In one of my more shameful moments, I had a conversation with a friend regarding living as a Christian and what grace means for us. I legitimately believed and taught my friend that because of grace, the sin in which we were actively participating was ok. God would forgive us, so what was the big deal? I no longer have contact with this person for various reasons, but oh how I wish I could find him once more and tell him how very wrong I was. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” God have mercy upon me for the things I taught in my youth. Woe upon those teachers who teach in error! Thankfully, I do not think my friend was ever convinced of my erroneous teachings; but that memory serves to remind me every time I sit down to put together a study or teaching that I will be judged for the things I teach, and I dang-well better have it right. I have since learned to research my heart out, and to never approach any topic without first seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit – the one who is the teacher of all of us. How I praise God for his long-suffering and his mercy; that he, in his infinite wisdom, gently guided me to truth and convicted me in my wayward thinking. What an outrageous God of second chances we serve! Aren’t you so thankful for that today? Praise you, Jesus!
In my testimony above, I would never have thought the words that Paul writes in Romans 6:1, that “we [should] continue in sin that grace abound,” but I certainly promoted living that way. If I convinced myself that sin was ok because of grace, I didn’t have to change my lifestyle. Oh, how we fool ourselves! How we believe the lies the enemy whispers in our ears and twist God’s words to fit our lifestyle, only to find that lifestyle quickly binds us and pulls us into a mire which seems to have no way out. When I look back upon my actively sinful lifestyle, I remember fear, shame, and above all else, anxiety. I was always worried that the consequences would come to roost, that the men to whom I attached myself would leave my heart shattered, that the partying would catch up with me in terrible ways, that the child to whom I was the only parent would suffer because of my lifestyle, that I was a failure as a mother and in all the things that really mattered. I remember promoting that I had “the life,” that I loved the way I was living; to be honest, I did have a lot of fun. However, after the fun came the crash which led to so much stress and anxiety that I had constant migraines, panic attacks, and at one point my body started shutting down and ended in surgery.
Here is what the enemy wants us to believe: you can do whatever you want because God will always forgive you, more so, God will protect you from the consequences of your sin because you are his child. How I shudder at the lies we believe. “I can control it… I’m not addicted… I’m not hurting anyone…” You see, you can be a believer of God and live in sin. You can see Jesus as your Savior and never be free from the lifestyle which Paul says in Romans 6 you nailed to the cross; you can go to church on Sunday and have a pornography addiction (and ladies, I’m talking to us too, with our smutty books!); you can go to Bible study and somehow find yourself in an extra-marital affair; you can pray every day and find yourself gossiping about people with your friends. When we are not on the lookout for temptation and not guarded against every scheme of the enemy, it is all too easy to find ourselves bound in sin. Here, my beloved friend, is the truth: sin always comes with consequences. God tells us to live righteously because he knows that sin is not worth the destruction it wreaks upon your life. Honey, he is protecting you like a loving father.
Paul speaks very plainly in Romans 6:2-3 that when we live in Christ, we are dead to sin. When we choose to take up Christ as our Savior, we must leave that sinful lifestyle behind. First John 3:4-10 says:
“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”
I struggle with this passage a little bit. It is a seriously hard passage to fully grasp. However, I don’t know that it can be any plainer: once we know God and have seen him, we cannot continue a sinful lifestyle. We are always going to make mistakes; we will at times fall back into old sins because we are sinful people. When God finishes refining one sinful practice out of us, he moves on to the next; there is always something for him to work on within us. However, the kind of sin John and Paul speak of are the willful sinful lifestyle, where we take advantage of God’s grace and continually choose to do the wrong thing, though God is repeatedly warning us to stop.
We see this happen in the Old Testament with the Israelites over and over again. Israel’s history is a cyclical pattern of God bringing them into something good, the Israelites getting complacent, they begin to stray from God, God sends a prophet to warn them, the Israelites ignore the warnings and continue in their sin, and finally God leaves them to the consequences of their sin until they learn their lesson and call back upon him and begin to be faithful to God alone. Thus, the cycle begins anew. God was always their God and they were always his people, but they continually failed him and had to live in the consequence of their sin. Ladies and gentlemen, there is a better way to live. Paul puts it in Romans 6:3 as being buried with Christ into his death so we could be raised to new, glorious life with him through the resurrection. According to Paul, crucifying our old bodies of sin breaks the bonds enslaving us to sin (v6), and sets us free from all the sin, all the guilt, and all the shame to which we were bound in our old bodies. Let me say this again: you, beloved, are free from the addiction with which you struggle, the shame that sin heaps upon you, and the guilt that sin brought into your life. You. Are. FREE!
