The first is not very common. He can say, “Jesus took my sins to the cross, now I can do as I please.” When he takes this attitude, it is permissible to place him under the “doubtful” column in regard to the reality of his faith. Second, and this is the most common, a Christian can try and try and try to rid herself of her sin, become frustrated with the vicious circle of guilt, and give up. Time after time I have seen Christians turn away from the Christian faith because they thought they were destined to always live with the guilt. The third way is the way of Christ.
What is sin?
Sin is disobedience to the known will of God. This includes both sins of commission (e.g., murder) and sins of omission (e.g., failing to love my brother or sister). From man’s standpoint there are some sins that are worse than others (a white lie versus a real whopper), but from God’s standpoint sin, no matter how small or great, is a transgression that leads unto death (Romans 6:23). The person who says, “I know I’m not perfect, but I’m better than he/she is,” really doesn’t understand the true nature of sin.
What is the difference between temptation and sin?
It is also important that the Christian understand the difference between temptation and sin. I may be tempted to rob a bank, but the fact that I am tempted should cause no surprise or guilt (if I truly understand my sinful nature) unless I go out and rob the bank. The Bible says that Jesus was “...in every respect...tempted as we are, yet without sinning” (Hebrews 4:15). Sin proceeds from temptation but is not the same thing. Guilt is quite proper for sin but certainly not for temptation.
Is sin normal?
The Christian should never be surprised when he finds sin in his life. The new birth is only the beginning of the process that will last your whole life. One of the reasons people are so quick to judge others is that they have not understood this principle. To remove sin from your life is not an instant happening. One of the fastest ways I know to become frustrated and discouraged in your Christian life is to fail to realize that fact.
How do you deal with the power of sin? There are seven general rules that every Christian ought to know and observe in regard to the power of sin.
Rule one: When the Holy Spirit reveals something to you as sin, face it and be honest about it. The Christian life is no place for rationalization. No Christian can afford the luxury of assumed goodness; they know better. Gossip. Racism. Sexual sin. The failure to love. Whatever it is, it is sin and God’s holiness is not satisfied with a rationalization.
A classic example of rationalization and God’s attitude toward it is found in Exodus 32. Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the law from God, and the Hebrew people, because of his long absence from them, became worried. They felt that God must have deserted them. The people went to Aaron, Moses’ second in command, and said, “Up, make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (v. 1). Aaron then told the people to take all of their rings of gold and bring them to him. Aaron melted the gold and fashioned it with a graving tool into a molten calf. He built an altar before it and proclaimed a feast to the new god. Now when Moses came down from the mountain he was understandably upset. When he confronted Aaron with his sin, do you know what Aaron said? “Let not the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they are set on evil....And I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off’; so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and there came out this calf” (vv. 22, 24, italics added). God said because of the golden calf: “...in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them” (v. 34). Be honest about your sin.
Rule two: Remember that the Christian always deals with sin under grace and not under law. You are dealing with sin, not to keep you out of hell, but because you want to please the One who died for you. The Apostle John wrote, “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins...” (1 John 2:1, 2). John wants us to understand that as bad as sin is, Christ has taken it to the cross. The Christian does not live under the “curse of the law.” The Christian lives under the grace of God. It is important for the Christian to understand this principle because when one is going through the process of dealing with sin, there is apt to be much failure. Given the natural inclination of man to sin, there must be an understanding of the love and grace of God. Without that understanding, one is apt to give up altogether. Christ loves you even when you have sinned. Don’t ever forget that His grace is sufficient.
Rule three: Don’t be overly introspective about your sin. Satan is the accuser and he takes great delight in seeing a Christian debilitated by guilt. Because “the heart is deceitful above all things,” we will perhaps never understand the depth of the depravity in our own lives. God’s way is to deal with one thing at a time. If He revealed all of our sins at one time and said, “Now deal with them,” the odds are we could not stand it. And so God is gentle with His children by giving us only as much as we can handle. A new Christian (and sometimes a mature Christian) may have a terrible battle with the so-called gross sins, but while he or she is dealing with those sins, God doesn’t usually also show him his spiritual pride and his inability to trust. When the time comes, God will bring those to his conscious mind, but until that time it is never good to probe ahead of God.
The Christian should never be surprised when he finds sin in his life. The new birth is only the beginning of the process that will last your whole life.
Rule four: Understand the process that leads to sin. Thomas à Kempis tells us that the process is in four steps. First, there is the bare thought of evil. (I wonder what it would be like to rob a bank.) Second, there is a strong imagination of evil. (It would be very easy to rob that particular bank because they don’t have many alert guards or smart tellers.) Third, there is delight. (Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have all the money I could get if I should rob that bank...) And finally there is the actual act of evil. (“Stick ‘em up!”) Needless to say, these four steps are not always as clearly defined as above, but most of the time one can recognize the process in situations that lead to sin.
Rule five: Know your weakness and live accordingly. A wise Christian will pray for his Father to reveal weakness. It is a prayer that is always answered. When it is, the information received is beyond value. Learn where your weaknesses are and then act accordingly.
Rule six: Find a friend in Christ with whom you can be completely honest, and then be honest. James says, “Confess your sins to one another...” (James 5:16). Part of the function of the family of Christ is to minister to each other in the matter of sin. It is important that you find at least one other member of the family who can help and guide you. Confession is good for the soul. Just be very careful to whom you confess. Obviously, you shouldn’t pick the town gossip or a “day old” Christian. Find someone who will not condemn you and who has enough maturity to be truthful and loving at the same time. You will find that if just one other brother or sister knows you completely, it will be easier to live with yourself with objectivity. The advisor will be able to see things you can’t see, to give advice that would be difficult to take from a stranger and impossible to obtain for yourself. Many Christians have found that this kind of ministry can be mutual between two Christians.
Rule seven: Remember that the Christian faith is not a do-it-yourself religion. Jesus said, “...apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The Christian who doesn’t understand this is headed for dismal spiritual failure. Anyone who has tried to be good, pure, righteous, loving, kind, and honest on their own knows it can’t be done. When you are aware of sin in your life, don’t assume that the battle is won. It has only begun. Ask Christ not only to make you aware of your sin but also to enable you to overcome it. The Bible says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape...” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Again the Bible says, “God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
Ask God to do what He has promised, and He will. The only people on the face of the earth for whom Christ can do anything are sinners—sinners who know it and who want to do something about it.
Adapted from Steve’s book, Welcome to the Family.