I’ve recently been reading Letters of John Newton (I recommend the book–click on the image at the left for a link). He has important things to say about the struggling with sin in the Christian life. Concurrently I’ve been thinking about sanctification because we’re studying it in our adult Sunday school class at Cornerstone.
The Lord could have chosen to take us immediately into glory upon conversion. But He didn’t. It’s hard to avoid wondering, “Why not?” We must trust that He has His reasons. Undoubtedly, some of them are clear to us in His word. He has ordained that we testify to His beauty and glory in this fallen world. He wills for us to manifest the fruits of our salvation even now.
We cannot expect to exhaustively peer into God’s decree for keeping us here in the wilderness. In any case, presently we live in a world that continues to be dominated by sin. While Jesus has destroyed the reign or dominion of sin for believers, we continue to battle against indwelling sin (see Romans 6-8). Until Jesus returns and brings His kingdom to consummation, the Spirit continues to war against the flesh, and vice versa (Galatians 5:16).
Struggling with sin is our part of our present calling as believers. That being the case, the following quote from Newton is worthy of consideration:
By these exercises of sin and grace the Lord teaches us more truly to know and feel the utter depravity and corruption of our whole nature, that we are indeed defiled in every part.”
God’s training in this way causes us to embrace a few other truths. First, that we would be humbled by the realization that salvation is of grace and wholly of grace. Second, that we would see that Jesus Christ and all His perfect righteousness is our all and all. Third, that from our own weakness we would know how to warn, pity, and bear with others.
I find these truths encouraging as I’m struggling with sin in my life. I’m reminded that what I need isn’t found primarily within myself (contra most of the advice given from non-Christians and many professing Christians). The answer isn’t greater exercise of my willpower, increasing my discipline, strengthening my commitment, deepening my emotions, or any of the many other things I’m tempted to find within. Rather I need the strength of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, and they can be received only by faith.
I’m ultimately reminded that all my righteousness is found in Jesus Christ, and that which He imputes is utterly sufficient for my standing before God. I can think of few truths that so powerfully enable me to get up when I have fallen down into sin. And believe me, when I fall into temptation, I need something powerful to pick me up, and start walking in the path of righteousness again. Naturally speaking, it’s the last thing I want to do.
But if I embrace these truths, a couple of other realities should be emerging in my life as well. I should be growing in gratitude for the riches of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, which he has gratuitously lavished upon me. I should be able to praise Him for victories over sin in my life. In turn, gratitude should be a solid foundation for continuing growth in obedience.
Finally, I should be patient in bearing with the sin of others, whether my friends, my children, or even those who are outside of Christ. If those two things aren’t happening at all as I’m struggling with sin, maybe I haven’t embraced the truths that Newton identifies to the extent I assume I have.