A few months ago I wrote a two part series on “Killing Sin.” In Part 1, I laid the foundation for killing sin; that is, fixing our eyes on Jesus. In Part 2, I gave practical steps on how to realign our value system so that we can successfully make war on our sin.
My brothers and sisters, I want you to know that from time to time, we stumble. Sometimes we lose the battle – and the weight of our grief can be tremendous.
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. [. . .] For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15, 22-25a)
Several weeks ago, I was before the Lord with this very passage open – my heart sinking into my chest, and my eyes overflowing with tears. Like many of you, I’m just a man – learning to walk the Christian walk day by day. And sometimes, often more times than I care to admit, I stumble (James 3).
You see, several weeks ago I felt the pressures of life mounting against me. In the midst of this hardship, my heart became preoccupied with the affairs of this life and my time with the Lord became cold. What resulted was a prime opportunity for the roots of anger and irritation that reside in my heart to lash out against those whom I love the most: my wife and my children.
Therefore, I want to address a very important question: What do you do when you lose the battle? We’re told to fix our eyes on Jesus and to wage war against our sin, but what happens if I fail?
How you respond to failure (because the bible guarantees that we will fail) can mean everything. It can either mean crushing, final defeat or it can be a new opportunity to see God as the Glorious One who saves sinners. So I want to deal with that very question: What to do when you lose the battle . . .
James teaches us to confess our sins to one another, and to pray for one another, in order that we may be delivered from the power of sin in our lives. In the spirit of James, let me share a few words of encouragement and some of the lessons I’ve (re)learned.
1. Remember the Gospel – Sometimes, for various reasons, we lose sight of the experiential magnificence of the gospel: “But God demonstrates his love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Grasp that with your mind and your heart! Our experience of the sin cleansing power of the gospel is not “once done.” There are reservoirs of grace that have already made covering for all of our wicked thoughts and deeds, made available by the sacrificial death of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. Let us behold that wondrous mystery every moment that God gives us breath.
2. Repent Quickly – When you lose the battle, do not be slow to repent. God has forgiven you, but your unrepented sin still prevents intimacy with Him. The Holy Spirit resides in us, in part, to convict us of sin. However, shame makes us want to resist or hide from His conviction. But trying to hide from God is foolish, impossible, and will only prolong your sense of agony, for “when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4)
I urge you that if you are aware of your sin, to quickly confess it to God. His heart is inclined such that He desires to restore intimacy with us. The first chapter of 1 John reminds us that, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
3. Godly Grief v. Despair – One of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin. However, there is another who desires to convict us. Satan aims to entice us so that we act on our sinful desires (James 1:14), and then haul us before God and hurl accusations against us. In fact, his name, which comes directly from Hebrew, literally means, “the accuser”. In Revelation, Satan is called “the accuser of the brethren.”
So how do we know which is which? Paul tells us, in the seventh chapter of 2 Corinthians, that the aim of the Holy Spirit is “godly sorrow that leads to repentance.” God’s “end-game” is always repentance, restoration, and renewed intimacy with Him.
Satan’s end-game is to see the opposite: to see you either totally unaware of your sin or so crushed under the weight of your grief that you are crippled, ineffective, and afraid to run back to your Heavenly Father.
4. Eternal Security – Every time we sin, we provide ammunition for our accuser. It’s sort of like a boomerang that he can use against us again and again. Even weeks, months, or years after a sin – indeed, even after repentance – the accuser will speak accusations into our ear: “I know what you’ve done.” “Do you really think God could forgive or love you?” “You make God sick.” “You will never be able to master this.”
Do not listen to him. Do not fall back into despair. He is not known as the father of lies without cause. He is on a hell-bound path and he knows it. Like a child throwing a temper tantrum, he’s breaking as much as he can in his path, just so someone else can’t have it.
We have one – Jesus Christ – who stands before the father making intercessions on our behalf. And He has promised that he will save those who draw near to him – no one, not even the accuser of the brethren, will be able to pluck you from His hand.
5. The Refiner’s Fire – God knows our hearts even better than we do. He knows what thoughts and desires corrode the walls of our hearts, and he loves us too much to allow us to peacefully co-exist with them. To that end, God permits circumstances that are trying, hard, or painful in our lives. Malachi describes God as a “refiner’s fire” or “fuller’s soap.” God turns the heat up in our lives because he knows that those impurities and inconsistencies will make their way to the surface. It is the only way for us to be able to see them, and to be able to deal with them accordingly. It’s a painful process, but allows us to draw closer to God as a result.
6. Know Thyself – Socrates is often given credit for the quote, “Know thyself.” Whether or not he actually said it, I’m borrowing a page from his book. The truth is that God has been incredibly gracious to mankind. He has woven into our human natures, certain “barometers” or “tests” so that we can read the condition of our souls. The things we say (or the things that we do), tell us about the condition of our hearts. In fact, our Lord, in the book of Luke, said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
In other words, he’s telling us that we don’t have to wonder what’s lurking in our heart. We don’t have to wonder if we have angry hearts, or jealous hearts, or lustful hearts. All we have to do is look at the things we say and do, and diagnose the problem. It really is a blessing to us!
So what’s the application here? Recognize your own sinful tendencies – which will vary from person to person. Don’t rationalize them! Instead, be honest with yourself about your tendencies! What drives you? Be specific! For some, it’s pride, for others it’s anger, or jealousy, and so on. Knowing which sinful tendencies are more prevalent in your life will be useful in your battle against sin.
7. The Grand Scheme – Do not waste your sin. By no means am I encouraging you to dismiss your sin, or to revel in it. Nor am I making the argument that Paul famously rebuts in Romans 6, “Let us sin so that grace may increase!”
No. What I am saying is do not waste the bitter taste for sin that God graciously provides in repentance; do not waste the lessons your war against sin – both successes and failures – will teach you.
Perhaps, most importantly, do not waste the opportunity to see the grand scheme: Our glorious God has chosen – out of the multi-faceted goodness of his character – to make his name the most glorious by providing himself as the means of loving, rescuing, and redeeming sinners like ourselves. That thought should move our hearts toward worship!
I am reminded of the exchange between Lucy, Susan, and Mrs. Beaver in the Chronicles of Narnia. Lucy and Susan asked what Aslan (the Jesus-like character in the story) was like. Mrs. Beaver responded, “He is not safe, but he is good.”
And so it is with our lives as Christians. We face many trials and hardships – some caused by this world, some we cause on our own – but we know from the promise of scripture, and the depth of our experiences of Him, that He is good.
My dear brothers and sisters, our lives are a fight for joy. Fights are hard, but this one is worth it. Keep up the good fight, and remember – one battle does not define your war.