Thoughts on the Way Home

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Why A Believer Sins and What To Do About It

Why A Believer Sins and What To Do About It
by Terry Rayburn

An Experiment

If you mix baking soda and vinegar and it produces bubbles and gas, you might be amazed at first, but if you do it a few times, you come to expect it, and the amazement is sort of dissipated.

I do an experiment all the time. In a way the experiment results amaze me. And yet, the result is the same virtually all the time, and so how amazed can one be?

Here's my experiment. In fact, pretend I'm doing the experiment with you. I ask people this. I say, “I'm going to give the first half of a Bible verse, and you give me the last half of the verse. Here's the Bible verse: 'For sin shall no longer be master over you, for...'”

And then I shut up. “For sin shall no longer be master over you, for...”

Can you complete the verse? I mean that's an important verse, don't you think? A verse that is the key to why sin is no longer master over us, as believers in Jesus Christ?

If you can't complete the verse, don't feel too bad. Because in all my many times of doing this experiment, I have yet to have anyone complete the verse from memory. Isn't that amazing? Such a key verse, and yet it's not even on the radar of most Christians.

If I asked you to finish the last half of John 3:16 or Romans 8:28, many of you would be able to. But not “...sin shall no longer be master over you, for...”

O.K., here's the last half of the verse: “...for you are no longer under Law, but under grace.” (Rom. 6:14) That's why sin is no longer master over us.

The Power Of Sin Is The Law

In my experience, few believers understand the simple principle that basing our thinking and our lives on Law or rules, has no power over sin. In fact, the Scripture says that “the power of sin is the law.” (1 Cor. 15:56)

That means that when we are law-based in our thinking, instead of grace-based, sin actually gains power over us. The law inflames the sin in us, just as “Don't Touch The Wet Paint” might lure us to touch it, and then puts condemnation on us that denies the grace and forgiveness that we have in Christ. And that quenches the Holy Spirit, which is the only source of our power over sin.

Let me repeat that in a slightly different way. The law inflames sin in us, luring us to break the law, which puts condemnation on us. And that condemnation quenches the Holy Spirit, the only source of power over sin we have, and we end up sinning even more, and the cycle continues.

The Ground of Grace

But when we understand that we are no longer under Law, but under grace – when we understand that we are totally forgiven, and that all our sins are paid for by Christ, and that God loves and accepts us fully through grace, even when we sin – in other words, when we are standing on the ground of grace, then we are able to walk in the Spirit, the Holy Spirit Who is our strength, and the One who enables us to rise above sin.

As Romans 8:2 tells us, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”

See that?

When we walk in the truth of the grace of God in Christ, then that truth sets us free, and then the love and life of Christ flows through us, and sin loses it's power. Truth always sets free.

But the lie that we are still under the Law, that following laws and rules are how we earn God's love and favor, that lie brings bondage. And that bondage repeats itself.

I don't care how many times you repent of a sin, if your solution to that sinning is going back to the law and buckling down to force yourself to obey that law, you will fail. Hasn't that often been your experience?

Why Do We Sin?

Well, if we understand that grace principle, then why would we ever sin? Because we do, don't we?

The answer is that we are deceived by the world, the flesh and the devil. We have these enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil. And they deceive us. And one of the ways they deceive us is that we are under the law, in the sense that our obedience to law is how we earn God's love and favor, or even keep our salvation.

That's a lie, but these enemies tell us, “Come, let us reason together. Doesn't it make sense that God will be angry at you if you sin? Doesn't it make sense that if you don't stop that sin on your own, that you don't deserve forgiveness? What kind of Christian are you? Do you really think God still forgives you when you've said you were going to stop that, and yet here you are again with the same sin? You slob, you sinner, you ungrateful wretch!”

And it's all a lie. God loves us and accepts us in the Beloved, in Christ. And He has already forgiven even the sins that we have yet to commit. It was accomplished at great cost on the Cross, but it was accomplished. It is finished. And our salvation, and our favor with God, and our staying saved, and our eventual place with Him in heaven, is all paid for...done.

And yet, those enemies will deceive us every chance they get. So I want to deal with one more dynamic. And that is, what do we do when we DO sin? Where do we go? Because I don't want to teach the error of sinless perfection.

What To Do When You Sin

Anyone who never sins, raise your hand.

I didn’t think so. Of course we do sin. Let’s get that out of the way first. 1 Jn. 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Two verses later it says, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”

But wait a minute. In 1 Jn. 3:6 it says, “…Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him [that is, Jesus].” And two verses later John writes, “He who sins is of the devil.”

What’s going on here?

Well, that’s where English breaks down a little bit. The New Testament was of course written in Greek, the common Greek of the time. And when they wrote and spoke in that day, they would use different tenses of a verb that could make quite a drastic distinction in what they said. One tense might be a reference to a single action, and one tense might be a reference to a continuing action.

