A Christian’s Relationship with Sin

There is something fundamentally different between a Christian, and a non-Christian. Something that goes deep to the core of the person and changes them.

Everyone is born a sinner (Romans 3:23), which is someone who “transgresses against divine law” (Oxford Dictionary). This is the spiritual state that we are all born into. We are slaves to sin, spiritually dead. In this state we are only concerned with things of this world, the things of the flesh, and we are enemies of God.

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

While we are still sinners, while still being enemies of God, we are offered this wonderful gift of salvation. But do we really know what that means?

We have many in our culture who call themselves Christians because they go to church, give tithes, and try to live a good life, according to our cultural standards. But is that all there is to being a Christian? Is it nothing but us trying to live a good life, and to live up to some religious obligations and moral code?

A Christian is more than that. At that moment of forgiveness we are not simply forgiven of our sins but that dead, and rotting sin nature within us is made alive and set free from sin. This is a very real change that makes a Christian something new from that moment on.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” – ‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:17‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

This change within us completely changes our relationship to sin. No longer are we slaves to sin, but we are set free from that sinful nature. Instead of being proud of our sin and eager to hold onto and justify those sins that we enjoy, now we are disgusted by sin. We see it for what it truly is and we try our best to get rid of it from our life. Not out of some moral obligation but because we truly want nothing to do with it.

It is this relationship to sin that sets Christians apart from sinners.

“You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” – ‭‭1 John‬ ‭3:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

No, this isn’t saying that a Christian doesn’t ever sin. Pay close attention to the phrasing, particularly the words “abides” and “keeps on”. “Keeps on” in reference to sin, and “abides”, which has a similar but deeper meaning, in reference to following God. (We will be discussing this deeper in an upcoming article.) 1 John says the same thing but using a different word. Can you pick it out?

“Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” – ‭‭1 John‬ ‭3:7-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

In this passage the word Practice stands out and it is an important part of what is being said.

prac·tice

ˈpraktəs/

noun

1. the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use.

2. repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.

verb

1. perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.

2. carry out or perform (a particular activity, method, or custom) habitually or regularly.

(Oxford Dictionary)

To practice something, is to “keep on” doing it. Habitually, regularly, repeatedly.

“Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” – ‭‭John‬ ‭8:34‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Before we are a Christian we are a slave to sin and we continue to do it. Usually we have a moral code that we come up with where the things we enjoy doing are seen as okay, and the things we don’t like are seen as the line that nobody should cross. We do have a few things we see within ourselves that we try to change to make us better people, according to some cultural standard, but we have this whole list of things that God says is a sin that we justify and try to make ourselves happy to live with. We practice those sins, not realizing that we are a slave to it. Trapped in a way that makes it impossible to escape, if we even wanted to.

And then we became a Christian, and all of that changed.

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” – ‭‭Titus‬ ‭3:3-5‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Not only have we been regenerated, changed to the core, but we have the Holy Spirit within us. These things are not just some fanciful wishful thinking to sound spiritual and religious. These are very real changes.

“How can we who died to sin still live in it? … We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. … So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭6:2, 6, 11-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

A Christian is someone who has been awakened to the war that we have with sin and we no longer want to hide it or justify it, we want to get rid of it!

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:9-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This is the battle. Flesh versus spirit. Paul shows this struggle in Romans 7.

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭7:14-19‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This is the process of justification, the process of God working in us to get rid of the sin within us to make us holy, as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). This is the struggle. We are not perfect and will never be perfect while in these bodies, but by the grace of God we do have a real chance against the flesh nature of our bodies so that the life of a Christian is no longer marked by a practice of sin, but by a practice of righteousness and holines. We may stumble from time to time, but our walk is one of righteousness.

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 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. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” – ‭‭1 John‬ ‭1:5-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This passage sums up the struggle well, going back and forth to say that we are not perfect, but we have been cleansed, forgiven, made new. We no longer walk in darkness.

