Why do I continue to struggle with sin when others seem beyond it?
I love to hear fellow Christians share their amazing stories of God’s transformation. Many have stories about how, prior to trusting Jesus, they gave themselves to all sorts of sinful addictions, and after putting their faith in him, they no longer had any inclination towards those addictions.
Part of me marvels and celebrates God’s miraculous power to save these souls out of a life of reckless abandon to selfish living, violence, sexual sin, alcohol, and/or drugs. These stories strengthen my faith and expand my notions of what God can do and who he can reach.
But to be honest, part of me compares these stories of freedom from sin with the ongoing sin in my life, and I often become discouraged. My ties to my addictions are not so severed. My sinful thoughts, habits, and patterns are deeply entrenched, and my many character flaws seem like they’ll never change.
Sometimes I am disheartened by how little God seems to be changing me. I still see so much of my selfish nature; its desires still often direct my life. As a young Christian, I had expected to see my sin decrease, but it seems that the more I mature, the more I am becoming aware of the depth of sin within me.
God have mercy on me, a sinner
When I hear how God has freed other Christians from sin—given my ongoing struggle with sin—despair can hit me hard. The only anchor that gives me hope in my situation is that I have a strong sense of rest in God’s mercy, grace, and love extended to me, a justified sinner.
Along with the tax collector, I beat on my breast and say, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” Only when I hold onto God’s mercy, grace, and work on my behalf, can I really face the magnitude and depth of sin within me. I confess, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”
The sinning isn’t over yet
I am certain that there are sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions in my heart of which I do not yet even know; only the circumstances of the future will reveal these. I am certain of this because I have already done things I never thought I was capable of as a Christian—things I said I would never do.
Despite my sin and many confessions, I am assured that God still takes great delight in me, a very confessing and broken Christian. Because of God’s great unconditional love, I am able to face and accept that I am more messed up and sinful than I would like to be.
When I hear the testimonies of dramatic change, I have to keep things in perspective. I have to remind myself that even the most glowing Christian is not a perfect saint. From a distance, a Christian testimony of life-change can look so squeaky clean.
But I remember that the Bible has a lot to say about our human condition, Christian or not. There is no distinction. There is none who is righteous, no not one. There is no one who seeks after God. All have turned away. It is only a matter of degrees. No one has their act together perfectly.
Could it be that part of the problem is in the way western Christianity has typically structured our testimony to begin with? I see a tendency, when we share our stories, to give only a good impression of our life after meeting Jesus. All was bad before; now all is good.
It is almost as if we have been conditioned to say, “Jesus helped me get my act together. You too can have Jesus and he will help you get your act together. Jesus helped me get where I want to be—a better person—and he can help you as well.” We usually only highlight all the positive change and credit God as the accomplice.
We often fail to convey that we continue to need Jesus every moment moving forward in our Christian walk. Even the most deeply converted hearts are prone to commit the worst of sins. Think of all the men and women in the Bible from whom we have received our faith. Although powerfully used by God, they were also deeply flawed. Although deeply converted, they struggled with selfishness, lying, deception, sexual sin, and murder.
Part of the reason we share glowing reports about our transformation is that we want people to only see the good within us. Having lost our righteousness in the garden of Eden, we feel a deep sense of inadequacy. Even as Christians, we tend to hide our current, ongoing faults.
For me, my walk with Jesus and my friends is becoming more about continually learning to confess, asking for and applying God’s grace to my sin, rather than keeping up the impression that I am a morally exemplary person now that I have Jesus.
God does not divide the world into moral and immoral, religious and irreligious, good and bad.
Compared to God’s glory, we are all immoral, irreligious, and bad. However, God does distinguish between the prideful heart and the humble, confessing, and repentant heart. He opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. It is critical that I gravitate more and more towards a posture of humility, and trust his work on my behalf.
The more I know of God’s character, the more I realize how much I am not like him and how utterly sinful I actually am. The more I am convicted of the depth of my sin, the more I value the forgiveness and restorative work of Jesus. It seems a bit counterintuitive doesn’t it? I thought I would sin less as I mature in faith, but instead, I am made much more aware of my sin—especially the subtle sins of spiritual pride.
Herein lies the complexity of Christian confession. I need to continually confess, not only my sin, but also my pride; I have a tendency to want to earn my own salvation by my own self effort. I can so easily put my trust in my own efforts and good behaviour to give me standing before God, making myself feel superior to others.
These days, when the Holy Spirit convicts me of sin during times when I am reading the Bible, listening to a sermon, or through some revelation or experience, I don’t get as discouraged. I see his mercy in allowing me to see my sin and humble myself, confess, and turn away from it.
Every person’s journey is unique
Acknowledging the ongoing sin in my life reminds me that I, on my own strength, cannot make myself like Jesus. The goal is not to use Jesus to be more moral than others so that I can feel superior to them. My ongoing struggle with sin reminds me that I am just as in need of mercy and grace today as the day when I first trusted Jesus.
The intensity and pace at which I am being made new is unique to me. I am not to expect others to morph the same way or in the same amount of time as me. I cannot expect my experience to look like that of others. The main thing is that I am moving towards an attitude and community of confession and application of grace.
Three truths to remember
The following three truths from scripture have helped me keep perspective when I get discouraged or impatient with the slow process of sanctification.
I have been saved. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
From the perspective of Jesus, I am treated as if I had never sinned; He has justified me, but I am not yet completely freed from the power of sin. I still sin, but at my core I am justified before God.
I am being saved. “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12–14)
I will struggle with sin as long as I live on this earth. I have to confess that I still have so much to experience of his grace.
I will be ultimately saved.“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
This gives me assurance that it is God who started the work and will finish it.
When I see Jesus face to face, I will experience his grace fully and be completely free from sin.
Knowing and trusting these three truths gives me patience and perspective for God’s timing. They remind me, that although I still sin and sometimes struggle to see God’s power to help me stop sinning, the promise of my sinless life in Jesus will one day be fully realized. I can have patience and perspective for the space between what Jesus has accomplished by his sinless life, and the day that I will never again struggle with sin.
So, even though I am more messed up and sinful than I ever thought I would be, I am trusting, daily, that it is Christ alone who is doing his transforming work in me. He is doing a personalized work, morphing me into his likeness, in his own timing. Instead of being discouraged each time he makes me aware of sin in my life, it only makes me more humble and dependent on him.
It may be taking longer than I expected to be free from sin, but perhaps this is to keep me humble and ensure that he gets the glory. It is his work after all.