Being a believer does not keep sin from trying to capture you. Regeneration is the way to heaven, but you need more to live victoriously while on earth. Learning how to appropriate the gospel to your sanctification is vital for you to live well in God’s world.
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Like hordes of minions advancing on our lives, sin is the ever-present nemesis that never leaves us alone. There are no breaks from the fallenness of humanity. Sin is a pervasive curse where no one is safe.
Let’s paint an even dirtier picture. It could be that you read the previous paragraph and agreed but did not thoroughly perceive sin’s encroachments into your life. Sin is not just a nasty thing in our world, as though it is out there and all we need to do is triple-lock our doors.
Sin is not an enemy that you can sweep under the rug to be free from its nasties. Sin is more than external or cultural contamination. Sin is an enemy within us. Theologians call this the doctrine of total depravity.
Total depravity means that I and everyone else are depraved or corrupt in the totality of our being. There is no part of us that is left untouched by sin. Our minds, our wills, and our bodies are affected by evil. We speak sinful words, do sinful deeds, have impure thoughts. Our very bodies suffer from the ravages of sin. – R. C. Sproul, Human Depravity
Sin has gained a total victory over all of humanity. It has done a complete and comprehensive job on us. It is worse than conquering a nation where the people submit to the leader’s control by force and manipulation.
Sin has not only conquered “the nation,” but it has brainwashed the people within its borders, causing them to give allegiance to all its schemes. Hitler tried to conquer countries, but he could not control the resistance of the people within those countries.
Sin has conquered humanity and made the inhabitants to consume its deadly poison. We now salute sin’s flag because we want to. Sin’s total control of our lives is an “inside-out victory.”
Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. – Romans 5:12
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. – James 1:14-15
For the wages of sin is death. – Romans 6:23
And once sin finishes with us, we die. From beginning to end we’re tarred and feathered, and then condemned to die. Let’s put one last dirty brush stroke on this ever-darkening canvas; it’s the coup de grâce: God is against us too.
Reverse the Curse
May we come up for air now and focus on the good news in this tragic story. One of the many differences between the Lord and the devil is the Lord gives us an escape plan. Though He cannot change His view on sin, He can judge it and save us at the same time. (Cf. John 3:16; Romans 6:23)
Rather than being a distant bystander who punishes the sinners, He chose to enter our world (Philippians 2:6-10) to become like us (Hebrews 2:14-15) so He could accept our punishment on Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21). I’m describing to you the gospel–the best news.
If God has regenerated you by His power (Romans 1:16; John 3:7), you know this to be true. You have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (1 Peter 2:2-3). You have found a way through the blood of Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
You don’t have to live in the quaking fear of sin and death (Hebrews 12:25-26). You have escaped the wrath that is currently abiding on all who don’t believe and the future wrath that will bind them throughout eternity.
Your problem is not their problem. If you are a believer, you have a different kind of challenge. Namely, how do you appropriate the freedom and power of the gospel into your life every day because sin continues to attempt to capture you?
You have experienced the reverse of the curse in salvation, but you have not experienced perfection in your sanctification. Though God has regenerated you at a point in time, your full salvation is not complete. What you have is a secure and eternal spot with the Lamb around the throne, but you’re still fighting “remaining sin” in your life today.
Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires. – Ephesians 2:22
Paul is appealing to the Christians, not the non-Christians, to put off their “former manner of life” that they have brought into their Christian experience. They are free, but they are not entirely free. There are still habituations, patterns, methods, and processes that belong to how they used to live when they were non-Christians.
Five Ways to Change Your Ways
Just because God saved you by His power, you are not free from sin’s allurements. Your heart is not wholly pure, and your culture still has ways of enticing you. Trusting the Lord in your sanctification is harder, in a way, than believing Him in your salvation.
The reason is that salvation is a one-time event. Sanctification is a daily, moment by moment, experience for the Christian (1 Corinthians 15:31). The Lord calls you to enter into death at salvation and to continue to live in that death daily until He calls you home (Luke 9:23).
And your temptation is similar to mine: not to live in the victory the Lord calls you to. When sin is relentless, whether through your relationships or personal defeats, you are easily distracted from the gospel, which leads back to old patterns.
