September 16, 2014.
Often when we are walking along our spiritual journey, we will come to very low points. Sometimes these lows occur right after a high point where it almost feels like a crash. I honestly don’t know which one feels better, consistent struggle against a temptation or going for a long period of time without giving in and then all of the sudden you find yourself on the floor. Regardless of which is better, we will experience both and they both lead to the same place, prompting us to make a choice. Stand back up and continue in grace, or give up and stay down. Really, it is this point that I think is most difficult, because guilt wears hard on you soul. Today I want to discuss four important things that I think we need to remember when we reach this low point, so as to give us the motivation to get back up and serve the Lord. This lesson is as much for me as it is anyone who reads it. Let’s jump right in.
1. We cannot out-sin grace.
Grace is a topic that honestly I don’t fully understand, nor have I done the amount of study that I need to on it. But I can say that the more I learn about grace, the more grateful I am to Christ. The thing that I am really trying to get though to myself is the fact that we cannot out-sin grace. Now, we can stop accepting grace and decide to continue in sin, but that is a different topic. When it comes to getting back up on our feet again, we need to know that His grace is sufficient. Paul needed to know this when he had a throne in the flesh (read here) that he prayed the God remove. God’s answer was no. He said “My grace is sufficient for you.” How can his grace be sufficient? I think we need to start at the beginning.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
What greater sin could we exhibit than to be one of the bystanders at the cross, mocking and spitting on the Lord as He slowly died? Have you ever taken the step back and asked yourself that? What makes your sin so great that it would mask that? Yet Jesus died for their sins just as he died for ours. Puts things in persecutive, doesn’t it? The truth of the matter, all sin is bad. All sin separates us from God (ref. Isa. 5:1-2). That’s the whole point of Jesus coming to offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. He, who had no sin though tempted in every way, came to be the perfect lamb, laying down His life that He might take it back up again, defeating sin and death. Through this reconciliation does he bid us come. When we put on Christ in baptism, our sins are washed away and we are made a new creation in Christ, not for things on this earth, but for things above. We have been sanctified holy, set apart as lights to the world so that everyone may come and partake of His grace. There is no sin that can over power His grace, for He conquered sin on the cross and through His resurrection.
Don’t believe me? Perhaps a case study will help. Paul, who was directly persecuting the early Church and thereby persecuting Jesus Himself, bringing Christians bound to Jerusalem to be tried and punished, had this to say after his conversion:
“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”
(I Timothy 1:12-16)
Paul calls himself the foremost of sinners, yet the grace of Christ made him whole. So to can it do the same for us, if we accept it. Now you might object, “yeah, but that was all before he became a Christian!” You don’t think Paul sinned afterwards? You don’t think any of the disciples struggled with sin after they were converted? Of course they were. Had His grace somehow become deficient? Is grace dependent on what we do? That would kind of go against the whole concept of grace, as something given that isn’t deserved. If we are continuing in the light, constantly fighting sin, then his blood continuously cleanses us.
“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
(I John 1:5-7)
We cannot out-sin grace. But that does not mean we should try (ref. Rom. 6:1-4).
2. Godly sorrow leads to repentance. You are forgiven.
“For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while— I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.”
(II Corinthians 7:8-11)
This discourse is from Paul after he has had a very emotionally taxing span of time with the Corinthian church. Paul had a special love for this church as he had been one of the ones who first preached the gospel in Corinth. But this church had some problems with the things they were doing and the sin they were allowing in, and Paul was driven to write a very hard letter to them rebuking them in hopes that they would see the error of their ways and repent. Indeed, he did make them very sorrowful, to the point where he almost wished he didn’t send the letter, as it had produced that much grief. But then he says that he was very glad he did send it, because their sorrow led to repentance. That was the whole point. (You can read more about this story here.) Notice how he words it though. “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation…” Their sorrow had produced repentance which lead to salvation. They were forgiven.
Perhaps forgiveness is one of the hardest things for the Christian to truly understand. Going back to John’s epistle:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
(I John 1:9)
God is a God of forgiveness. We need never forget that. That is the whole reason we have the reconciliation that we do. God loves us. He wants us to be His children. I suppose I used to picture God as someone up in heaven, lightening bolt in hand, just waiting for us to fall so that He could condemn us. This simply isn’t the case. God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but all to come to everlasting life (ref. II Pet. 3:9).
