I got this really open, honest, and 'familiar feeling' letter…I am going to quote it in its entirety, so you can see the person's heart, and confine my remarks to the end:
"I'd first like to say that I really appreciate your website. It's a wealth of information that I've recommended to several people, and they all like it, from what I can tell.
Yet, because your website has SO MUCH information, what I need to ask you about, I haven't come across yet, and the key word search doesn't seem to be doing it for me (that or I'm not using it properly).
Now for my concerns...... if I can word this properly.
Basically, sin in my life is re-occurring. Happens over and over and over again. I'm always asking for forgiveness and I do feel a since of remorse over them because I "know" that what I'm doing is wrong and against what God would have us to do.
Many, many times I've resolved to resist these sins, but I fall right back into them. Over and over and over and OVER again. It's very disheartening.
This isn't in regards to any one particular sin but to sinning in general. You name it, I'm talking about it. Laziness, lustful thoughts, stealing (from the employer by goofing off and such, not robbing banks. ..grin…), and other things like not really being devoted to going to church (I'm kind of reclusive) and studying the Word. Also, I found my motives not being right when doing things for the church and when I was attending seminary, also lying (little white lies or more general ones). It's like in most things in my life I don't seem to have much control in stopping myself from doing these things. Yet I KNOW they're wrong and I WANT to stop doing them?
I've heard about repentance, i.e. turning from my sins, and I've thought I've done that, yet, I keep returning to them. But I DON'T want to return to them..... but my flesh does (and seems to win most of the time.) This in turn brings up the question in my mind.... did I "really" repent? I believe in the Son, Jesus the Christ and (chuckle) I "know" that I can only trust in Him to save me.... but am I even really saved? I find all these other verses in the Bible (sorry can't quote them from memory) that say that we should follow the ways of Christ, turn from our sins and that people who practice XYZ sins will NOT enter the Kingdom of Heaven.... and these really scare me, because I do sin... almost constantly it seems.
I HATE doing these things... but I'm still doing them. I know, I know... Romans 7. In my "mind" I know this is a part of my nature and I have to live with it for the rest of my life. In my mind I know I need to fight it for the rest of my life. And I "know" according to Romans 7 that it's really not me that's doing it, but sin "IN" me. And I HAVE been fighting this all my life. I really, honestly feel that I'm the most base of sinners.
You know what..... it's getting OLD. VERY OLD.
What I'm afraid I see happening to me, is that I've been fighting my nature for SO LONG (22+ years) that I'm starting to weaken in my resolve to even "try" to resist sin. I'm realizing that I give in to my sin more than I can resist it and because of that happening, I'm finding myself wishing God would take me home now. Either cause me to have a massive heart attack or a freak accident or something, but PLEASE get me out of here. I'm SICK of sinning against you (God). Really sick of it. Every day I'm thinking about how I'm sinning against God.... and how much I want to STOP. And you know... at the same time, I also "know" that my flesh wants to KEEP sinning and doing it's old habits and that it seems like I'm powerless to stop it. I'm wishing that He would put me out of my misery, so that I would STOP sinning against Him.
Now, don't freak out and think I'm so desperate that I'd do anything harmful to myself. That's out of the question. If I have to, I'll live to 100 fighting this nature.... but what I could use from you, Glenn, is... am I missing something here?
I know sin should never become comfortable to us, but I "think" there should be some way for me to at least "live" with this some how. Fight more affectively against my flesh and sin. I also believe that this "wishing" that God would take me home now, isn't exactly healthy either. I should be happy to be alive and happy for every day that He gives me. I just have it stuck in my mind that I REALLY WANT TO STOP SINNING AGAINST HIM and the only way I know that can happen is for me to leave this planet.
Anyway, thanks in advance for any help you can give.
I want to divide my remarks into three topics: understanding, acceptance, and adaptation. These are things I personally have to use in dealing with this very common issue. I know so many other believers who also long/ache for deliverance -- a la Romans 7--and in whom the same discouragement and quiet frustration grows over time.