Paul is appealing to you to put off those old ways of doing things. You are not supposed to fight the way you used to because your weapons for warfare are not of human means, but of divine power (2 Corinthians 10:4). Stop fighting the way you used to fight.
At this point, I’m supposed to say something about insanity. You know—if you do the same thing over and over again and get the same negative results, that’s the definition of insanity.
Sin is insanity because it is not God’s way of doing things. The Lord is perfect. To deviate from His perfect standard is a biblical definition of insanity—to miss the mark of God’s mind on a matter.
He is the only one who is perfect. He is perfectly sane. Not to think the way He thinks is crazy. And we’re all a little crazy, even the most balanced (biblically mature) among us because sin will not leave any of us alone.
What this means for the Christians is we have to learn new ways of doing things—God’s way, rather than the futile and darkened ways that we have smuggled into our Christianity (Ephesians 4:17-19). Here are a few of those old ways:
- Over-sleeping as a way to hide from problems.
- Overeating as a way to feel better when anxious.
- Overspending as a way to find comfort when lonely.
- Over-worrying as a way to think about problems.
Every way that is not God’s way is an old way that needs to change. The way to know if it is God’s way or not, you can ask the trust question: “Am I trusting the Lord or trusting myself as I interact with this person or that problem?”
The means you use to engage a situation is either right or wrong. If it is wrong, it’s an old way, which is probably an old habit that needs to be broken and replaced with true righteousness.
Teaching Dogs New Tricks
They say you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. That may be true if the old dogs are operating without the power of the gospel. What I do know is that you can teach Christians, who find themselves habituated in old patterns, new ways to live.
The biggest key is being aware of what you’re doing while discerning if it is a good or bad way of doing it. This process of “awareness and discernment” is not an exercise that I recommend you do in a vacuum.
Because of the pervasiveness of the sin problem that I mentioned earlier, you should have an appropriate biblical self-suspicion when thinking about yourself. Be careful of the over-confident person. Be alarmed if that person is you.
When we are cocksure of our conclusions, without the weighing of those conclusions in the presence of friends, there is a chance our assumptions will be wrong.
At the heart of biblical decision-making is a biblical community of trusted friends (1 Corinthians 15:33). There is safety in a multitude of good friends (Proverbs 11:14), and the wise person knows this and is delighted to have his interpretations weighed because he holds them loosely.
Let Me Be Clear: I don’t trust myself in every matter of my life. I can have a tenacious self-loyalty that bends things to my advantage and preferences. The person that I’m most loyal to is myself. For a person like me, there are seven clear steps to begin the process of changing bad habits:
- Be humble
- Be self-suspicious
- Be transparent
- Be willing—to share your thoughts
- Be communal
- Be entreat-able
- Be ready—to change
If you are these ways, you’re in an excellent spot to mature in Christ. These thoughts and responses flow out of a humble heart that God’s empowering favor has saturated (James 4:6).
The humble person is the owner of appropriate self-suspicion, which leads to a willingness to be transparent with others. Because of his humility, there is an ability to receive the feedback that may be different from what he was thinking.
Like a road that weaves through a town, his humility continues to empower him to want to consider more options, with the goal of changing his former manner of life.
An excellent way to reflect upon this list is to ask yourself if you are these things. You’re not asking if you manifest them perfectly, but do these things characterize you. Is there evidence of these seven graces in your life?
A Note on Community
Though humility is the biggest key to how we change, it’s crucial for you to have biblical clarity on what community means because without community you will have a hard time improving your ways.
The word community comes from the word koinonia, which means fellowship or participation. To have a community is to have fellowship, participation, or engagement with someone. It’s a symbiotic relationship with another person.
Change happens in a community. What you and I want to do is make sure the right communal influences surround us. Here are three important ones: (1) the Spirit of God, (2) the Word of God, and (3) the people of God.
Call to Action
- What are some specific habit patterns do you have in your life that are part of your old manner of responding to life? What are you doing to break these evil patterns?
- How active are the three elements of koinonia (Spirit, Word, people) in helping you identify specific habit patterns in your life, and do they motivate you to change your ways? What is your practical plan for change?