Hey there my friend: So every once in a while, I get this question from fellow Christians and I see two very different motives.
1) I’m really worried that I’m not doing enough to overcome my sinful selfish inclinations, or
2) I want to know how much I can keep sinning without pissing off God.
Since most people are not binary creatures who fit in a one-dimensional box, your motives might be a mix of both. But if you’re more #2 (I want to get away with stuff) than #1 (I want to overcome), then it’ll be very hard for anyone to reach you. It’s like the addict who keeps saying “I can handle a little bit, I know my limits, just once, only one more time.” If you’re already convinced in your mind that you can do what you want, then I can’t help. I can only graciously ask you to gut-check your motives.
But since you even asked me this question, I can see that it bothers you that it doesn’t bother you, and that shows you actually care. This means you’re in the right place, right now, making a step forward.
You see, every spurt and blip of righteousness in your life is a God-given miracle. Our default mode is sin. We’re all naturally selfish in the wild. Left to ourselves, we’d devour each other in Darwinian cycles of the walking dead.
I meet Christians who freak out when they slip up over a melt-down or flip-out or back-slide or relapse, but if you even care that you messed up, that’s a miracle. An act of Christ-like righteousness is like giving birth. It’s amazing, it’s supernatural, and it’s worth celebrating.
I don’t mean to pamper you here. I’m also not talking about “worldly sorrow,” where you’re just sorry you got caught or you’re sorry about the consequences. I mean: there’s a certain kind of grief when you’re not becoming the person that God has made you to be and saved you for, and if even a tiny seed of that grief is pulsing in your heart, you’re growing in the right direction.
I might get blasted for this by smarter theologians and pastors, but I’m believing more and more that salvation is not some overnight epiphany or an altar call (which it can be those things), but more of a slow-burning awakening to who God is and what He’s done. It’s to recognize that God has been pursuing us, wooing us, and beckoning us ever closer to His grace. It’s to be rescued from wandering darkness with our eyes stubbornly shut into a glorious heavenly light with our eyes wide open.
This means that salvation can be both a decision and a stretching into faith. There’s no Christian alive who knows everything there is to know about Christianity, so how can we expect “salvation” to explode a person into super-rock-star-faith after one Sunday? I absolutely believe that theology is crucial and necessary, but that’s actually more reason for our faith to be a journey, because there’s so much to discover.
When someone asks me, “When did you get saved?” — I always answer, “There wasn’t any single moment it happened. It was a lot of moments, over three or four years, and one morning I woke up and I realized that I loved Jesus.” I’m not saying this happens to all of us, but I’m saying that our Western culture relies too much on one-time decisions and checklists, when faith is way messier and more organic than that.
At this point, I’m always asked, “But what if I really can’t stop sinning? What if I keep going back to that old-life / boyfriend / girlfriend / porn / addiction?” And I think that’s not exactly the right question.
Let’s imagine for a moment that your current struggle was totally over. Your addiction, your destructive habits, your old ways: that they were all gone.
What would you do then?
I have to ask, What if your sin-issue was no longer an issue? Now what?
Most Christians are so busy overcoming all the time that they’re crawling up to the edge of a pit but forgetting to look up at the light. We forget there’s a mission beyond our struggle. Recovery and repentance are awesome, but so is a fruitful life found in Christ. We’re not merely forgiven of sin, but we’re forgiven for a greater purpose in Him.
Both of these things happen in conjunction: we turn away from our internal afflictions while pursuing our Kingdom-purpose. The Christian life is both personal repentance and outward restoration. We become both radically pure and radically generous by the radical grace of God.
I can almost guarantee that if you move your meter towards God’s mission in your life, then the volume of sin will get turned down and become less attractive to you. That’s why Galatians 5:16 says, “Step by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of your flesh.”
Maybe you never heard this in church before, but I know that when I get one-on-one with broken hurting people and serve them and love on my church and step out of my safety, then I’m much less likely to relapse into my old life, because the joy and freedom that Jesus has given me is too good to refuse. I’ve tasted the goodness of God, and I don’t want to go back.