I have numerous brothers who come to me with heavy hearts. They have placed their faith in Jesus for their justification. However, they cannot seem to shake the issue of sin in their lives. With verses like Galatians 5:16-25 and John 8:36, it would seem we should live with a life free from sin and filled with love, kindness and other characteristics of the Spirit. However, as they dig deeper, they find instruction from their leaders saying either that we cannot be free from sin, or that we simply need to take steps to try harder.
Most do that…they take steps to try harder. A brother struggling with alcohol joins AA. Another who finds the allure of pornography too powerful finds an accountability partner to joins a seminar that addresses the issue. Another with weight issues tries another diet, spending countless hours searching online for solutions. Little do they know that they tackle the symptoms, not the disease, meaning they will not find a true solution with that approach.
A few days ago, in reading the The Hannah Whitall Smith Collection by Hannah Whitall, I came across the following quote. Like many, she spent years struggling with the issue of sin in her life as a believer.
I find there are some Christians who say that by receiving Christ by faith for our sanctification, just as we received Him by faith for our justification, all this work that I long for is accomplished. That is, the way of accomplishing it is discovered. It is found out that the Bible teaches that the Lord can deliver from the power of sin as well as from its guilt, and the soul learns to trust Him to do it, and ceases to rely upon its own resolutions, or upon its own efforts after holiness, but commits the whole work of being kept from evil and delivered from temptation, to the Lord alone
After many years of fighting, myself, I have come to the same conclusion. Aside from exhaustive anecdotal evidences, I have a few scriptures and lines of logic to back this idea.
First, God says He is the author and finisher of our faith. No one questions that the spiritual regeneration of the Christian falls to the Holy Spirit. Isaiah says that we are clay, and He works to forms us with His own Hands. The more we rest in Him, the more He will work to make us look more like His Son and free from sin. In other words, we can have faith and rest in the fact that God not only justifies us (through Christ’s work on the cross) but sanctifies us (through the work of the Holy Spirit).
For me, this works out practically through love. Allow me to provide an illustration.
If one raises children through rules and regulations, invariably, the child resists those rules and breaks them. The smarter children start searching for loop holes and, when caught, will even say, “But, Dad, while you said I couldn’t do that, you did not spell out that I could not do THIS.” When told not to do something, it almost seems as if most kids just want to rush out and do it right away!
Of course, Paul shows us that adults struggle with this as well in Romans 7. “But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.” Because of our sin nature, when we focus on the law, we feel pulled to sin even more! Satan relishes in this fact. If we take our eyes off of God, and focus on the law, we are bound to fall over and over again. The more we struggle through our own efforts, the more we take our eyes off of God, and the more we stumble and fall.
To return to the child analogy, good parents know that while rules have a place when children are young and immature, eventually, children mature and grow up. At some points, parents loosen those reigns, and show their children a more excellent way… love. By demonstrating love to their children, which produces all kinds of good works towards them, the parents hope the children will learn and reciprocate. For, when a child follows the ways of their parents out of love, rather than lawful obedience, the parent can rest assured that their children will always do that which is right, regardless of the opportunity for sin presented.
When we love Jesus, and keep our eyes on Him, then, suddenly, sin loses its appeal. Think about it. A man truly in love with his wife does not need to be told to not cheat on her. He could never think about doing that because he loves her so dearly. Those habits he may have that she detests slowly change as, out of love, he seeks ways to make her happier. He does not need a set of rules. He simply keeps his eyes on her seeking to do that which pleases her first. And, in doing so, turns his back on so many other temptations.
But do not take my word for it. Paul says in 1 Cor 13, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.” Later he says, “ So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Peter 4:8 goes so far as to say, “above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. ”
This ties back to the very teaching of Jesus himself. When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus responded, “37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Think about it. Paul says that out of faith (needed for salvation), hope and love, that love is the greatest. Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love God. Peter says that love covers a multitude of sins. In 1 Romans 14, Paul even shows that love takes precedence over minor theologies/issues. Love is foundational in the life of the Christian, and, in my opinion, the way out of sin.
In conclusion, focus on Jesus and your love for Him. By extension of that, love others around you. And, in so doing, you will find that sin loses much of its appeal and grip on your life. Willy Torrensin, who used to practice a homosexual lifestyle, gives a great testimony about both approaches, which ultimately changed his life, and how. If you find yourself struggling with sin, regardless of what kind, I highly encourage you to list to his story.