There is nothing in this world I can claim to be an expert on except one: sin. I’m an expert on sin. It is my constant companion. Temptations are ever-present and ever-beckoning. Like Philip Melancthon, I can and do become obsessed with my sin. It is easy for a Christian, concerned rightly with holy living, to live in a state of continual defeat. Our Enemy whispers in our ears that we are no good, that we are a failure, and that God can not possibly love us. We all need a Luther to tell me that because of God’s grace, we can sin boldly.
Sin is not my only companion. I have another, his name is Jesus, and he is the Christ. He tells me something different. I am lovely because I am made in the image of God. I am good in God’s eyes because of Him. He tells me that trust and dependence on him alone will bring me to true righteousness.
But herein lies my problem. I want the reward without the suffering. I only want the Christ in my life as long as he fixes me. As long as he makes me feel better, I am glad to let him travel with me. I pray for deliverance of sin so I no longer have to feel guilty. I want it all to go away.
But what happens if I get what I want? What if I am fixed? Will I still want Jesus in my life? Will I have any need for him? Probably not, and this is my point. Our problems with our various sins are not the problem. Our problem is that we don’t really want to come face to face with the reality of what it means to follow Jesus, and the result is that we fall continually into sin. We think that following Jesus means we must try really hard not to sin anymore, but the truth is that following Jesus means we throw ourselves on his grace and power, trusting him to get us through.
I was listening to a podcast recently of a gentlemen by the name of Nate Larkin. He was talking about his sexual addiction, and how it was ruining his life. He relaid a story of his time attending an Alcoholics Anonymous group. He went to these because he knew that he used sex in the same way that an alcoholic used drink, and he knew the meetings would help. After one of the meetings, he was talking to his sponsor about his frustration at not feeling like he was getting any better. His sponsor responded that his problem was that he thought his addiction was his problem, and that if he could fix that, he would be ok. But the addiction is not the problem. The problem is that we continually push our greatest friend and advocate to the sidelines. We use him as the fix-it man instead of embrace him as a friend.
We – ok, I – look at my sin, and I want to dig in and go toe to toe with it. You know what? It never works. Never. I never beat my opponent. The more I try, the more I lose because I’ve missed the point entirely. The point of the Christian life is to be like Christ in all ways. There is no holiness without struggle. I want the glory of holiness without the struggle. I want God to give me my holiness now. I want to feel better now. I want the guilt and shame removed now. But the way of Christ is the way of suffering, and the struggle is not mine to fight or win. It is fought and won by Christ, and this is the good news for me and you.
I listened to a sermon Sunday evening on the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. It is the passage from Matthew 4 that I’ve preached and taught several times. The preacher didn’t say anything I hadn’t heard before, but he said what I needed to hear at that moment, and I was glad to hear it.
What did he say? He reminded us that the lesson of the passage is not how to use scripture to avoid sin. The lesson is that Jesus knew that in this broken world, the only road to glory, righteousness and oneness with our Father is through suffering.
Jesus could have made stones into bread, but it would show that he was not willing to wait on the Lord for provision. He could’ve gone to the top of the temple and jumped off, calling on angels to rescue him. That certainly would have gotten attention, but it would have received the sort of attention that was not meant for him until after his resurrection. He would’ve ignored God’s timing and sought glory is own way. He could’ve gone to the mountain top and worshipped Satan, and he certainly would’ve received from his new master all the kingdoms of the world. But then, he would’ve been no better than a puppet king, and he would’ve settled for less than the glory promised to him by his Father.
No, for Jesus and for us the only way to the glory God has for us is through the struggle. Does God want righteousness for you and for me? He certainly does, but more than this, he wants to give us the type of righteousness that comes from complete surrender and reliance upon Christ and his promises to us.
So, where does all this lead? What am I supposed to do with my sin? The answer is not in my will power. It is not in my ability to overcome anything. The answer is in turning away from myself and my obsession with my sin, and turning to Christ.
I once read a story of pastor who struggled with alcohol addiction. He realized that he had no power to over come it, so in his basement he cleared out a closet, and put down a rug. Every time the temptation was chasing him, he closed himself in the closet, prostrated himself on the rug, and prayed. He sometimes spent hours at a time in that closet. You see, he knew he could not defeat the addiction on his own, and when his enemy came knocking he fled to the arms of his only hope.
There is our answer. The answer is not is self-will. The answer is not in being fixed. The answer is not in getting “better.” The answer is walking with Christ through the suffering.
In order to become what God has for us struggle is unavoidable. That struggle can come from outside of us, but it just as easily comes from inside us. But we must keep our eyes on Christ. Too much navel gazing will crush your soul. The paradox of the Christian life is that we won’t find righteousness as long as we are fighting the fight. We find righteousness only when we stop trying to be righteous and start allowing Christ to become the all encompassing vision in our lives. It’s really about him and what he has done, not about anything we can do.
Take your obsession with your sin off the center stage of your life, and put Jesus in its place. It won’t be easy. You will be hit on every side. The waves will crash, the wind will roar in your ears, and like Peter you will be tempted to down at that water. Don’t. Embrace your sin. Acknowledge and accept its reality, but don’t obsess over your failures. If you are in Christ, you are forgiven. Let God use your sin to humble you, and with a lively faith set your eyes on Jesus. Cultivate the habits of the devotional life, not so you can check off your list of spiritual responsibilities, but so that you can learn to see and hear the voice of your Savior.