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” – ‭‭1 John‬ ‭2:1-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This is the life of the Christian. Not one of boasting and bragging about how good we are, because we know that on our own we are filthy sin filled creatures. But we boast in Jesus Christ, because by His mercy and grace, we have been cleansed and made new. Not by our own works, but entirely by His work within us.

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” – ‭‭Galatians‬ ‭6:14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This is why Christians try our best to live righteously. Not out of some religious obligation, but because sin disgusts us and we want nothing to do with it. Because God is holy and we want fellowship with Him.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:1-2‬ ‭ESV‬‬

When a Christian tells a non-Christian that they are a sinner and need repentance, it isn’t because Christians think they are better than others. It is because we truly care about people and want them to know this freedom from being a slave to sin. We want them to know God and His loving kindness and forgiveness.

A Christian doesn’t walk around in shiny white robes, pointing out every spot and blemish on others clothing and telling them they had better clean themselves up. A Christian is someone who knows how dirty and awful their own sin is, and wants to share about the God who, despite our filth, gave us new clothes and washed us and called us sons and daughters. We just want to share with you that you too can be washed clean and set free. Not because of me, or anything I can do, or because I’m better than you, because I’m not. But because of God. He is the one to be praised for this awesome gift.

Sinner, I beg you, let go of those shackles you are holding on to trying to justify and accept your sin. It’s killing you, weighing you down, and you can never free yourself. But the one with the key stands ready to help any who lift up their hands and ask for forgiveness.

He died to get that key that will free you.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” – ‭‭Galatians‬ ‭5:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭6:23‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Not Good Enough to Talk to God

Have you ever felt like you couldn’t pray or help someone out spiritually because you’re not living as spiritually as you think you should?

I recently overheard a conversation where one person confessed that he doesn’t pray anymore because He isn’t as close to God as he used to be. He feels that God isn’t going to listen to him because he is not doing what he knows he should be doing.

You might think this is silly, but I can completely relate.

There are times in my life when I feel like I’m being a strong Christian. I’m reading my Bible daily, praying constantly, and fasting regularly. I’m doing everything a “good Christian” should do and avoiding any obvious sins. It’s in these times when things are going well that I feel closest to God. I feel like God and I are best buds. I talk to Him and He listens, because I’m being such a good little Christian.

But those times only seem to last a few months. Before long I end up going down the same road as before. I stop reading my Bible, stop praying, and fasting is way out. I start fighting temptations more often and I get argumentative with my wife for no reason or start spending money selfishly putting us further in debt.

During those times in my life I know I can’t help others spiritually. Why would anyone listen to a failure who can’t even follow God for more than a few months at a time without sliding back into a worldly routine? Praying will be pointless because there is no reason God should listen to me. People want help from those who have been in their situation and overcame it and God only listens to those who are following Him in everything. Right?

In those seasons where I feel spiritually strong I know God will, of course, listen to me. Need prayer? Come to me! I’ll help, because I’m close to God so He listens to me. Need spiritual advice? Come to me! Because I’m reading the Bible daily so I have special insights and can tell you exactly what to do.

Because I am awesome enough that I can draw close to God. It’s all about Me.

I’m a puny spotted sheep in a flock of other puny spotted sheep thinking that I have an inside relationship with the Shepard because for once in my life, I’m actually doing what I’m told.

How arrogant can I be?

In 2010, I was going through one of those spiritual valleys. During this time I felt overwhelmingly called to write for ETM again and to resurrect this ministry.

Immediately my response was to say “NO!” How could I possibly tell others they should follow God when I wasn’t even doing it?

That’s like someone telling me – an un-athletic, overweight, couch potato – to go play hockey for the Colorado Avalanche! I would quickly be found out to be a fraud and would do nothing but humiliate myself and the team.

In the same way, I can’t possibly represent God or help others when I’m in my spiritual couch-potato mode. If I wanted to play on the team then first I need to start an intensive training regimen.

