You can’t even begin to count the times you’ve stumbled into this particular sin. Or sin in general.
Sinful thoughts. Sinful actions. Sinful words.
Every time, your heart is grieved with sorrow. Every time you stumble, you hope (rather dubiously) that it will be your last.
And yet…there you go again.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
What if you’re not saved???
A true Christian would live in pure holiness. A true Christian would constantly perfectly exercise the willpower to refrain from all sin, right?
Well, if this is true, then I am certainly not a Christian.
What is a true Christian?
A true Christian is one who has been legally justified and acquitted of guilt through the final substitutionary work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Nothing more, nothing less.
See where the confidence lies in that definition?
The confidence – the assurance of salvation – is found in Christ and Him crucified.
In the words of Casting Crowns:
Not because of who I am But because of what you've done. Not because of what I've done But because of who you are.
Assurance is in the power of His work. Not in the performance of the Christian. Not in the rate of sanctification.
Don’t get me wrong. There are generally – if not always – evidences of a changed life in Christ. A child of God will begin to show at least some signs of life, even though those evidences may show up more gradually for some.
Often, suffering is a catalyst for sanctification. Think of it sort of as hell for the Christian. The only hell Christians will ever know.
(Unbelievers suffer, too. But without the Spirit working in them, that suffering cannot produce the same kind of sanctification a Christian experiences by the power of God.)
Sanctification is necessary, and is preparing us for heaven – in terms of maturity and devotion to the Lord. We’re coming to understand His Word of truth in this age – His Word which will not pass away. And we’re learning to live by that Word of truth more closely. We’re transitioning from physical sustenance to spiritual sustenance. We’re shedding the old and putting on the new.
However, I’m confident that those believers who die without having “perfected” themselves in this life – in other words, they still wrestle with sinful flesh, and aren’t so polished and pretty on their death bed – are still going straight to Jesus.
The inside of the cup is still clean, even if the outside is not. And the outside is perishing anyway.
The inner man still concurs with the law of God, even if the members of the body do not.
Paul – an apostle “sold out” for Christ – still struggled greatly with sin.
For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
Yet even Paul was confident that, for the Christian, to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord. He did not say “To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord…or in purgatory if you haven’t been perfectly sanctified yet.” Despite his own sinful flesh and struggles – Paul seemed confident that when he left his body, he would be immediately at home with the Lord.
For indeed in this house [my note: sinful, corruptible, dying flesh] we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.
Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight— we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 5:2-8
It is important to realize that while we still presently dwell in the flesh, we are no longer identified with it.
We were crucified to the flesh and to sin in Christ. We cannot be uncrucified.
We do not work for our salvation (a fleshly act). We work out (Phil. 2), through the Spirit, the salvation we already have.
The flesh can never please God. Works performed in the flesh can never please God. “Righteousness” obtained through the fleshly efforts of Man – including attending Mass and striving to keep the Mosiac Law – will never be righteousness.
Only the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ will be acceptable to God.
For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
We do not walk in good works and avoid sin to merit life. Rather, we seek to begin living as those who already have life.
We do not earn sonship. Rather, we become like what we are already declared to be – children of God.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Conviction over our sin is not a proof to God that we deserve salvation. Conviction over sin does not justify us. Rather, conviction and repentance lead us to the One who justifies – the One who has already justified us, as believers.
As believers, conviction should not lead us to park on how bad we are, but how great God is. Conviction should not lead us to dwell on our sin, but on His Son.
Easier said than done.
For the believer, conviction is not so much for God’s benefit – as if God even remotely needed us – as it is for ours.
In God’s eyes, we are already justified through His Son. Legally, He only sees us as righteous (even though He’s aware of all the ways we still stumble).
Conviction, then, is more of a proof and reassurance – to us as believers – that we are saved.
We concur with the law of God in the inner man, even though we see a different law in the members of our bodies (a “different law” which will be present as long as we live in the bodies of this death). We won’t be free from our bodies of death until we leave them to be at home with the Lord, whenever He calls us.
In the unbeliever, conviction can produce one of two things – repentance, or rejection.