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
I could go on- God showing His love for His people through Hosea, Jesus telling Peter to forgive his brother 490 times a day, the Hebrew writer echoing Isaiah’s prophecy of ‘their sins and their iniquities I will remember no more’- but time would fail me. Suffice it to say that God has forgiven you when you come to repentance. Now we just have to figure out how to forgive ourselves, which, in my opinion, is much harder.
3. You will fall. You are not alone in this.
Maybe I John 1 should be the key passage of this study, because I keep going back to it for different points. Let’s look at it again:
“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
(I John 1:6-9)
John was not messing around. He laid it all out flat without apology. You are going to sin. Period. Sorry, we live in a fallen world. You are not going to make it out without sin, and likely a lot of it. There was only one person who ever did, and He came for that very purpose. We are not going to live up to this standard. But we are going to try.
Notice the distinction, though, that John makes. He draws a difference between struggling with sin, that is falling and getting back up in repentance, and continual sin, that is walking in darkness. There is a huge difference between the two, and understanding this difference will help us understand how His grace continually cleanses us. Note the harmony from the Hebrew writer:
“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”
So that’s the difference- our attitude and intent towards sin. If we are walking with Him, walking in the light, but we stumble into sin and get back up, then we are still walking with Him. His grace still covers us, because we cannot out-sin grace. We are forgiven. But, if we go on deliberately sinning, that is walking in sin or darkness, then we have stopped accepting grace, for there is no longer a sacrifice remaining. I heard it explain once like this, and I really liked the illustration: Grace is like a shower. As long as we stay under the shower, it will continually cleanse us from all sin. But if we decide to step out of the shower, we forsake the grace offered and it can no longer cleanse us. This illustration actually helped me a lot when I was first wrestling with the concept of grace. It brings in our free will choice to follow Christ.
Before I get too far off track, let me come back to the point. You will sin. That’s a given. I will sin. Every Christian will sin. You are not alone. But, we must not continue in sin, that grace may abound.
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
4. Let the savior in.
This is a very new concept to me, unfortunately. I think one of our biggest downfalls when it comes to our struggle with sin is that we rely way too much on ourselves to fight against it. “How can I stop sinning? How can I hurdle temptation? How can I live better?” Since when were we able to overcome sin on our own? We aren’t. There’s no way.
I went through a patch in my life where I was almost in constant sin. I kept falling and asking God, “Why can’t I overcome this? I don’t know what I am going to do!” Well of course I couldn’t do it! Not alone at least. Understanding that it was God who I needed to allow to mold me and guide my life as opposed to asking Him to simply help in the things that I was first trying to do, helped so much. Have I been perfect since? Of course not. But it has been a lot better. We need to remember who is the potter and who is the clay.
“But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Be not so terribly angry, O Lord,
and remember not iniquity forever.
Behold, please look, we are all your people.”
When we try to take control of our lives and our sin habits, we will surly fail. Now, I’m not saying we’re doomed and there’s nothing we can do. I’m just saying we have to stop trying to let God help us, and instead we need to help Him. Yes, it’s a subtle distinction I know, but one that I think is of utmost importance. We cannot allow ourselves to be prideful when overcoming sin, because then the fall will just be that much harder. It is God who makes us to stand. We need to allow Him to work in us.
“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
And remember, when we are fighting, God is fighting alongside us. He will not let anything be too heavy where there is no way we can withstand it. That’s a promise:
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
(I Corinthians 10:13)
This is both comforting and disappointing. On the one hand, we know that we will not be given something we cannot bear, which is great. But on the other hand, we know that when we fall, we didn’t have to, which is disappointing. But we need just to let the Savior in that we may be healed and be made to stand.
I hope this helps you in your time of need. I don’t write this to downplay the significance of sin, nor am I encouraging you to relax and allow sin into your life since you know that you can be forgiven. On the contrary, I write this so that you can more easily overcome those low points in you walk and have more high points. I write to encourage you to fight harder for the Lord, and let Him be your guide. You will sin, and I don’t believe that we should kick a fellow Christian when they are down. I believe we should help them up. This may need to be through tough love sometimes, as Paul had to do with the Corinthian church, but I want to give the opportunity first to take a helping hand, then press on to more stringent strategies accordingly. Please remember these things when you fall, and rise again through our Lord and Savior.
Suggested Daily Reading: Romans 5-6, II Corinthians 7, I John 1.
Peace be to you.