Why Do Christians Continue to Sin? (Pt 7)

Daily Devotion | Day 357

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood . . .” (Romans 3:23-25, NKJV).

What Paul wrote in Romans 3:23 has gained popularity in many Christian circles. In fact, many Christians know that passage by heart. Even those who have not memorized it are familiar with its words. Different people quote the Bible for different reasons and for different purposes. Romans 3:23 is one of the most misused passages of the New Testament. It is misused because it is often taken out of context. Paul said a lot of things in his Letter to the Romans, often explaining a point over several lines. Therefore, it is irresponsible, and even dangerous, to pull a line from Romans and try to make a case out of that line alone.

Some quote Romans 3:23 as a justification for the recurrence of sin in the believer’s life and for his inability to cease from all sin. For them, what Paul said in that passage amounts to something like this: “Christians still remain sinful people. Consequently, though we should not sin, all Christians will sin from time to time. Everyone falls short of the glory of God. No one is or can be perfect. No one can overcome sin completely; it is just by grace that we all can approach God through the blood of Jesus.” Because of this thinking, many Christians live far below their calling (and ability) to live holy and righteous. Furthermore, this way of reading Paul’s words is unfortunate, for it creates a conducive environment for sin to continue among believers. To successfully respond to our calling to be holy, it is important that we read Romans 3:23 in context.

First of all, when Paul said, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” he was stating the past sinful condition of Jews and Gentiles. He was in no way suggesting that this would be the condition of those who believed in Christ. Paul said, “all have sinned;” he did not say, “all will continue to sin or remain sinners.” There is a big difference between the two. In Romans 3:23, Paul was not describing the born again life. In the born again life, Christians do not fall short of the glory of God. On the contrary, as Paul himself admits, “we all [Christians], with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory . . .” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Therefore, to use Romans 3:23 to explain (or justify) the recurrence of sin among Christians misses Paul’s point. It further demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of what it means to be born again.

Another reason we cannot apply Romans 3:23 to Christians is because of what Paul says next in Romans 3:24. Paul writes that we are “justified freely by His [God’s] grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” This means believers have been washed from their sins and brought into a righteous condition before God. In addition, they have been redeemed from the bondage of sin. The problem of sin identified in v. 23 is countered by the solution of justification and redemption offered in v. 24. Therefore, Christians do not have an excuse to continue to sin. In fact, they have no business quoting v. 23 to justify why they remain sinful. Christians were sinners; but they no longer are sinners. They now are redeemed. An unredeemed person might have an excuse, but a Christian has no excuse; none. The problem in v. 23 is over. We now live in the reality of v. 24.

Unfortunately, many Christians fail to distinguish between the reality described in v. 23 and the one described in v. 24. As a result, they suffer from a crisis of identity. This crisis is largely responsible for the failure of many Christians to live without sin. To change this situation, we need to re-examine what the Scriptures teach about redemption and how redemption impacts our victory over sin.

To be continued tomorrow, God willing. Until then, know that you are redeemed. The power of sin is broken. Stand your ground and enjoy the redeemed life. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

For further studyRomans 5:1-21

Why Do Christians Continue to Sin? (Pt 6)

Daily Devotion | Day 356

“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16, NKJV).

Today’s opening Scripture is a crucial passage in the current discussion. It tells us that we have a High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses. The “weaknesses” in this passage is not referring to sins. Rather, it refers to the limitations of the human flesh by which we all are subject to temptations and trials. The Bible is saying that Jesus can sympathize with these limitations (weaknesses). He knows how it feels to live in this world and deal with all manner of temptations: temptations at home, at the work place, at school, in your own mind, and so forth. That is why the Bible says Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are.” He can sympathize with us because He lived like us and faced the same struggles we face.

