Why do I still sin, oftentimes all too easily? Please give me a fuller explanation than one is usually given. This is very important to me.
I have been a Christian for over 30 years. If I look at my life, the changes are certainly great, yet I still stumble into sin, oftentimes all too easily. I am often discouraged by my lack of growth. Why would God save me if I am still held ransom by my sinful ways?
UK Apologetics Reply:
Because you are not saved because of your own righteousness but because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ! He - if you are truly in the Faith - has put a covering of grace around you which is unbreakable! Do you trust Him, or do you not? At your conversion, an exchange took place, Christ accepting the responsibility for your sin and you accepting His saving righteousness. That - I must put it to you - is a win-win situation! Moreover, receiving the Holy Spirit should be seen as the 'earnest of our inheritance,' or, our 'down-payment' on Eternal Life:
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession - to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14).
I find that too many Protestants have a confused understanding in this area because they are still partly effected by the Catholic view of righteousness, even if they were never Catholics (since a rather negative Augustinian view of salvation remains deep within European culture, psychology and religiosity). According to that view the saved are infused with the very righteousness of God. This, of course, directly leads to the Catholic view of 'saints' and 'sainthood.' The picture is of spiritually impeccable people who have a halo over their heads and hands pretty much permanently clasped together as though in prayer. Catholics have basically believed that the saved are perfect people. This is why Catholicism states to their priests, 'if you are holy believers, you don't need marriage.' It is, of course, a very misguided idea. Most people - probably 85-90% of adults - do need marriage. The result of the Catholic teaching is that priests find other ways of achieving sexual satisfaction. Being a 'holy and chosen catholic' was not enough, hence the recent scandals in that denomination (although I have no doubt that much of it has been over-blown by the secular press). But my point is that the idea of priestly celibacy comes out of the flawed concept that the saved become holy because God infuses His holiness into them. The Protestant view, on the other hand, is much more realistic and more in line with the New Testament teaching of Paul on this topic. In the Protestant view, God imputes (not 'infuses,' no transfusion takes place) His saving faith and grace into the truly repentant but those people don't become perfect overnight, they remain essentially flawed. It is forensic, about taking responsibility and ownership. We are still sinners and could not be saved if God suddenly removed His grace. We should all thank Martin Luther for recovering the correct New Testament position on this.
My questioner states that he is often discouraged by his lack of growth but I think every single true believer has those feelings from time to time. At conversion God does a wonderful work in believers, it is as though our very minds are changed. We no longer see the world according to its wordly ways and ideas, rather, we start to see it as God sees it: that alone is quite remarkable! Many find that certain character flaws disappear completely at conversion, maybe a bad temper, maybe a willingness to gamble, or drink too much, maybe a general hostile or dishonest attitude. A few also find that from the point of receiving Christ they come to have total control of their sexual drive, yet many thousands of others do not find that. In most cases God still leaves certain flaws for us to battle with. Paul the Apostle had some sort of battle which he had to go on fighting after his conversion. Three times he besought the Lord to take it away but the answer was 'my grace is sufficient for you.' (See 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). The health problem, or flaw, was not removed. It might be hard for us to see but sometimes these things are good for us.
The Bible offers us many examples of the lives of the truly called and saved. We do not find the Catholic model on view at all. People like David, Abraham, Rahab, Jacob, Gideon, Thomas and Paul are unquestionably saved but they were all flawed men and women. Yet they believed and trusted God and walked in faith. All such men and women stayed on course for God's Kingdom but they were not perfect. In the New Testament we learn of Paul, a truly great man. Yet was Paul perfect? Was he 'easy to get on with'? I somehow doubt it. At times he had arguments with both Barnabas and Peter. The indications that this great man had a temper are strong. Could he possibly have penned Galatians 1:6-10 while not being in a very bad temper? I cannot see it. Other parts of his writing too seem to reveal a feisty man. He suffered enormously because of the 'circumcision party,' a group of self-appointed Jewish leaders who believed that Gentiles too should keep the whole law. In a moment of exasperation he once wrote that he just wished these people would go away and emasculate themselves (Galatians 5:12)! Yes, Paul was truly and deeply converted, entirely on God's wavelength, but did he walk around with a halo on his head and hands clasped together as though in constant prayer? I don't think so.
The Flaw of Perfectionism
With time, believers can be expected to take on more and more of Christ's character but it does take time and we all grow differently. This is the process of sanctification. However, we should guard against the perfectionism which can be found in certain of the cults and sects (a form of which is also apparent in Catholicism, as already noted). This has its foundation in Pelagianism, a well-noted old heresy. Basically that teaches that we save ourselves by behaving in a good and characterful manner, Christ is no more than an example, grace becomes demoted. Yes, this influence has gone into various areas of Christianity, including liberal Christianity.
But some might say, how about Matthew 5:48? Okay, let us look at that:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48).
'Perfect' there is word G5046 in Strong's Concordance system. The Greek word is 'teleios.' It means, complete, mature, finished. In this context it means fully mature in growth and character. Although most translations into English have stayed with the KJV's "perfect," I really think it is not a good word to use, maybe 'spiritually mature' or 'spiritually complete' would be better but there again the Bible translators never really liked to translate one Greek word with two English words so there is an aversion to doing that. This, then, refers to the goal which we don't stop aiming for. But is this saying that if we continue on the Christian path for long enough we become as 'perfect' as our Father in heaven? Of course not. That is impossible! The path we should follow is outlined in the earlier parts of Matthew 5, that is in showing love and concern for others, being prepared to 'turn the other cheek' and so on. 5:48 completes that section. That is the path and direction we must take. We should never surrender to 'worldliness' or to having a worldly perspective. However, we must also take into account other New Testament verses such as the following:
1 John 1:8: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
1 John 2:1-2: My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
Romans 3:10: As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
Romans 7:21-24: So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in my sinful nature, a slave to the law of sin.
James 3:2: For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.
So yes, we strive for full Christian maturity but we must always acknowledge our sinfulness and our need of the grace of God.
Don't Have Doubts, Have Assurance!
In conclusion, I will simply refer the reader to our brief article on Christian assurance: Whatever Happened to the Teaching of Christian Assurance? I think that this completes the answer to this question. If we stand in the true faith we do not need to have doubts, moreover they displease our Saviour.
Robin A. Brace. June 18th, 2014.