Only after getting back into spiritual shape by reading my Bible daily and doing all of the things I know I should do, would I even be able to consider trying to help others or be used by God. Only then will I be strong enough to… to go help God? Because the creator of the Universe who has infinite power and wisdom, He, really needs me and my spiritual beefiness.

God didn’t call me to start a spiritual weight training routine, He called me to write. Not later, but right then.

When we are spiritually strong we tend to get prideful. Pretending it is our own ability that makes us close to God. We feel like we can lead others to follow God closer because “look at me, I did it!” We tell others how we are following God and encourage them to do the same things we do.

But this attitude is an offense to God. We have to realize that all of us are horrible sinners before God. None of us are good (Romans 3:10), all of our best works are nothing but filthy rags.

But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away. (‭Isaiah‬ ‭64‬:‭6‬ NKJV)

Casting Crowns gave some good imagery for this verse in their new song “All You’ve Ever Wanted” they sing:

But all my deeds and my good name
Are just dirty rags that tear and strain
To cover all my guilty stains
That You already washed away

All of our good deeds are dirty before God. During those times when I’m feeling strong I’m really just dressing myself up in filthy, oily, blood soaked rags and acting like I’m wearing a tux. And then I approach God to show Him how amazing I look in my rags.

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. (‭Ephesians‬ ‭1‬:‭4-5‬ NLT)

The only reason I can ever be spiritually strong is because God gives me the ability to be. It isn’t about me taking spiritual steroids and weight lifting to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s about me, being a quadriplegic and being strong only because God is my Iron Man suit. It’s all about Him. I am nothing.

God wanted me to write for ETM, not because I was good and in a position to lead others, but because He wanted to use me. I was to write because He had things to teach me. I was to write because He wanted to speak to others through me.

It’s all about God. Our works don’t make us a better Christian, only God does that.

When you are in a spiritual slump, don’t stop yourself from praying. That’s when you need to pray the most and when you are the most honest with God. A prideful and arrogant heart that thinks it deserves God’s respect is in fact disgusting to God, while a humble heart that recognizes it’s need for God brings Him honor.

A man’s pride will bring him low, But the humble in spirit will retain honor. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭29‬:‭23‬ NKJV)

It’s never about us and our ability to follow. It’s all about God.

Have you ever used the excuse that you are not spiritually strong enough to avoid doing what God is leading you to do?

The Silliness of Hiding from God

A few months ago, I started something new in my family: budgeting. I know, the dreaded “B” word, one that I tried for so long to avoid. Assigning every dollar a job and keeping track of every dollar spent has been great in helping us not overspend. With there being so much benefit to this, I thought I would never again go back to the world of spontaneous spending and not tracking each transaction (Yay, YNAB!).

But then, I would make a purchase that I knew I shouldn’t make. I felt guilty for spending the money on things like eating out when we are low on grocery money, or buying a movie just because I’m bored. I realized that when I would make those purchases, I would resist wanting to record the transaction.

I don’t really know why I wouldn’t record it; it’s not like I was hiding it from the bank. Once the transaction has been made, the bank is fully aware of it. The amount available in my account will reflect this transaction, even if I never record it in the budget.

Ultimately, the only person I’m hiding the transaction from is myself. It becomes a pain to reconcile my checking account to the budget when I have transactions that I didn’t track, and eventually I have to track them anyway, so, really, hiding it from my account does me no good.

Because of my guilt, however, I somehow feel better, or at least I think I can ignore the guilty purchase, by not recording it. It really is silly and pointless.

Then, I realized that we end up doing this same silly thing with God. We sin, and then think that we can somehow hide it from God. So, we don’t confess it; we try to hide it and move on with our lives like we never committed that sin.

The entire time, the only person we are hurting is ourselves. It weighs on our conscience, and continues bothering us and sapping away our joy. God already knows that we sinned. Heck, He knew that we would commit those sins before we were ever born. Yet He still chose to save us and love us. We are not really hiding anything from Him, so why don’t we just confess the sin, repent from it, and move on?

