New Year’s Day my husband and I started off with Bible reading and a prayerful recommitment to God; a half hour later I had a big argument with him and dug in my heels all morning.
At the risk of making my life a daily reality show for this website, I thought it worth a column to review what happened and see what conclusions we can draw.
I see two basic possibilities. One is to say that we Christians have such a sin nature that we cannot help but sinning. A woman I know once quipped, “I can’t even cross the parking lot to my car after church without sinning. That’s why I need a Savior.”
Another possibility is that we can help it, and do not have to sin, but that every time we commit a sin it is because we have chosen to disobey the Spirit and to choose our own way.
These are two very different Christian anthropologies. The first one speaks of the metaphysical necessity of sin and the continuing bondage of the believer to a sinful nature, and of Christ’s role as constant forgiver but not enabler to escape sin. This view sees what I did yesterday morning as proof I have a sin nature and cannot help but sin.
The second view is that the Christian is no longer controlled by a sin nature and no longer sins by necessity but only by choice in every instance. This view sees the atonement of Christ as not merely a spring of constant forgiveness of a constant stream of sinning but as the enablement to say “no” to temptation at any given moment.
Which is the right view? The way I feel as I go about my business will have everything to do with which notion I carry around in my head, so the answer to this question is not academic but of the utmost practicality.
Foreseeing Peter’s out-of-the-blue denial of Him in the courtyard, Jesus said to Peter:
“… I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).
As a result of Jesus’ prayers and the giving of the Spirit, Peter went on to be a changed man. He talked and acted differently. Sin became an anomaly (see Galatians 2:11-12) for him. Now he was in a position to “strengthen [his] brothers.” With what message did he strengthen them? With the message that they were sinners and would probably keep on sinning? No, he said this:
“… whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2).
“No longer controlled” is the way Peter said we may choose “to live for the rest of the time in the flesh.” Brothers, if you sin, confess it and move on and resolve to sin no more. Do not be bogged in the downheartedness of the soul-suppressing belief that you are bound to sin every hour and every day. No one will ever hit a target he believes is impossible to hit.
God’s solemn word is that we have a new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are not even allowed to reckon ourselves as still being under the old nature (Romans 6:11). We are to be continually putting to death the vestiges of the old in us, which are a bluff, and to enjoy “obedience, which leads to righteousness” (Romans 6:16).
In 2014 let us get a more biblical view of ourselves and God’s grace—grace for forgiveness but also for obedience.