We do a similar thing in English, but we usually add other words, or forms of a word to get the point across. For example, if we were talking about a baseball player hitting a single home run, the announcer might say simply, “Wow, he hits a home run”. But if we were talking about a baseball player whose habit is always hitting home runs, we might say, “Wow, he sure hits home runs.” That’s his practice, that’s his norm. He’s always hitting home runs. He’s a home run champ.

So in 1 John, when it says, “Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor know Him,” we find the Greek word for “sins” is in the present tense, which refers to continuous sinning. In other words, one who lives in sin, walks in sin, continues in sin, and never really repents of it, or turns away from it.

This fits the context of 1 John also, because as we’ve already said that if we deny that we sin at all, we’re calling God a liar.

O.K. I say all that to say this:

When you sin, where do you go? Do you run straight to God, or do you do what many of us have a habit of doing? We shy away from God. We don’t exactly mean to. But we do.

Some process goes through our mind, maybe not clearly, but something like, “Oh boy. There I go again. How can I face God after that? I mean, we’ve been through that sin so many times. I know God forgives me, but does He really?

“I mean, what kind of wretch am I that I would do that again? I think I’ll just sit it out and see how it goes. I can’t go to God yet. I’m not sure I even feel like going to God right now. What would He think? Even God has His limits.

“He must really be frowning a me right now, or even downright angry. And I can’t face His frown and anger. Lord knows I deserve it, though. Do you have any idea how many times I must have disappointed Him? And after all He’s done for me.”

We may not verbalize all that, but it’s a common feeling that I’ve heard many people express one way or another.

And of course, eventually we do turn to Him, and our sweet fellowship with Him goes on. And even though we know on some level that the quicker we turn back to Him the better, yet we delay it for what we can only call crazy reasons of bad theology?

Is God Angry At Us?

Because is it accurate to see God frowning or angry at us? Is it good biblical theology?

No, it’s not. It’s a view of God that is just plain incorrect. And to get a correct view of God, and how He relates to us when we sin, we can look at a story you may be quite familiar with, the Prodigal Son. But you may not be familiar with it from the vantage point, not of the wayward son [that’s us], but of the Father in the story.

The Prodigal Son's Abba

I can't tell you how many sermons I've heard through the years on the subject of "The Prodigal Son". What he did. How he treated his father. Where he went. How he worked with the pigs. How he squandered his inheritance. Finally, how he was restored. On and on about the son, with usually some contrasting comparisons about his elder brother.

It's supposed to be a picture of us Christians when we sin or "backslide", and how we can return to God. And how there's always forgiveness, if we repent, turn 180 degrees, say our speeches to God, resolve to do better, etc., etc.

But is that really what it's about? The son?

Well, sure, but only incidentally. It's really about the Father, and His heart toward us, his children. It's a picture of God. The son is almost just a prop, added in to make a point.

I won't read the story now, but you can read the story in Luke 15, verses 11-24.

Notice that the prodigal son had a little speech prepared. A little repentance speech. A groveling speech. Sort of, "Father, I'm a low-down miserable worm, not worthy to be your son, so let me be a hired servant of yours."

Did the Father listen to the speech, and judge the son's sincerity by it? No! Remember? He never even listened to the speech! He was too overjoyed by his son's return! It's as though he said, "Oh shut up, you big lug! Give your daddy a hug! Welcome home, son!"

And that's the point:

God is not interested in the content of our little speeches. He isn't interested in our groveling, as if the more miserably we grovel, the more we "earn" His forgiveness. Why? Because He has already forgiven us, and paid for that forgiveness on the Cross.

Well, what is He interested in, then?

What God Is Interested In

He is interested in our fellowship!

If I may paraphrase the Father, he said: "Cut the speech! I get it. Go get the robe! Get the ring! Kill the fatted calf! My son has returned! That's all I want! I love you, Son! I love you! Just abide in me. I'll produce the fruit. I know you've failed, and you'll fail again. But that doesn't change my love for you! And I'm at work in you both to will and to do my good pleasure!" (Phil. 2:13)

In our heart of hearts, as believers in Jesus Christ, we don’t want to sin, do we? But the world, the flesh and the devil deceives us, and we do sin. Where do we go?

Let’s get in the habit of running to the Father. Don’t walk, run to Him. He will always, always, have His arms open to you, His child, to wrap those arms around you in love. Because the sins are already paid for, remembered no more, as far as the east is from the west, because of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

May we “ able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled up to all the fulness of God..." (Eph. 3:18,19)

And then stay off of the ground of law, and stand on the ground of grace, and you'll know (and experience) that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Rom. 8:2)

HT: Grace for Life