Sin in the Life of a Believer is one of the issues that the Jesus Brings… programme brings to the forefront. If Jesus Brings forgiveness, rebirth, holiness and transformation, why do Christians continue to sin? Why do I have such a struggle with sin? Why is the world not becoming a better place as the gospel message continues to grow around the globe?
In one sense it is a reasonable question to ask, for the promise of the gospel is so great. Yet the teaching of the gospel is not perfection in this lifetime but in the next. Whenever such teaching is mentioned some people see it as an escape clause. For some it is an intellectual escape clause –“you promise transformative new birth but when you look at the small print it doesn’t apply now”. For others it is a moral escape clause – “you say that I don’t have to be perfect now so I can continue to tolerate sin in my life”.
However, when considering the topic of Sin in the Life of the Believer there are some pointers to keep in mind.
1 There is a fundamental difference between the believer and the unbeliever in regard to sin.
1a The nature of the disease we call sin is rebellion against God, whereas by repentance the Christian submits to Jesus Christ as Lord and God as our Father.
1b Most people consider sins (the symptoms) as the problem rather than Sin (the disease). So they repent of symptomatic sins rather than of the heart of the problem: the disease called Sin.
1c Therefore, many people find difficulty with God’s word which says: “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23); Righteous acts can be as polluted garments (Isaiah 64:6); and “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10).
1d Prior to repentance and forgiveness, everything we did was contaminated by our rebellion against God. It is only when we turn from sin to God that we can commence doing righteous acts, unpolluted by our Sinfulness.
1e Washed clean by Jesus’ sacrifice, His Spirit enables us to do the good works Jesus commanded his disciples (Matthew 5:16). For now God is at work in us to work and do his good pleasure (John 3:21, Philippians 2:13, 2 Thessalonians 1:11, Titus 2:11-14).
2 There is a growing change in the believer, moving away from sins as we are transformed by the renewal of our minds.
2a We will continue to sin in this world, as the internal war between the flesh and the Spirit continues within us (Galatians 5:16f). Walking in the light is not being sinless but confessing our sin and finding forgiveness (1 John 1:7ff). Once reborn, Christianity is a journey that we have to pursue (Philippians 3:12-15).
2b God is at work within us to bring us to his desired goal of sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:1f). His Spirit produces fruit in us against which there is no law (Galatians 5:22) and transforms us from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18).
2c Walking in step with the Spirit we have to apply ourselves to the good works that God has prepared for us to walk in (Galatians 5:25f, Colossians 3:1-17, 1 Peter 1:22ff, 2 Peter 1:5ff).
2d While I can contrast the new life in Christ with the old life as an unbeliever (Ephesians 4:17f, Titus 3:3f, 1 Peter 4:1f), yet in my growth in godliness I really can only compare myself with myself. The progress others make should be a cause of rejoicing and encouragement, not envy nor tyranny or superiority (Romans 14:1ff).
2e It is common experience that growing in godliness does not bring a sense of personal righteousness but an ever increasing awareness of just how sinful we really are. The unregenerate person has deadened their awareness of the depths of their sinfulness (Romans 1:18, 2:1).
3 People commonly underestimate two things: the sinfulness of our hearts and the enormity of new birth.
3a Being surprised by our sinfulness shows how little we believe the Scriptures’ verdict but rather are deceived over the depth of our heart’s sinfulness. Jeremiah expressed his despair: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9). And Paul wrote of the inability of the natural human to please God: “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7f). The war between flesh and Spirit does not cease until we are transformed in Christ’s return.
3b Jesus did not teach a minor modification of behaviour but called for repentance and spoke of being born again. Christianity is not a small ‘add-on’ to basically moral people. Jesus radically called us to deny ourselves, take up the cross and follow him. Thus we have died and risen with him and must put to death our old self as we put on the new (Colossians 3:1-17, Romans 6:1ff).
3c All too often the public failure of some Christian leader and the Christian’s consciousness of our failings, makes us vulnerable to the Accuser’s lie that we are no different to the rest of mankind. When in fact the Christian community is considerably better off educationally, socially and morally. The gospel has brought about radical improvements for individuals, families and communities – in every aspect of living.
Sin in the life of a believer is profoundly inconsistent and yet, in a fallen world, is sadly all too normal. It does not mean the failure of Christianity or that we’re not a Christian. Rather, as in marriage, when we fail to love as we promised, we still remain married and quite different to being single, but we are a poor husband or wife.