The way we play with sin is very interesting. Of course we love our sin, but God doesn’t. We want God’s favor, but he won’t play with us as long as we continue in our sin. So we rename it. Instead of calling it bitterness, we call it our Irishness coming out. Instead of calling it lust, we say we’ve been this way since we were twelve and it has become part of us. Instead of calling it a sin we say, at least I’m not doing it out in the world. It is all between my ears, in my head.
We even have “feel good” pastors and teachers telling us that as long as we aren’t “acting out” our fantasies, we can live as godly Christians. As long as we are physically celibate, lust is okay.
But what does God say about these things? He said, “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mat 5:28). Again, he said, “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Mat 5:22). But wait there’s more, “And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Lk. 16:15). God calls it sin even when it is between our ears.
The point is that sin is not just something we do, it is also something we think and feel. Nothing is left outside the realm and rule of Christ. Jesus is Lord of all, not just our outward behavior.
What should we do? How can we escape? Where can we go for help? On our own, we can’t do what is right, especially if we listen to God and realize that our very thoughts are sinful. We do what we did before, we look to God for the answer, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mat 11:28-30).
What does this mean? It means stop trying to live the life of the Christian in your own power and understanding. It means lay down your life at the foot of the Cross and pick up your cross and follow Christ. It means give yourself over to the rule and ownership of Christ. It means stop standing up for yourself and trying to justify your own personal agenda. Stop having an agenda other than to follow Jesus. Study the scriptures daily, hourly, minute by minute to find out what God’s agenda is for you. It means throw yourself on his mercy and let his life flow through you as you strive to honor him in all that you do, think and say.
You say you did all this once? Is this how you became a Christian in the first place? Well, do it again. How did things go for the first few months as a Christian? For most people, those who heard becoming a Christian in the terms I’ve indicated had a wonderful first few months. Then, they sinned and everything seemed to come crashing down. Guilt came back; joy went away; strife with others came back; there was no longer a sweet relationship with God; and Bible reading became a bore.
I call this phenomenon the “six month doubters.” It usually happens after the person has been a Christian for six months and she begins to forget what Christ has done for her. As she forgets, she starts sliding in her attention to God and the Bible and she begin sinning again. God’s discipline for sin comes to her and because she doesn’t respond well to God’s discipline, she often feel worse than she did when she first believed (2 Pet. 2:20). She often wonders whether she was really saved in the first place.
Invariably some nice Christian will try to help by telling her that this new feeling is really normal for the Christian and the way she feels now is really the right way, or sometimes the more mature way to feel, and “its about time you came around to how life really is and stop being all Pollyanna about things.”
This response is a lie straight from the Devil. God expects us to walk with him in joy and peace, not in turmoil and strife. He wants us to confess our sins so that he can cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9). He wants us to draw near to him so that he can draw near to us (Jas.4:8). He wants us to delight ourselves in him so that he can give us the desires of our heart (Psa. 37:4). He saved us for fellowship with him and with his son. He wants to make us one with him and with one another.
The response the Christian should have toward sin is the same response they had at the beginning. Confess the sin, all sin, to God and to anyone sinned against. Repent from the sin—which means to turn away from the sin and begin to do what is right. Finally, accept God’s forgiveness and live in newness of life, filled with the joy of the lord and love for the saints. If the older believer began living life like this, the normal Christian life would be glorious and wonderful. The witness of the Church to the unbelievers in our midst would be sweet and winsome and the Kingdom of God would grow and thrive.
When people come to Christ from great sin, they often and not uncommonly feel tremendous. They walk with God and with others in an incredible way because their sin has been forgiven and they have been cleansed and set free from their bondage. This is the Biblical Christian life. Often people will say, “Yes, but it isn’t the normal Christian life.” Usually what they mean is, “this isn’t my experience and thus it isn’t a mature Christian life.” I believe that the Biblical Christian life is what many new Christians experience. It is a life that is pure and holy, filled with the presence and full relationship with God. It is immature in that it doesn’t have a lot of the knowledge of God and God’s Word, but in terms of relationship with God, the new believer has what every believer ought to have—abundant life.