It occurs to me that one of the greatest frustrations and struggles I’ve had in my adult life is to avoid certain sins I am prone/tempted to commit. At times I have had great success at resisting these sins. Other times, I have failed miserably.
I used to get really depressed every time I had a fall. I would try really hard not to, would make it for some time, and then would inevitably have a stumble. And I’d beat myself up over and over again for each little stumble I had. I’d pray for forgiveness, try again, have some success for a time, and then fall again. It was a horrible pattern that I couldn’t seem to break free of. And I’d listen to people tell me and others that it just takes time, that I was probably just setting myself up to fail somehow, and that if I’d just pray harder, fight harder, believe harder, and have greater patience, I would eventually reach a point of not sinning but very rarely, or being able to avoid certain sins altogether.
That hasn’t worked.
I’ve thought a lot about why I haven’t been able to completely keep myself from sinning. Why haven’t I had greater success? I think the answer is simple: I am a fallen human being, stained by sin, tempted by the devil, and made weak. I cannot do anything on my own to bring about my salvation, nor (more likely) totally go without ever sinning again. With this in mind, I think if humans were capable of ever completely resisting sin in the first place, then why did we need Jesus? We wouldn’t have. We would all have simply been able to uphold every letter of the law at all times and would have been saved by our own doing. We couldn’t do that though. We needed Jesus to save us. We needed a new covenant.
When I look back at the last several years I can see that more often than not I was trying to live up to the old law, looking at my faith in a very legalistic mindset—that if I’d just say and do all the right things, I would be okay. The problem with that mindset is that it devalues the sacrifice Christ made for each of us. He saved us, taking our sins upon himself, and offering us forgiveness and grace. We are not bound by the old laws. When we act as though we are, as if our salvation is dependent upon our following the law in the strictest sense, we make Christ’s sacrifice meaningless.
Jesus made things very simple for us. He told us to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds. He told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. And He told us to believe and have faith. He also instructed the people he helped and taught to “sin no more”. On this point, was Jesus telling us we could and should never sin again? Or was he telling us to simply try our best not to sin anymore?
I believe both.
I believe with Christ’s help, it is possible for a person to never again sin. However, I also believe that, for reasons known only to Him, we may not always be given the help we need to stop sinning. I believe this because I know how hard I have tried and how hard others have tried, desperately tried, only to wind up failing. In the past I’ve tried to the point of near insanity (and I mean this in the most literal sense), and hated myself fiercely for any failings. And I was wrong to do this.
I get really frustrated with Christians who seem to believe that people should never sin, and who judge, belittle, and condemn anyone, including themselves, who do occasionally sin. I despise the attitude that church is only for sinless people. And yet, that is such a prevalent attitude among so many Christians. I’ve witnessed this firsthand myself. And what damage do Christians cause by having this attitude? How many prospective Christians do they run away from Christ by having such a legalistic mindset? How much damage do they cause themselves by their arrogance and lack of humility?
One thing I’ve learned the last few years is to not beat myself up so badly every time I have a fall. I’ve tried in earnest to change my attitude from one of legalistic adherence to one of accepting love, forgiveness, patience, and grace. I am not a perfect person. And I may never be a perfect person the whole time I walk this earth, regardless of however hard I try to be. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try, but just that whenever I come up short, it’s not the end of the world. There is still great hope for me.
Trust is something else I’m trying really hard to learn. Not so much trust in other people, which I have worked on some, but to let go and fully trust God—to believe that He will lead me and guide me in life to where I need to be, to what is best for me and Him. Doing this has certainly helped to bring about a lot less worry in my life. It has also helped me to accept and believe in His promise of forgiveness, to know that I am not damned by a single wrongdoing, but offered redemption instead.
“Lord, I pray you will look after all those struggling to overcome sin. I pray you will lead them and comfort them, and forgive them when they are weak. Give them the patience to endure, and the trust to continue following you no matter what. Help me in this same regard, Lord, and in all other ways you know I need it. And please also help the church to better know how to welcome and work with people of all backgrounds toward your glory, Lord. In your son, Jesus’, name I pray. Amen.”