I had a great conversation the other day with one my wonderful brothers in Christ concerning our failings as believers and how we are to respond to those failings. And though such failings among God’s people are inevitable because of the nature of our present state in this age, we oftentimes do not know how to respond rightly to those failings. And it is not a simple issue. For when we fall into sin and temptation as children of God, our whole soul is cast into upheaval. For our mind understands our fall and logically seeks to rectify it, our heart feels it and is torn by it, our will comprehends it and strives against it, and our spirit is broken by it and feels as though it is severed from the very Spirit of God.
And because of this turmoil that captivates our souls when we fall into sin and by it turn from our God, we long to jump up quickly and turn back onto the path of obedience. However, despite our desire, the path back to obedience is not always as quick and easy as we would like it to be. And I have found this to be the case in my life, where I have walked the path of obedience and then, seemingly out of nowhere, fell into temptation and then found that the obedience that I desired to have was even more difficult than it was prior to my fall.
The reason for this reality, I believe, is because of the nature of our lives in this age. For whether we would acknowledge it or not, we are at war every moment of our lives, and our obedience unto righteousness is the weapon by which we stave off the enemy. And when we fall into temptation and sin, we are wounded and knocked to the ground by our Adversary, and, because of our wounded state, we must be healed before we can rise and walk upon the path of obedience again. And since we are wounded and find ourselves in enemy territory, the darts of the Adversary are more able to strike us so as to make us fall again. Therefore it is in these times that we must hunger and thirst for righteousness all the more, for it is in these times that righteousness seems so far away and beyond our grasp.
How then are we to fight our way back onto the path of righteousness? One way not to do it is to forget the Gospel and thereby be overcome by guilt. For I believe that such guilt is one of the devices of the Adversary that he uses to attempt to overcome the saints of God. For it is one thing to fall into sin and to be convicted by that sin so that we run to Christ and seek for his aid and forgiveness, but it is another thing entirely to fall into sin and to allow our guilt to so overcome our souls that we are ashamed to run to Christ. The apostle John puts it this way:
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 (1Jn. 1:8, 9).
What the apostle is intimating is that it is foolish and contrary to God’s revelation to think that we will never fall into sin as believers, however, when we do fall into sin, we have an Mediator in our Lord Jesus Christ who will cleanse us from our present sins just as he cleansed us of our past sins.
However, we must run to Jesus. We cannot forgot the Gospel that first brought us to Christ now that we have come to Christ. For the Gospel is not something that we need at the beginning of our walk with Christ and then from that point we are on our own, but we need the Gospel every day of our lives. That is why the apostle Paul in his letter to the saints at Rome wrote, “I am eager to preach the Gospel to you also who are in Rome” (Rm. 1:15). For the Gospel is not a message meant only for the unsaved, but it is a message to be preached to the saints of God continually until Christ returns.
If then we are to repent and to turn back onto the path of righteousness, how are we to do it?
1. We Must Preach the Gospel to Ourselves
Though I have already made this point before, it is a point that cannot be emphasized enough. Before we can be about the work of defeating the sin in our lives, we must remember the Gospel of the Righteousness that comes from God alone. For if we think that we have anything in ourselves that would merit for us a right standing before God, we will be overcome by our guilt and be defeated by our inability to be righteous on our own. We must understand that just as we did not come to Christ on our own and were not justified by anything that we did, we cannot be righteous and obedient apart from Christ. The very moment we believe that we can do anything apart from Christ is the very moment that we will fall. Therefore we must run to Christ all the days of our lives, knowing that our righteousness and obedience comes from him alone.
2. We Must Walk by the Spirit
The apostle Paul writes, “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if, by the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body you will live” (Rm. 8:13). If we are to have any success against our flesh, we must fight it by the Spirit of God alone and in his power alone. For apart from the Spirit we have no power to be obedient, and apart from the Spirit all men are fleshly and are condemned to death. We who are in Christ, however, have the blessed gift of the Holy Spirit, and, we, by that gift, have the power to put to death the deeds of the body and live. We, therefore, must be constantly in prayer, seeking for him whom God has given to us, and pleading his power when we in our frailty fail.
3. We Must Despise Our Sin
In the same letter of the apostle John referenced above, the apostle exhorts:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1Jn. 2:15-17).
The apostle exhorts us not to love the things of the world, and to put it negatively, we must despise the things of the world. For what are our failings except a turning from God to love the things of the world? For whether it is loving possessions, boasting in them, or the lusts of the flesh, all of our sins fall into these things. The remedy then is to cultivate a heart that loves God above all things that in turn despises the world and the things in it. For if we do not love God, it is impossible to turn from our sins to him.
And to do this, we must put this life into its proper perspective. The apostle writes, “The world is passing away with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (v. 2:15). We must look upon this life as it truly is, as a vapor that quickly disappears and as a drop in the ocean of Eternity, and by that recognition be quick to forfeit this life so that we might gain true life (cf. Lk. 9:24). For if we regard this life as more than it is and esteem it as worth preserving, we will turn away from God to worldliness and therefore turn away from the Life that is truly worth preserving.
I hope that these thoughts we aide you when fall, as you inevitably will, into temptation and sin. I hope that you will remember the Gospel that saved you who were unable to save yourself, that you will strive to live by the Spirit of God, and that you will despise this world and the things that it offers and that you will groan inwardly as you wait eagerly for your adoption, the glorification of your body (cf. Rm. 8:23). May God grant us success in our battles against the flesh and the Adversary. Amen.