Under understanding, I want to make just a couple of points:
1. A relationship with God does not automatically eliminate sin/flesh from the life of a person, so the recurrence of sin cannot automatically be used as evidence AGAINST such a relationship. Our relationship with God--its vitality, its power, its depth--is indicated by 'presence of fruit' not 'absence of sin' per se. If we manifest the slightest evidence of internalized agape love for others (as opposed to basic storge love or practical-consequences ethics), the slightest evidence of disdain of evil (as something grievous to our Lord), the slightest evidence of a warm and loyal heart toward God (as opposed to something 'official', 'religious', or 'formal), this is something ONLY possible through the New Birth. This is 'fruit'. This is the evidence of the work of God in raising us from the dead. Anybody can do good things (cf. Jesus' remarks in Luke 11.13) and even aspire to 'self-selected' basic ethical standards--ancient pagans knew murder and treachery were 'generally' to be avoided (who would be stupid enough to miss this?), and most religious institutions in history have instilled fear and duty in their followers (if not also pride in their self-righteousness). But none of these approximate what you are experiencing--the disdain at failure to honor the Lord you love. None of these look at evil and sin as saddening God, hurting a Lover, at grieving a good Heart. The scriptures are pretty clear (e.g., Rom 8.7) that the non-believer (or at least the non-PRE-believer, Rom 2.4 et. al.) cannot 'submit to the Law of God'; they can obey some built-in, God-given storge or even a self-constructed "law" (Rom2:15, 2.27), and a dead religionist can tithe garden herbs (Lk 11.42), but these are not any 'delight in the Law of God' (Rom 7.22) --as a response to the heart and character of God. Nor are these indications of 'voluntary and joyful submission' to God--they are either examples of 'borrowed capital' (e.g., storge), autonomy (being god the law-maker themselves), or legalism (focus on the possible judgment of God, not on the heart of God). The radical difference between the agape of God and the "agape" of mere-men is described by Jesus in Luke 6.32ff, and by Paul in Romans 5.6ff. These behavioral expressions of good are still 'good' per se, but your experience of a heart that is passionately focused on how God feels about your failures is still qualitatively different from the 'normal' types of good in conscience, culturally-required ethics, and religious 'compliance'. Our love for God--the highest good--is 'poured into our hearts' (Rom 5.5). We love "Him whom we have not seen" (1 Peter 1.8)
The warnings in the NT about 'those who continue to do such things have no inheritance…' refer to time-hardened and deliberately-chosen character, not those who 'occasionally and reluctantly' fail morally. It points to people who have constantly chosen (and approved--cf. Rom 1.32) to deliberately cultivate a character devoid of good; self-made persons who NEVER have 'remorse', NEVER 'hate sin', NEVER are disheartened by their own treachery and malice. These are those who the Bible describes as being 'disappointed' when they cannot find an innocent victim, or as being 'restless' until they find a way to eventuate evil into our world.
2. Almost all of experience--good or bad--for a believer has a 'mixed' character to it. The presence of 'questionable' motives in good deeds and in labors of love are NO indication that the OVERALL motive for doing such is 'questionable. Indeed, for the believer, the very desire to do good is a 'good deed', and a mark of the work of God in one's life! Every act of service for Him, or for His loved ones, will be accompanied by scorn and sarcasm from the flesh--inside your own head. We must be careful to not let the presence of a 'bad motive' (which might be only 10% of our motivation to do some specific act) stop us from acting on the impulse of a 'good motive' (which might be 90% of our motivation), and creating beauty and grace in history! [See the points on Patience and Growth in the Lessons section--maybe even listen to the audio on those…it might make this a bit clearer]
3. Finally, remember that the "flesh never gets any better." The flesh was condemned at the Cross, and 'localized to you' at your acceptance of Christ--not 'set apart for progressive sanctification' (smile). He is growing a NEW PERSON inside you; not trying to reform the old, dead, useless one. The old one never gets tired of sinning, it always loves being deceived and ignorant, it enjoys putting self-over-everyone-else, it is even surprised at self-restraint (1 Peter 4.4)! Your 'job' is not to fix it, but to quarantine it. To corral it off, to re-jail it when it escapes, to undo the consequences of its deeds, and essentially, to ignore it and treat it "as if it were dead"…
Under acceptance--the main issue here--I have three thoughts for you to consider:
1. First, recognize that your growing hatred and disdain for this is powerful evidence of the work of God in your life. As opposed to those whose consciences are 'calloused' or 'seared' to insensitivity, it is only God's close ones who grow in sensitivity and discouragement over sin ("Fools make a mock of sin"). It is only those who 'hunger and thirst for righteousness' that are shocked and disappointed and repulsed by the presence of sin in their experience. First John says that the victory over the world is 'our faith'--nothing else. Our faith is our confidence in our Lord's provision for our sin, and in our Lord's true perspective on that sin. The simple fact that you are getting more and more 'tired of ' sin is a sign of growth in purity of heart. The yearning that you have for righteousness and for a life that honors Him incessantly is proof of the reality of His re-creation in your heart. "though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again" (Prov 24.16). In fact, it is something to give thanks for, every time it asserts itself. Whenever you sin, and confess it before Him, thank Him for not hardening your heart all these years. Thank Him for His continued growth of sensitivity and preference for good in your heart. Acknowledge Him--in the midst of failure--and do not waver in your belief of His perspective on it.