Next, the Bible adds an important phrase. It says, Jesus was tempted like us, yet without sin. Jesus faced the same struggles and lived within the same limitations of our earthly life, but He did not succumb to temptation; He overcame every temptation and did not sin. At this juncture, we must ask: Did Jesus do what He did just prove that He alone can overcome all temptation and be without sin? Or, Jesus did what He did to show us that following His footsteps, we too can overcome all temptation and be without sin just as He was? Which of these two lessons is the Letter to the Hebrews trying to convey to us? Most Christians were brought up to believe the lesson in the passage is that Jesus alone did (and can) overcome all temptation and be without sin, but not us. For Roman Catholics, the only exception is Mary; no one else can live without sin.

But as will soon become clear, the reason the Letter to the Hebrews brought up Jesus’ victory over temptation was to inspire us that we too can be tempted and yet not give in to sin. We can be as victorious over temptation as Jesus was. That this victory is possible is supported by the following statement by Paul, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The way of escape exists for every temptation. This means victory over every temptation is possible, which further shows that it is possible to live without sin.

This grace (the grace to prevail over every temptation and be without sin) is available to all of us, not just Jesus or Mary. Jesus showed us how it is done. It is up to us to follow His footsteps through obedience, taking advantage of the spiritual weapons of grace at our disposal. This is what the Bible means when it says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Many interpret this as follows: “Jesus knows we will fall into sin from time to time. Therefore, if you sin, just go to Him boldly to find mercy and grace.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

The passage is stating the opposite, which is: Jesus was like us; He faced every possible temptation, yet did not sin. We can, and must, be like Him. Therefore, in a time of need (when we are tempted), we must not succumb. Instead, we must come boldly to the throne of grace. There we will find grace and mercy to prevail over the temptation, just as Jesus prevailed.

The author of Hebrews is telling us what we need to do to stand firm and not fall into sin. He is not talking about what we need to do after we have sinned. He has but a single goal: to teach Christians how to persevere in righteousness without giving in to temptation. His goal is not to teach us how to recover each time we fall into sin. He wants Christians to learn how to be like their sinless Lord. This would show to the world that in the Cross of Jesus there is victory over every temptation and over every sin. If Christians continue to sin, the world will find Christianity unattractive and unconvincing. 

To be continued tomorrow, God willing. Until then, know that the grace for decisive victory over all sin is available to you. Let no one tell you otherwise. Amen.

For further studyHebrews 10:1-39

Why Do Christians Continue to Sin? (Pt 2)

Daily Devotion | Day 352

“Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you’” (John 5:14, NKJV).

Yesterday we listed some of the common responses people offer to explain why Christians continue to sin. From today we will look at what the Scriptures say about those responses. Because some of the issues overlap, they will be handled accordingly.

We will start by addressing one of the major reasons offered, which is: No one can stop sinning.  When people say this, they do not imply that no one can stop any form of sin at all. Nor are they saying it is acceptable for Christians to sin. Rather, they mean it is not possible to cease from all sin in a definitive sense without committing sin again in one’s life. This is the position held by the vast majority of Christians. Hence, the logic is as follows: If it is not possible to cease from all sin in a definitive sense, then that explains why Christians continue to sin from time to time.

Before we go into the Bible, we need to point out some weaknesses in this line of reasoning. This position suggests that it is possible to stop some sins, but it is not possible to stop every other sin; or, it is possible to stop sinning for a time, but it is not possible to stop sinning for all time. But here is the problem. If I can stop fornication, what prevents me from stopping stealing? The power by which I am able to stop fornication, can that same power not help me stop stealing also? Or, if I can stop fornicating for one week, what prevents me from stopping it for one month, one year and possibly forever? What makes it possible to stop some sins but not others?

Another weakness in the logic is this: If it is impossible to stop all sins definitively, then why, for example, do people act surprised and get mad when their spouses have an affair? After all, complete stop to all sin is supposed to be impossible. Or, are we saying that some sins are ‘acceptable,’ but others are not? Why are people judged over something everyone knows is impossible to accomplish? And why does God judge people when He knows they cannot cease from sin? Some would reply, “That is where grace comes in.” Although it sounds pious, this response does not hold water. As the series continues, we will find out why.