Doing this is just part of our rebellious human nature. It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve:

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:7-10 NKJV).

After they sinned, they felt shame, and tried to hide what they did from God. God is all knowing. Can anyone hide anything from Him? Of course not, but we try anyway.

Some people try their best to act righteous in an attempt to hide whatever wrong they have done, but God sees right through this:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:25-28 NKJV).

The Pharisees would pretend that they were righteous, while still hiding their sin from people and attempting to hide it from God. But Jesus was not fooled. He saw right through their mask and went to their hearts. These are the people that Jesus rebuked.

But those who openly admitted their sin and then repented of their sin, those are the people that Jesus spent time with and praised.

Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:10-13 NKJV).

Basically, it all comes down to this. Yes, you sin. God knows it, so don’t try to hide it. Repent from your sin (turn away from it), and follow Jesus.

Just like you can never hide a transaction from your bank, you cannot hide your sin from God. He already knows about it.

That’s the beautiful thing, though. If you are a Christian, God knew that you would sin before He chose to save you, and He still chose you, despite that – because God loves you.

If you have been avoiding church, or avoiding fellowship with other believers because you feel ashamed for what you have done, know that it isn’t hidden. God already knows about it, so stop letting that be your excuse to not go to church.

If you have been resisting the idea of repenting from a sin as a way to hide it, then know that you are only hiding it from yourself. God knows about it already, so the longer you hide it from yourself, the longer it will weigh down on your conscience and drag you down.

Is there something that you have been trying to hide from yourself that you need to get out in the open?

Done with the old self

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. – Colossians 3:8-10

One thing struck out at me when I was reading through this passage earlier.  And that is the number of commands given and the way they are given. These are not given as suggestions, not things you “should” do, or ways you “ought” to live.  This is how Christians must live.

If you think that we must live such a strict lifestyle to be saved you have it backwards.  We live like this because we are saved.  Why is that?

Verse nine gives us the answer: “seeing that you have put off the old self.”

You have, as in past tense.  When we accept Christ something amazing happens.  Our old, sinful spirit passes away and we are given a new spirit, one of holiness and righteousness, one that drives us to live set apart and that gives us the power to accomplish this.

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

Once you are in Christ you are a new creation, right now.  The old has passed away, it is already gone.

This does not mean that we instantly become perfect and no longer sin, but it means that we are no longer bound to sin.  Sin no longer has a hold on us.  It is for this reason that a Christian’s life is now marked by Holiness and sin becomes the exception rather than the rule.  Because to sin is to try and take your new, holy, sanctified, righteous spirit and put on the old rotten decaying smelly flesh.  It is a gross contradiction.

For these reasons a Christian must avoid the old lifestyle.

But it is more than just avoiding sin.  There are things we must do as well; things which will help us greatly in our struggle to live by our new spirit and not by our old flesh.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:12-17

Because we were chosen, we are to live a holy life.  Don’t skip that, we are chosen, thankfully not because of our own ability, not because we are capable of living holy lives, but we can live a holy life because we were chosen.

How then do we live such perfect sounding lives?  Verse sixteen has the answer when it says to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”

It is the word of God that transforms our mind (Romans 12:2), that feeds our spirit and gives us the strength to live out this passage.  As Christians we must be living in the Bible, making it a part of our daily life, dwelling on what it says; believing it.

But notice that this entire passage is not listing a way that we ought to live; how we should live.  It is telling us how we must live.  Because as Christians, as bearers of His name, everything we do, good or bad, everything, is representing our Lord.  By calling yourself a Christian you are bearing God’s name.

So make sure that everything you do, in word or deed, is worthy of the name of the Lord.  And then challenge yourself.  Look at this list and find areas where you are failing or just not doing so hot, and then pray that God will help you in those areas.

Yes these are a list of things that we must do, but thankfully we don’t have to do them alone.  We have fellowship of other Christians to help us, the Holy Spirit in us, and the Word of God to transform our minds to be more like Him.