2. Also recognize that this flesh is part of the old creation that will be "sloughed off" (praise God!) at the Renewal. Romans 8 describes the 'groaning' of the Universe--of which we are a part--in its bondage to decay and in its longing for its release. This is YOUR experience, too:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Our bodies do not 'drop the flesh' until That Day for which we hope, and yet our present experience is one of 'groaning inwardly'. We 'wait for it patiently' and endure the ravages of our mixed universe until then. So, your experience is common to all believers. It IS a part of Christian experience --a la Romans 7, Galatians 5, and Romans 8--so your case is not 'abnormal'. If sin were not such a powerful foe, perhaps we might not have needed the Cross, the Holy Spirit, grace, forgiveness, and the rest of the New Testament, eh? (smile).
3. But that which I find most helpful about this frequent semi-despair is the theological prospect ("hope") it gives me for the future. For me, it solves a theological puzzle that frequently comes up in modern discussion. It goes something like this--and you have no doubt run across this yourself:
Everything was perfect in Eden, including the first couple.
The first couple had free-will, and was surrounded by God and good.
Somehow, though, these perfect beings introduced sin into a perfect world.
What was perfect became THIS gnarled world, and OUR gnarled natures.
Everything will be perfect in Heaven, including all of us.
We will have free-will (Gal 5.23), and will be surrounded by God and good.
So, what possible reason can we give to believe that we wont foul this one up too?!
The theological difficulty here is based on two realities: (1) both situations have true free-will; and (2) the first case ended in gross failure. [And, if someone tries to differentiate the cases on the basis of the presence of an evil agent in the Garden (i.e., the serpent), we can simply repeat the argument using its/his/Satan's first choice of sin.]
I remember theological discussions of this in graduate school, and in the systematic theologies. They distinguish between "unconfirmed creaturely innocence" of Adam, and "confirmed creaturely holiness" in the saints. The difference was often stated in terms of 'innocence versus confirmed holiness', with the confirmation in holiness occurring through the choices/responses of the believer for good in this life. [This is like the point about our character being sculpted by moral choices within this historical time--we grow our character-based preferences for goodness through 'practice'.]
Some of these theological distinctions are very fine ["no matter how thin you slice it, it's still baloney"…smile], but there is a very vivid way to understand THIS one…And, frankly, I never saw/realized this until YOUR question came through the Tank…(so thanks)…
Think about the phrase in the Beatitudes about 'hungering and thirsting for righteousness'…That would be a great way to describe our present experience…we would KILL to be free of this sin, we wrestle against it in our heart and soul EVERY DAY of our walk with God, we weep before God over our failure and over embarrassing Him before others and the angels, we yearn and groan to put off this corruption and be truly free from this malignance…The more I pondered the intensity of this passion/zeal (in myself, in your letter, and in the experiences of others) I realized that this built-in and growing-in-intensity and building-pressure to be FREE of this grotesqueness called 'sin' is what guarantees that the New Future will remain unspoiled.
Unlike the innocence and naïve curiosity of the first couple, His loved ones have a burning desire and anguished longing to be free from sin…to honor Him with EVERY breath and EVERY thought and EVERY waking moment of life…
Our inner souls do not like sin, do not enjoy it, resent it, mourn the damage it does, despises its ugliness…if we EVER GET FREE of this--no one will ever 'go back'! The hunger and passion for good-at-last will drive us forward forever…to be free at last from this!!! Romans 7!