In many who hear the Law and the gospel, conviction produces repentance – a heart condition of turning toward God, which evidences the salvation work taking place within.
But often, as Christians, (at least, if you’re like me!) it seems we fall into the fear that if we don’t repent perfectly or repent enough – or perform enough good works or avoid sin perfectly enough – then we aren’t really saved, or we’ll lose our salvation.
And, of course, the more we mature in perceiving the sin of our flesh, the more easily we think we can fall from our standing. Strange, isn’t it? But not really.
As the power of God “gains ground” in our lives, the attacks from our hearts, the world, the enemy, everything – also seem to increase.
Somehow, the stronger we become in the Spirit – the more sanctified we become – the more easily we seem to forget all the work He has previously accomplished in us, and that such a change could not be attributed to us in the least.
Although we theoretically know that good works do not merit salvation, we almost fear that if we don’t perform enough of them, we might not really be saved. Or we might be unsaved, if possible.
But works, too, are evidence of the work of the Spirit within us – the Spirit who is given to us as a pledge of the life to come.
We also fall into the pit of thinking that our sin disproves our salvation.
But as true believers, our sin is a sign that although we ourselves are already new creations – restored souls – we still exist in and wage war with our dying, sinful flesh. With that flesh which is no longer us.
Our flesh has the identity of “an idolater”, but we are not idolaters, because we’ve been severed from our flesh in Christ.
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
It was in flesh that sin was put to death. Our bodies themselves are not evil, but sin is intricately woven into them.
Sin has been woven into the flesh ever since the fall of Man. For sin to die, flesh must also die.
We will all die in the flesh at some point…or, as believers, at least shed the corruptible when we are caught up with the Lord in the air.
When this physical death takes place, it is those who are in Christ who will have eternal life, and will be given new, perfect clothing of immortality.
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.
1 Corinthians 15:51-53
We hate the things the flesh wants to do. But we still stumble in sin because we still have this wicked, decaying fleshly ship that’s carrying us through this life.
But that ship – that corruptible carcass – will be shed one day. No thanks to us or our piety, but all praise to the goodness and glory of God.
We are not the ship we’re flying in. And the ship is going to burn. But we will live. The Spirit has been given to us as a promise of that.
Have you not seen the Spirit at work in your life? Bringing conviction (different from condemnation)? Bringing comfort? Reminding you of the word of truth? Causing you to rejoice in the truth? That is the Spirit of God at work. That is His pledge to us of the life to come.
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
We see our sin. We see our wicked flesh. We see our suffering. These things are temporal.
The things unseen – the Lord in whom we trust for our salvation – the Way, the Truth, and the Life Himself – are eternal.
We are of Him, not of the things we see.
We are of life, not death.
We are of the immortal One, not mortal things.
The dust of which Adam was made is no longer us. It is just our suit that we wrestle with.
God has breathed into us new life. He has made us out of Christ. We come from His “rib”. From His sleep – His temporary death – we were made a new creature – a bride for Him. We are of Christ’s eternal substance (the new Adam), not of dust (the old Adam).
(as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.
If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.
Because of whose righteousness? Christ’s. Our bodies are dead because of sin, yes, but the spirit is alive because of the everlasting and complete righteousness of Christ. As believers, there is no point in dwelling on the dead body and the stupid, sinful things it still does. It’s going to die anyway. And it’s not even us anymore!
If we are convicted, that conviction should not be used to dwell on our gross sin, but on the great Savior. (Again, easier preached than practiced.) Conviction may healthily lead us to ask God to hasten His sanctifying work. But we can also rejoice and rest knowing that whether we ask enough or not, He will certainly complete that work!
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
Why should sin – or our flesh – receive any attention or glory? It is being put to death. One day, it will be no more. And we desire to live now as if dead to sin.
If we treat sin now like we are dead to it – living for Christ – why do we still dwell on our sin, as if it had any life or any power over us? As if Christ had not conquered it already?
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, [we are already legally perfect in Christ!] have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained [we have already attained to God’s holy standard in Christ! We are becoming like what we’re declared to be. But the declaration will never go away.].
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
1 John 3:2
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.