You see, the best part about crucifying our old selves to the cross with Christ is that all the negative feelings get nailed to the wood alongside it. You and I no longer have to feel shame for that addiction, for those unholy acts, for the relationships we destroyed because of our sin. The shame is gone. You have permission to forgive yourself! God already has. Though the consequences may remain, you are able to forgive yourself because you are no longer the same person. That wasn’t you that made those mistakes! That was the old you, from which you are eternally changed.
I struggled for years to forgive myself for my past. I worked like a dog for God, serving at every opportunity, sharing my testimony and doing every single thing I thought I should do for God. But I didn’t do it for the right reasons. I did it because I felt so dirty and undeserving of his love, that I felt like I had to work for it. I found out it was so much easier to forgive others than to accept forgiveness myself. I prayed and prayed for God to speak the truth to me about who I was in him, to give me eyes to see myself as he sees me: holy and pure, beautiful and complete in him. It took years. I’m not saying it’s easy, because, honey – it’s not. But it is possible. It hinges upon where we base our source of truth. The enemy, our adversary, whispers lies into our ears that we will never deserve his love, so how could we possibly be saved? He spins these webs of deceit in hopes that we will so question our validity as a Christian, our forgiven status, our new life, that we will never become effective for the kingdom of God.
I am participating in a study on spiritual warfare right now and I want you to know with certainty that you are in battle. The enemy’s biggest achievement is to keep you out of the battle – through distraction, through sin, through doubt, through false theology. If you are fighting for freedom from a specific sin, from lies that bind you in doubt, make no mistake – it is by our adversary’s design. God has a plan to use you for good: to share your testimony of his faithfulness, to help others, to use your God-given gifts to further the kingdom; but, honey, so does the enemy have a plan for you – and that is to keep you out of the fight. If you are fighting for a life of holiness and acceptance, and simply can’t seem to break free of the adversary’s lies, you need to be on your knees praying for God’s strength and you better put on that armor of God, which Paul teaches in Ephesians 6:10-18, because the enemy is on the hunt and he is circling.
You know what combats these lies the enemy throws at us – that we are unworthy and how could God use someone like us? The truth found in the Word of God. There is but one source of truth, and anything that contradicts what God’s Word says about us is a lie the devil uses to keep you out of the battle. Here is what the Word of God says about you in Ephesians 1:3-8: you are blessed in every spiritual blessing, you were handpicked by God before he even laid the foundation of the earth, you are holy and blameless before your God, you were predestined to be adopted into the family of God, you are redeemed through Christ’s blood, you are forgiven of every sin, and you are lavished in grace. Beloved one of God, that is the truth. Anyone or anything that tries to tell you differently, especially your own feelings, is a lie. When you feel those lies starting to creep in, you look up that Scripture and you repeat it until you know without a shadow of a doubt that you are holy and blameless and you are loved beyond measure. Praise you Jesus!
Throughout this passage in Romans 6:1-11, Paul makes it abundantly clear that we have hope in Christ because we have gone through such a complete metamorphosis that we are unrecognizable as our old selves. Do you truly believe that?! Have you allowed God to change your life so drastically that you are unrecognizable from the person you were before him? You are called to a new life, a new hope, a new mindset. You are called to live like the one in whose image you were made. If you are not living that lifestyle, pray for God to convict you and give you a desire to change. Pray for him to go to work and refine you, to mold you into the image of the King you have professed over your life. And, then Beloved, you do your part. You pray like your life depends on it; you get in the Word like you never have before, and you ask for the strength to cut out every festering, stinking place of sin in your life. Lastly, ask your friends to pray for you and to hold you accountable. If you are already striving to live in holiness, continue your fight and pray for perseverance and protection from the schemes of the devil. God has given you freedom. Take it!