The Christian life is full of realities. God is real: Christ is real: salvation and all its blessings is real. But there are also negative things that are real: the devil is real: the world is real, and so is sin. Some don’t like that term; they prefer to speak of mistakes, wrong choices or errors of judgment, but the Bible calls sin, ‘sin’ and we shouldn’t attempt to avoid it. What is sin? The Shorter Catechism defines it as ‘any want of conformity to or transgression of the law of God’ (Question 14). John says it is lawlessness (1 John 4:3). Sin must always be evaluated in terms of God’s law: his commands, rather than what is socially unacceptable.
Adam and Eve were originally created without sin, but that soon changed—they disobeyed God’s command and immediately became sinners. Not only did they fall from their own position of innocence, but they plunged the whole human race into sin. Every child born after the fall is born with a sinful nature. That includes us, and we very soon demonstrate that by actually sinning. Where does that leave us? In big trouble, for the wages of sin is death—both spiritual and physical.
Is there a remedy? Praise God there is. God is a Saviour from sin and the Lord Jesus Christ is the embodiment of that Saviour. Jesus came to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). He does that in three stages:
- Jesus saves us from the guilt of sin
We are guilty before God. If we acknowledge sin at all, it is usually because it makes us feel bad. It should, but it also affects others—those we live and work with, as well as our friends and neighbours. But while sin hurts people, primarily sin is an offence against God. Not that God is just upset because we have offended him—it is a matter of justice. Every sin must be punished; but the wonder of redemption is that Jesus took that punishment for his people: the punishment we deserved. He then offers us forgiveness if we trust in him. If we confess and believe we are saved (1 John 1:9). How wonderful is forgiveness! There are many biblical pictures.
The Old Testament word for forgiveness means, picked up and carried away. That is what happens to our sins. They are removed as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103;12): they are cast into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19): they are blotted out (Isaiah 44:22): they are remembered no more (Jeremiah 31:34). We need to grasp these great statements. Our sins are forgiven—gone forever.
Why then do we allow the memory of former sins to bother us and deny us the joy of fellowship with God? Some say they can’t forgive themselves. If God forgives you, isn’t that enough? If he remembers them no more, why should you remember them? If he casts them into the depths of the sea, why should you go fishing? What a blessed truth is forgiveness.
One other outcome of this is that we should be able to forgive those who have sinned against us. Jesus brings this lesson home powerfully in his parable in Matthew 18:21 and following. To use the picture there, if we have been forgiven a debt of millions, are we unwilling to forgive a relatively small debt? Forgiveness is indeed far-reaching. All our sins are gone.
Are we then perfect after we are converted? Of course not. I’m sure many Christians have thought they were finished with sin after conversion. However, they very quickly realise that sin is still with them. We speak of original sin or remaining sin, but whatever we call it, it is a reality. It is an enemy: we are at war and will be as long as we live in this world. Does that mean we are under the power of sin? Not at all. Let’s come to our second point:
- Jesus saves us from the power of sin.
When we are converted, all our sins are forgiven—past, present and future, but we know that we continue to sin, and while those sins do not cause us to lose our salvation, they do cause us to lose fellowship with God, and that is why we need to confess them even as Christians. However, not only must we confess our sins, we need to do battle against them; to mortify them (Romans 8:13). We must throw all available resources against sin.
(a) We must have the right attitude towards sin
We must never be complacent. We need to hate sin (Psalm 97:10). While we rejoice over our forgiveness, yet we mourn over our lack of holiness. We are content with Christ and his work, yet very discontent with our spiritual progress. We must be ready to do battle with sin.
(b) We must engage the enemy
That means taking every possible step to avoid or overcome sin. If we know that a certain kind of literature, movie or TV program exposes us to temptation, then avoid it. We all know the dangers of the Internet. We may need to take drastic measures to keep ourselves pure.
(c) Use all available means of grace
Treasure God’s word. Read it; hear it preached whenever possible. Hide it in your heart. Be diligent in prayer. Seek out fellowship with other believers. If you have problems in a certain area, ask others to pray. It may be helpful to have an accountability partner with whom you can meet, pray and have some heart-searching discussion. Above all, rely on the help of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13). This is not something we can handle on our own. We need the Lord’s help.
One last thing:
(d) Holiness is not optional,
Without it we won’t see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). We will not be perfect in this life, but neither will we be mastered by sin (1 John 3:6-10). If we are not seeking to please the Lord, we are not Christians.
- Jesus will save us from every trace of sin
While we may struggle with sin, and often feel defeated, we need to look in two directions: back to the cross to see Jesus’ work to redeem us. We must never lose sight of that: it should encourage and motivate us. But we also need to look ahead to Christ’s return or our own death and entrance into glory. Our struggles will end then. Sin will at last be totally conquered and removed. In glory there will be no more pain, no more tears and best of all, no more sin. Our actual state will correspond to our standing in Christ. Now we are reckoned without sin: then we shall actually be without sin. What a glorious thing to look forward to!
In conclusion, what is your state regarding sin? How do you see yourself? Or, more importantly, how does God see you? If you were to die today, what would you say to God about your sin? Have you confessed and asked for pardon? How can you put your head on the pillow at night without knowing you are forgiven? Ask the Lord to forgive you. He will; he has promised.
Then, when you know you are right with God, you need to pursue holiness. All of us need to show that we are true children of God by holy lives. May the Lord help us all to be serious in dealing with sin.