Suppose in your old life you had this sinful habit you didn’t like. But, time and time again, you’d fall into it, then feel bad about it, then beat yourself up, and then get better for a while, only to fall back into it again.
Then, you become a Christian.
But you still struggle with that habit. You fall back into it, just like you used to. And so, you start saying, “See, nothing has changed.” You still feel like you’re in a battle you can’t win.
You may still be in a battle, but you’re wrong if you think nothing has changed. If what Paul says is true (and it is), you’ve gone from a battle you can’t win to a battle you can’t lose.
Yes, you will still struggle against sin. And you will often lose. But the moment you place your trust in Christ, the ultimate outcome of your life is determined. Sin and death have been defeated, and you are covered by Jesus’ blood and his righteousness.
The moment you place your trust in Christ, the ultimate outcome of your life is determined. Sin and death have been defeated.
While we may recognize that, as Christians, we are in a constant war within ourselves, wrestling with the desires of our sinful flesh, we must also remember that we live with this assurance of victory.
That assurance changes our outlook in the midst of the battle for two reasons.
1. We know our sinful cravings do not define us anymore.
My desire to sin is the old “me,” the dead “me,” not the renewed “me” in Christ.
As you continue to believe in victory through Christ, you’ll find yourself saying, “Why doesn’t this sin taste as good as it used to? Why doesn’t it satisfy me the way it used to?”
Sin still has some appeal. (Otherwise, you’d never do it.) But it doesn’t satisfy as much as it used to. Why? Because it’s no longer expressive of your real self.
Those sinful habits you have are like Lazarus’ grave clothes. You remember that story? After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he told his friend to take off his grave clothes. Those clothes don’t suit you anymore, because living people don’t wear the burial clothes of a dead person.
You aren’t dead anymore. You’re alive. You’re a new creation.
2. Our outlook changes because we can be confident, even in the most discouraging of seasons.
December 1941 was, to put it mildly, a dark time for England. The war was not going well. But on the morning of Sunday, December 7, Winston Churchill heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He called President Roosevelt, who told him, “Well, we are all in the same boat now.”
Churchill later wrote in his memoir,
No American will think it wrong of me to proclaim that hearing the U.S. was on our side was the greatest joy to me. England would live. Britain would live. The rest of the war was simply proper application of overwhelming force. I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and the thankful.
As the sun set on December 7, nothing tangible had changed for England. But Churchill recognized that, in a more important sense, everything had changed. An “overwhelming force” had entered into the equation, and this transformed Churchill’s attitude from helplessness to hopefulness.
In the Christian life, the Holy Spirit is that overwhelming force. His presence in us reassures us of victory. And that means even on the darkest of days, we can find encouragement. The internal Nazis of our sin may still be wreaking havoc. We may still be living in 1941 England. But the outcome of the war has already been written.
We live in 1941 England, but Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross shows us that 1945 is coming.
Sometimes I look at my heart, and I get so discouraged. Why do I still struggle so much with self-control? Why does pride still pop up in my heart so quickly and easily? Why do I almost never instinctively give people the benefit of the doubt? Why is generosity so hard for me?
Or, even more fundamental, why are my affections for God so cold? Why is my desire for repentance so weak? It’s not that I want to do good but get tripped up. Sometimes I don’t even want to do good.
Here’s the good news: God hears even that cry of desperation. The broken and contrite he will not despise (Psalm 51:17).
Because, deep down, I’ve made a decision to seek God. I want him to change me. I want to want God more. And that’s what repentance is.
And so I call out to God on behalf of my broken, cold heart, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24–25 CSB)
I may not experience victory today. But I can live today with the assurance of victory. And that assurance changes my disposition in the fight—from helplessness to hopefulness.