our lives. He wants us to come to Him to receive the grace we need to work through our problems. For by grace we have been saved and by grace we will be sanctified.
Below are four key sequential points to this article. Read and reflect over each point carefully. Where does your sanctification become bogged down to where you are stuck or feel unable to progress?
It may be helpful to talk about these things with a trusted friend or within your small group. Most definitely spend time with the Father, working through the complexity of your soul.
Contrition – (Humility) When I sin, I’m not driven to despair, but to hope. I know the LORD is doing a good work in me and my sin becomes the portal through which I access His grace.
Categories – I have clear, specific, and precise sin categories. I don’t cut the corners off my sin or play mental games with myself or others. I name it and claimit because theological accuracy will expedite the LORD’s help.
Confession – With clear sin categories I’m able to quickly agree with God with what I did. I see what He sees. We’re on the same page. This makes it easier to confess my sin and receive His cleansing.
Community – I need the body of Christ. Sanctification happens best in community. Not only do I want others to know what the LORD is doing for me, but I want to be positioned to help others in their walk of faith. The call on me is to go and make disciples; I want to model it as I teach it.
How did you do? What area do you struggle the most–contrition, categories, confession, community? Will you talk with a friend? Will you get some help? Sin does not have to be detrimental to your soul. Sin can be the beginning of a powerful new life in Christ. Let me leave you with my favorite quote from The Gospel Primer:
If I wanted others to think highly of me, I would conceal the fact that a shameful slaughter of the perfect son of God was required that I might be saved. But when I stand at the foot of the Cross and am seen by others under the light of that Cross, I am left uncomfortably exposed before their eyes.
Indeed, the most humiliating gossip that could ever be whispered about me is blared from Golgotha’s hill; and my self-righteous reputation is left in ruins in the wake of its revelations. With the worst facts about me thus exposed to the view of others, I find myself feeling that I truly have nothing left to hide. – The Gospel Primer