Did God leave pockets of stubborn and insurmountable sin in your life to make you humble and desperate for Him? This is the thesis of a book I recently read. Is it a godly comfort or a doctrine of demons? Let’s unpack the proposition.
Did God leave in us an old nature to wrestle with? Yes—and we are commanded to put it to death:
“Put to death, therefore, whatever is earthly in you …” (Colossians 3:5).
Did God choose to make us struggle-free all at once at the moment of conversion? No. He has no interest in robots but in children who will cooperate with His Spirit in laying hold of all that His Son bought for us:
“But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
Does God want us to be humble and desperate for Him? Yes:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit …” (Matthew 5:3).
“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1).
But it is one thing to say that God wants us humble and desperate and wrestling, and quite another to say that He keeps us from conquering a sin in order to do that. That would not only make God the author of our sin, but also portray Him as working at cross-purposes with Himself to maintain the very thing He abhors and tells us to get rid of:
“… let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit …” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
“… I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin …” (1 John 2:1).
God wants us to wrestle, but against temptation to sin. He is fine with using the devil’s inevitable temptations; He sent his Son into the wilderness to be tempted (Matthew 4:1). He did not send his Son into the wilderness to sin.
Why does this matter, or is it a mere quarreling over words?
Theology is like a ship’s sextant. If it is off by a slight degree at the start of the trip, it will be off by a mile at the end. The reason the aforementioned book’s thesis is so serious is that, beginning from this notion that God maintains strongholds of sin in our lives, the author evolves to the idea that if you or I are stuck in a sin, it is because God has not yet given the grace enabling us to get out of it. Imagine the permissiveness, the laxness, the complacency, not to mention the demoralization, this would produce in the saint who desires to be free of bondage.
But the truth is that the grace is there and waiting, and we are invited and commanded to come and get it any time:
“Let us then draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
This is how very serious God is about residual sin:
“And if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away …” (Matthew 18:8).
Any teaching that in the least tones down God’s call for our complete deliverance—or that causes our resolve against sin to sag ever so slightly—is not of the Spirit. Let us trust in God’s love for sinners, but let us not trifle with sin.