Two people have a similar struggle. Both of them struggle with discouragement because of their ongoing patterns of sin. Rather than seeing sin as an opportunity to lean into God, they are heading farther down the path of frustration and fear. Sinning plus struggling with ongoing discouragement about your sin is a double-sin-paradigm.
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The response to a transgression should not be more sinning through despair or frustration. Though sin can be discouraging, your main point-of-focus must be the gospel, not what you did wrong. Missing God’s mark should create a spiritual momentum that moves you toward gospel solutions rather than fear, despair, justifying, rationalizing, or blaming.
If your response to sin drives you away from the gospel, you not only misunderstand the biblical purposes of sin in your life, but you under-appreciate, under-value, and under-utilize the power found in the gospel, which is sin’s only solution.
Already, But Not Yet
At conversion, God begins a good work in you by making you new. The real you that will live forever changes entirely after regeneration. This good news happens because the Lord nails all your sins—past, present, and future—to the cross of His Son. The Lord declares you “not guilty” forever.
After Christ came out of the grave and ascended to heaven, He completed the work of salvation, which enabled you to receive Christ’s righteousness. If you believe this gospel, you are entirely forgiven and completely righteous because of the finished work of Christ. Your new righteousness that belongs to Jesus is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:1-10).
God credits Christ’s perfect record of obedience to you. This reality is a staggering doctrine. Think about it. You are no longer the person you used to be (1 Corinthians 6:11). The Spirit of God has come into you. Your past or your present struggles do not define you, and any future struggles will not identify you.
This truth is an “already, but not yet” theology. All of these things that 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 draws you toward sin.
When Good Went Bad
Back to the Beginning – The Lord made Adam and Eve with a desire to find life, meaning, and purpose in their world. This opportunity was a good thing because everything in them and around them was morally good.
Then came Genesis 3 when sin entered the world. From that point forward, the world and all its inhabitants were no longer morally good (Romans 5:12). We became depraved entirely. Through and through, we are sad, bad, and mad. Paul said we were worthless (Romans 3:10-12).
Our world and our hearts are thoroughly corrupted, like a giant magnet, the world is drawing our hearts in compelling ways (James 1:14-15). Our sinful desires so easily lure us as we pursue things to continuously crave. The new you that Christ made continues to experience corruption that draws you toward evil (Ephesians 4:22-24).
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 change into a new body, and our salvation will be complete.
In the meantime, we have a problem. Evil pulls the Christian toward the things of this world (Ephesians 4:22). The magnetism of sin is in full-effect until we see Jesus. This season is between regeneration and glorification. We call it sanctification.
Weakness Is a Gift
Our problem with sin does raise a few questions:
- Why didn’t God 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 entirely 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 more vital to Him. What if you turn sin on its head by viewing it from the Lord’s perspective, rather than yours? When you think about sin from your perspective, you may become discouraged, angry, or even justified. When you view sin from the Lord’s perspective, you should become hopeful, strengthened, and 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 does.
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).
One of the reasons the Lord did not completely clean you up at salvation and why sin remains in your life is to regularly remind you that apart from the Lord, you cannot do anything (John 15:5; Philippians 4:13). God did not make you perfect at salvation, and He will not allow you to be that way in your earthly 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, your obedience will be without the snares of Pharisaical pride.
You must see any claims of obedience or holiness through the lens of your inability, weakness, and 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 (Luke 18:9-14).
The self-reliant person is easily 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 – The self-reliant person will begin declaring their actions as not guilty. Because they can’t overcome their sin, they will alter their transgression by making it okay.
- Rationalization – The self-reliant person will begin to compare themselves with others, always putting themselves in a better light to soothe their conscience (2 Corinthians 10:12).
- Blame – Because there is a compelling to provide a reason for their sin, coupled with their unwillingness to own it, the self-reliant person will blame what’s wrong with them on other people or other things.
- Alleviation – The result of these sinful mental maneuvers will lead to addictive behaviors, which form escapes for the self-reliant person who refuses to accept their inability to change while learning to trust the Lord.
The God-reliant person is spurred on by humility. This attitude is God-empowered favor on their lives that motivates them to cooperate with the Lord in their ongoing transformation.
Their humility gives them clarity on how they are and what they did. 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 can label it accurately. The transgressor perceives the Lord’s allowance of the sin in their lives and trusts Him in the ongoing transformation of their souls.
Opportunity or Opposition?
If you are not willing to identify what is wrong with you accurately, sin will overcome you, and your internal angst will continue. This reaction 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 to magnify the Lord 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. God united you with Christ. He placed you “in Jesus.” When the Lord sees you, He sees the gift that He gave you, which is the righteousness of Christ. 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 is for you to view your sin as your time to continue to lean into the good work that God is doing in you while progressing to a greater depth of holiness.
Christ cherishes and washes you. You are clean, blameless, and 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.
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, we would not need Him, the gospel, or His grace (Genesis 11:6).
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, God saved us, and by grace, He sanctifies us (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Here are four vital sequential points to consider. Read and reflect on each one 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 do not fall into despair, but run to hope. I know the Lord is doing 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 corners off my sin or play mental games with myself or others. I name it and claim it because theological accuracy will expedite the Lord’s help.
- Confession – With clear sin categories, I’m able to agree with God with what I did quickly. I see what He sees. We’re on the same page. This response makes it easier to confess my sin and receive His cleansing.
- Community – I need the body of Christ. Sanctification happens best in a community. Not only do I want others to know what the Lord is doing for me, but I want to position myself to help others in their walk of faith. The call on me is to go and make disciples.
How did you do? What area do you struggle the most: contrition, categories, confession, community? Will you talk to a friend? Will you find some help? Sin does not have to be detrimental to your soul. Sin can be the beginning of a great new life in Christ. Let me leave you with my favorite quote from The Gospel Primer.
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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