This is SO DIFFERENT from the background of Adam/Eve, that I can understand now how 2 Peter 3.13 describes this:
But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to ("waiting expectantly for") a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. [Cf. ISV: "But in keeping with his promise, we are looking forward to new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home"]
Our hope for FULL release and FULL freedom to love Him and His, is confirmed with every feeling of discouragement, and anger-over-our-sin, and even the fatigue that plagues us in this area. But this zeal for goodness/light--which is the basis for such disappointment and discouragement--also reveals the invincibility of His plan, and the wisdom of His designs, and the absolute trustworthiness of the Omni-Competent One to deliver on the "…for they will be filled" part of the Beatitude! [It's right here that Paul would break into a Greek-stretching doxology, wouldn't he?]
Under adaptation, I also have three quick comments/suggestions on things to consider in your praxis:
1. First of all and most importantly, change the focus from 'resisting sin' to 'pursuing goodness'. The overall model of sanctification in the New Testament is to focus on doing good, showing love, and following positive examples of Jesus and mature leadership. There is repudiation of evil, of course, but the general focus is on 'following Christ'. We are supposed to 'renew our minds', and think on 'whatever is good'. We are NOT supposed to think a lot about sin. We are supposed to deal with it when it comes up, of course, but we are NOT supposed to be obsessing about it, worrying about it, and especially not 'cowering before it'. You might want to shift your attention-slots away from this problem, onto ways of doing good, helping others, learning about the character of Jesus, etc…You might have fallen into this trap of morbidity--it's common enough for me to do so--and cease 'living in the sunshine'. With complete forgiveness, and time on YOUR side, you shouldn't give "potential sin" another thought… Go 'thankful', get up, and get moving in love and celebration…You will have enough time to think about it when it 'approaches you' (smile), but don’t advertise your time as "your message here" (smile)…Another way to understand the "walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh" of Galatians 5.16 is think in terms of 'outrunning evil with good'…the 'best defense is a good offense' kind of thing…
2. Invariably, you will fall again (and again), but don't stay there…get up quickly (don't wait for yourself to manufacture "enough" remorse!), dust yourself off (i.e., confession), agree with God that that stuff is really ugly and counterproductive, thank Him for the provision, thank Him that it will eventually be gone, survey any damages you need to reverse, note the experience to be able to help others, and THEN--drop it and "get back to work singing and serving"…Move quickly away, and as the flesh keeps bring the memory up ('see, you did it yet again') just dismiss it with an "sorry, dead flesh, but that's yesterday's news…don’t have time to talk now…gotta go love somebody"…keep pumping the good into the mind…[btw, be careful--don’t' pump the 'Law' into your mind, but rather pump the Model of Love in there…remember, sin REALLY likes you to think about 'rules and regs'…rather, you should be thinking about 'freedom to dance' and 'grace to love' and 'license to help'…]
3. Be sure to not let the discouragement obscure recognition of overall actual progress. You ARE growing (if your letter reflects your heart at least at the 51% level), and therefore don’t short-change God on His work. Its okay to be discouraged at failure--as long as you are at least as thankful and celebratory at the times you DON’T fail, or at the times you DO GOOD and SHARE GRACE…in other words, thinking soberly and holistically…make sure you make a commitment to honesty in perspective and in evaluating ALL the data in assessing your walk. The goal (according to the NT) is to grow and develop--"incremental improvement"--not only in our behavior, but also in our hearts and perspectives and desires and reactions-to-sin (as discussed above). Be thankful for each victory--however small--for each act of honest thanks makes the next victory a little easier and little brighter in significance and a little more powerful in consequences.
I realize that this is a little terse, and I must admit that I have hastily written it, but some of these thoughts might be of help to YOU in making some progress here…I am obviously not "Mr. Sunshine" nor "Mr. Sanctification", but I know exactly the fatigue of which you speak, and these items above are what I use in dealing with it, and in trying to live 'in the sunshine of love' instead of the 'shadow of sin'.
Hope it helps,
In the "present" with you (smile),