This week, Pastor J.D. answers a question that was submitted by Annie. She asked, “How should a believer handle guilt from sinning?”
That’s a great question. To be very upfront, there are sins in my life that I would love to leave behind in the rearview mirror, and it’s not from a lack of sincerity or fasting and praying or accountability, but there are sometimes that we fall back into patterns that run deep. And they grieve me. It was very encouraging for me to learn that John Newton, and this was published in the book Letters of John Newton, talked about how as an 86 year old, he thought by at this point in his life (and this was the guy who wrote “Amazing Grace”) he thought he’d be past some of the struggles of sin, but he said some of them feel harder and more difficult than ever. It was encouraging to me to know that there’s not anything fundamentally wrong with me — or that I’m not saved.
I wrote a book several years ago called “Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart,” all about the assurance of salvation, which is something I struggled with for a long time. And for a lot of people, one of the biggest reasons for that struggle is because of this – the fact that we still keep sinning after we’re saved. And then comes the guilt… And the enemy (after tempting us to sin) whispers, “If you were a REAL Christian, you wouldn’t have done that. No way God still loves you. No way you have this whole ‘salvation’ thing right.”
So how do we handle that? And how do we differentiate conviction over sin post-salvation from not really being saved?
There are two big things I’d say here:
- First, ask yourself, have you truly repented?
- Repentance of sin always leads to some kind of change in behavior.
- It’s like sitting down in a chair… You can tell the chair how awesome it is and how beautiful it is, but until you’ve transferred the weight of your body to that chair, you haven’t actually sat down and trusted the chair.
- Belief in the Bible always implies action. So belief in the lordship of Christ doesn’t just mean with your lips saying he’s Lord; it means you are transferring surrender and your authority from yourself to him.
- Sometimes that doesn’t look like victory. Sometimes, it looks like bitter struggle.
- The struggle against sin is proof of the repentance, and the very fact that you want to escape it is an indication that your heart is turned away from sin, and that you want Christ to be Lord of your life, and that is a kind of repentance.
- I don’t meant to imply that this change means a complete change of behavior where you never struggle with sin again — sometimes it’s a kind of sin where you’re entering into that struggle… but there is some kind of change.
- Here’s the second thing: Once you know you’ve truly repented, you have to embrace that God’s acceptance is the power that liberates you. It’s not the reward for having liberated yourself.
- It’s only the assurance of his love enables you to overcome. I often try to break the spell (materialism, lust, etc) of sin as a way of proving I’m saved and earning God’s love.
- But the gospel truth is that God’s love is given to me before I overcome, and stays with me whether I overcome or not. And here’s the irony, only by believing that will I develop a love for God that enables me to overcome.
- The irony of the Christian life is that the only ones who get better/escape sin are those that realize that God’s acceptance of them has nothing to do with whether they escape sin/ get better.
- So again: God’s acceptance is the power that liberates you from sin, and not the reward from you having liberated yourself.
So in the end, once you understand that truth – that there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make him love you any less – that’s when you begin to understand the depth and the beauty of the gospel. Of course, you SHOULD feel conviction over your sin – but not the kind that crushes you; instead, the Spirit in us uses that conviction to bring about change in us while reassuring us of his everlasting love for us.
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