We are afflicted with deeply entrenched sin. While some of our sins have ceased to plague us, others remain untamed, as Scripture warns:
- For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Galatians 5:17)
How then do we gain victory over our sins? Some would say that, since God understands that we will continue to struggle against sin in this life, we can simply accept their presence. After all, we don’t want to be legalists or to walk around dismayed about our moral failings. They therefore erroneously argue that we have to reject sin consciousness.
However appealing this message might sound, it is not biblical. Jesus taught that we have to endeavor to be like God:
- Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
Peter agreed that the perfect Christ had to be our role model:
- As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16)
In fact, Holy living is never optional:
- Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)
The Bible never gives us an excuse to sin. Even if we have a perfect moral track record, we still do not have the right to sin (Ezekiel 33:12).
Yet, we continue to sin! What then? We don’t give up! Not according to Paul:
- Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)
But how do we press on in the midst of repeated failures to overcome sin, especially the internal ones? By knowing that pressing on is what is expected of us! Also by knowing that:
- If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:9-10)
We cannot expect to become be sinless in this life. Anyone who claims this is a “liar.” Sinlessness will only become a reality when Christ returns for us:
- Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
Why does our Savior abandon us to this often discouraging struggle against sin?Because we need it! An immediate victory over sin would not serve us well. Why not? We do not do well spiritually when everything is going well for us. The pagan King Nebuchadnezzar had been very proud of his accomplishments. However, God was merciful to him and struck him down with insanity for seven years. After these seven years, his mind was restored and his pride had been crushed. He therefore confessed:
- Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Daniel 4:37)
Job was the most spiritual man in the entire earth, yet he too had become proud, as the prophetic Elihu revealed:
- “But you [Job] have said in my hearing– I heard the very words– ‘I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt. Yet God has found fault with me; he considers me his enemy.’” (Job 33:8-10)
Elihu explained that, because of Job’s spiritual pride, God, in love, had to humble him:
- “But I tell you, in this you are not right, for God is greater than man. Why do you complain to him that he answers none of man’s words? For God does speak… to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword… His soul draws near to the pit, and his life to the messengers of death. Yet if there is an angel on his side as a mediator, one out of a thousand, to tell a man what is right for him… then his flesh is renewed like a child’s; it is restored as in the days of his youth. He prays to God and finds favor with him, he sees God’s face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state. Then he comes to men and says, ‘I sinned, and perverted what was right, but I did not get what I deserved. He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I will live to enjoy the light.’” (Job 33:12-28)
For his own good, even Job needed to be humbled. We too need to be humbled in order to receive the blessings of God. Paul also had to learn this same lesson:
- To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
There is nothing that can humble us like our repeated moral failures. These teach us compassion and gratefulness for our Lord’s grace. Otherwise, we tend to trust in ourselves instead. Paul also had to learn this lesson:
- We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
We too need to learn this lesson, but this is a lesson we can only learn in our struggle against sin.
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