Sometimes I hear the stories of young people who struggle with drug or alcohol addictions and others who repeatedly make bad choices regardless of the consequences. It is easy to be judgmental and think, “Why can’t they just get their act together and stop it?!” But then I start looking at my own life and see the same patterns at work, just in less visible ways. My sin is no better than theirs just because people don’t know about it and I’m not breaking any laws.
Sin is sin. In many ways, it doesn’t really matter what temptations we struggle with, because the answer is always to be found in salvation in Jesus Christ and through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. We all need God’s grace and mercy constantly. Even if we get rid of the outward sins, there are still internal sins in our thoughts and attitudes. There will always be something that needs confessed and forgiven as long as we’re on this earth. The truth is we’re all addicted to sin in one way or another.
I frequently wrestle with verses such as these:
- “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2 ESV).
- “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous… No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God” (1 John 2:1, 3:9).
- “We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin… Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6:6, 12).
It can be really discouraging to fall (or jump) into sin once again and then wonder, “If I’m really a Christian and have the Holy Spirit, why don’t I have this mysterious power to obey like the Bible says?” I find a lot more in common with Paul’s words in Romans 7:18-20 and following:
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sins that dwells in me.”
This is the Christian dilemma—we know what is right, we desire to do good, we take all the steps we can think of to prevent sin, and yet we still do it. It doesn’t seem to matter how many Bible verses we memorize, how many sermons we listen to, or how many Christian songs we sing. In Paul’s case, it didn’t matter how much Spirit-inspired Scripture he wrote, how many people he converted, or how much he suffered for his faith, he still found ways to sin. (I disagree with those who claim that Romans 7 was describing Paul’s pre-converted state. In Philippians 3:6 he said he was blameless in regard to the law prior to his conversion.) It may be both discouraging and encouraging to know that even someone as zealous as the Apostle Paul faced the same struggle we have.
No matter how hard we try, we aren’t going to reach sinlessness in this life. But the good news is that God knows all that and He loves us anyway. As Brennan Manning used to say,
“Do you believe that God loves you beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity—that He loves you in the morning sun and in the evening rain—that He loves you when your intellect denies it, your emotions refuse it, your whole being rejects it? Do you believe that God loves without condition or reservation and loves you this moment as you are and not as you should be but you’re never going to be as you should be?”
And in love He provided mercy and forgiveness for our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ. Let us lean into His love.
“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for His name’s sake… By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before Him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything” (1 John 2:12, 3:19-20).
© 2018 Dawn Rutan. The views stated may or may not reflect the beliefs of the pastor or leadership of Dulin’s Grove Church.