Every Wednesday we’ll be posting something to do with doctrine and purity. Hope it helps.
Sin: The Presence and the Power and the Difference
I had a bucketful of emotional and sexual struggles when I first came to Christ, all of which I assumed would disappear once I was born again. And for a few weeks, it seemed they did. In the newness of my relationship with Him, and the outright wonder of salvation itself, I felt no sexual temptations; experienced no fantasies. I gave myself over to fellowship, drinking in the Word, prayer and the joy of a new life. Freedom, it seemed, had been quickly and completely achieved.
For a few weeks, anyway. Then, to my horror, lust started creeping back into my thoughts and dreams. My eyes became as unruly as ever, wandering where they shouldn’t, and memories of former experiences started replaying in my brain. I was astonished to be struggling with sexual temptation again (though I had no intention of giving in to it) and appalled that I, as a Christian, could have any longing at all for what was so obviously and seriously wrong. Having repented of sin, I expected it to vanish. When it didn’t, I figured that I, as usual, was the problem.
But the real problem wasn’t my temptations. It was my expectations, which were naïve at least; un-Biblical for sure. Because nothing in scripture gives us any reason to believe that temptations, in this life, will ever completely vanish. They are in fact Biblically guaranteed. Look, for example, at I John:
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (I John 1:8)
“Blessed is the man who endures temptations, for he shall receive a crown of life” (James 1:12)
But happily that isn’t the end of the story. Whereas before Christ we were, as Paul said, “servants of sin”, in Him, we have power over the very thing we used to serve. Look at the way he puts it in Romans:
“For when you were slaves to sin, you were free from righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness.” (Romans 6: 20-22)
Sin is. It dwells in our flesh; it’s displayed in the world. And until we die or Christ comes for us, we’ll be dealing with it. The difference between the before and after has more to do with our response to sin than its existence. It’s a nuisance, for sure, but there’s a critical difference between a nuisance and a dictator. We were, as Paul said, slaves to it at one time. But now, with the Holy Spirit indwelling and a new nature that God’s created in us, we can take authority over it, rather than it dominating us.
Years ago, Ron Howard directed a film adaptation of John Nash’s autobiography A Beautiful Mind. Nash, a brilliant mathematician, suffered from hallucinations so realistic that he actually had conversations with them, interacting with imaginary figures as though they were close friends. Towards the end of the film, years after getting treatment for his condition, he’s asked by a colleague whether or not he still has these hallucinations. Before answering, Nash looks across the room and indeed, there they are – silent, distant, but still present.
“Yes”, he says, “I can still see them. But they don’t interfere with me anymore.”
Perfectly put. Sexual temptations are there, perhaps silent and distant, but still present. And why not? Just because you were redeemed doesn’t mean the rest of the world was redeemed along with you, so we can hardly expect it to change its ways. And Satan, ever watching to trip you up, looks for ways to remind you of former habits and pleasures. The difference now lies not so much in the reality of sin, but it’s power. It’s present, but it doesn’t have to interfere with you anymore. You have the power, as Paul says, to resist what you used to be in servitude to:
“No temptation has taken you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can endure.” (I Corinthians 10: 13)
Let the confidence and relief that comes with a knowledge of freedom be a clear, ongoing part of your thinking today.