Now let us look at our opening Scripture. Jesus had healed a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years, stuck at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:2-8). A short time later, Jesus found him in the temple. And He had this message for him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you” (John 5:14). “Sin no more” means to cease from sin altogether. Moreover, “Sin no more” is equivalent to: Do not sin again. Jesus did not tell the man to try his best. He did not tell him to put a stop to certain sins but not others. Nor did He expect him to stop sinning for only a season. Jesus left no room for ambiguity. His command was as precise as it could get.

In fact, Jesus even gave a timeline the man was to stop sinning. When He said, “Sin no more,” Jesus meant His command took effect that very moment. He meant, “From this moment forward, sin no more.” Whatever the man had done in the past, that was it; that chapter of sin was closed. From the moment Jesus gave the command, the man was not to sin again. Instead, he was to begin a new chapter, the “I sin no more” chapter.

 The question is, did Jesus believe it was possible for the man to sin no more, to not sin again? Did He believe the man could do it? If our answer is, “No,” then we are admitting that Jesus was evil and unjust to issue a command which He knew was impossible to accomplish. If, however, our response is, “Yes, Jesus knew it was possible for the man to sin no more,” then where did we get the idea that it is not possible to cease from all sin definitively? Either Jesus is correct and we are wrong, or He is wrong and we are right. But we know Jesus is right. What He told this man, He said the same thing to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11).

Throughout the Scriptures, one will find that “sin no more” (even when those exact words are not used) is God’s standard for His people, and there are examples of people who lived up to the “sin no more” standard. Could it be that we have changed God’s standard and replaced it with, “Try your best to avoid sin. But in this world, no one can completely stop sinning . . .?

To be continued tomorrow, if the Lord wills. Until then, dwell in the secret place of the Most High and abide under the shadow of the Almighty. Amen.

For further study:  Isaiah 1:1-20

Paul: The Chief of Sinners? (Pt 5)

Daily Devotional| Day 349

“Let no man say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:13-15, NKJV).

In yesterday’s presentation we covered the final part of Romans 7:13-25. Twice in the passage Paul talked about sin dwelling in him: “But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (v. 17; 20). Because of its relevance in the scheme of redemption and grace, we need to address this issue. But we will do so briefly. At an appropriate time, we hope to cover it in-depth. What Paul said raises the question, “How does sin come to dwell in a person?” Our opening Scripture from the Letter of James gives us the answer. Let us look at the text.

James breaks down for us the process by which sin is born in a person. The process starts with temptation and desire. Temptation is aroused by an individual’s own desire. Desire itself is not a sin. It is part of who we are as persons created in the image of God. We are not desire-less creatures. Whether desire becomes harmful or beneficial depends on what (or whom) we desire, how we desire and what we do with our desire. For example, if we desire to spend more time with our spouse to strengthen our love, that is beneficial (good) desire. However, if we desire to have someone else’s spouse, that is sinful (harmful) desire (Matthew 5:27-28).

 According to James, “each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” This means our desires can determine the direction of our lives, depending on where we channel the desires. That is how the process of sin begins. At this stage (of desire and temptation), sin is not dwelling in us because it is not born in us yet. It is still possible at this point to fight the temptation off and change course.

 But if we entertain the desire and allow it to persist, then the process continues to the next logical steps: conceptionbirth and consequence of sin. James tells us how it happens, “Then, when desire has conceivedit gives birth to sinand sinwhen it is full-grown, brings forth death.” This process played out in the case of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-6).

A similar thing happened with Cain (Genesis 4:1-8). In his case, listen to what God told him, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). Sin was not dwelling in Cain at the time; it was at the door, knocking hard and waiting for an opportunity to enter and be born in Cain. God knew what was happening, so He warned Cain to resist the temptation (and desire) before the desire conceived and gave birth to sin. He offered him a way out of the temptation, but Cain refused.

Based on what James says, we know that desire is a powerful passion. It is so powerful it can conceive and give birth to sin. This is how sin comes to dwell in people. Committing sin is how we invite sin to dwell in us. Sin will not dwell in us without our permission and cooperation. We give the permission when we channel our desires into harmful things and place ourselves in temptation’s path.

Each time we repeat the sin, it is strengthened; and it gains greater control over us. Soon it becomes a stronghold and we feel powerless to overcome it. From this point on, a master-slave relationship is established between sin and the person who commits it. This is what Paul was referring to when he said, “But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Romans 7:17). Sin dwells only in people who commit it. But it does not dwell in those who do not commit it.

Now that we have addressed the question of how sin comes to dwell in people, we are ready for the next presentation. That will be tomorrow, God willing. Until then, I bid you peace. May the grace of God enable you to resist temptation and live free. May the same grace further enable you to conceive and give birth to things that are noble and edifying. Amen.

For further studyJohn 8:31-36 and 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Why Satan Stalks People and How You Can Stay Safe (Pt 2)

Daily Devotion | Day 310

“And the LORD said to Satan, ‘From where do you come?’ So Satan answered the LORD and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it’” (Job 1:7, NKJV).

Yesterday, we talked about satan’s stalking endeavors and why he does what he does. We will conclude the message today by looking at how you can stay safe and not become the devil’s prey. To do this, we will briefly examine examples from the lives of Job and Peter. Today’s opening Scripture confirms what we read yesterday from 1 Peter 5:8. Satan, by his own admission, goes to and fro on the earth, and walks back and forth on it. Interestingly, the author of the Book of Job did not tell us why satan roams the earth. But Peter did. Satan’s purpose for roaming the earth is to find someone to devour.

In the Book of Job we learn that satan attacked Job twice (Job 1:6-22; 2:1-10). The enemy had stalked and scouted him. As a result, he knew details about Job’s life (Job 1:8-10). Unfortunately for him, he could not enslave Job as he had other people. Desperate and frustrated, he sought God’s permission to launch an assault on Job in hopes of getting him to abandon his faith in God. But he failed. Job maintained his integrity and emerged victorious. He proved to be a man of faith, faithful to God in happy times and in difficult times. The lesson here is the following:

 You can’t stop satan from roaming around or from looking into your affairs. But you can stop him from defeating you. And you do this through a life of faith (faithfulness). Faith repels the devil. This is what Peter meant when he said, “Resist him [satan]steadfast in the faith” (1 Peter 5:9; see also James 4:7 and Ephesians 6:16). John confirms this when he writes, “And this is the victory which has overcome the world – our faith” (1 John 5:4). Victory over the world is tantamount to victory over satan. To overcome the devil, you need to adopt a posture of resistance. This posture is the posture of faith.

The next example is from the life of Peter. This man knows a thing or two about being targeted by satan. Satan knew how close Peter was to Jesus. More importantly, he knew that Jesus had chosen Peter for a position of influence in His Church (Matthew 16:16-19). Finding a vulnerability in Peter, he prompted him to dissuade Jesus from going to Calvary (Matthew 16:21-22). Jesus’ response was timely and revealing: “But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23).

Satan was not done with Peter, yet. He had a more sinister plan in store for him. But for the intervention of Jesus, he would have thoroughly shattered Peter’s faith. Unfortunately for Peter, he had no clue about what was happening behind the scenes. Thankfully, the Lord revealed it to him and cautioned him, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).

The lesson here is this:

Prayer destroys the devil’s plans against us. At the same time, it gives us strength to stand and endure. In this instance, it was Jesus’ prayer of intercession which saved Peter. This means your prayer can save someone from satan’s evil schemes. If this is true (and it is), then it is equally true that your prayer can save your own life, too. I pray that one of these days, God would open your eyes to see the positive influence your prayer has on others and on you.

To sum up: Combine faith and prayer to keep satan from messing up your life or the lives of those you love. You have the advantage. Use it, and stay safe.

For further studyEphesians 6:10-20 and Psalm 121:1-8