Sunday, September 09, 2007

When Christians Sin- The Call to Integrity

As one who views blogging as ministry, I recognize that everything I do-- both "on-blog" and "off-blog"-- affects the quality of my relationship with God, and in turn, this affects how much positive fruit my life is bearing-- on the blog and off. Since I write about the truths of Christianity and exhort others to consider and live by these truths, I must make sure that I am living by these truths. There must be consistency between what I write about on this blog, and how I live my life when I'm not blogging. This is what it means to have integrity.

"For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7)."

Success in the world's eyes is usually measured by outward things, but God sees the heart and is mostly concerned with character-- how I treat others and whether my conduct reflects one who belongs to a holy God is of the utmost importance. If I want Jordan's View and my life to be something that will truly make an eternal impact, I must learn to walk with this kind of integrity: my behavior and attitudes ought to reflect Christ at all times and in all places. But is this possible?

I am quite sure I have never claimed on this blog to be anything more than a humble recipient of God's abundant grace through Jesus Christ, which alone has power to forgive sinners, reconcile them to God and transform them into saints. Yet I must also confess that in a certain area of my life I have dishonored God by "secret" sins.

These sins of course are not hidden from God, but can be hidden (to a certain degree) from others. My sins have been in the area of sex, an area of weakness before I became a Christian that has continued to be an area in which I have been prone to sin. I'm too ashamed to go into detail about the particulars of these sins (and I'm not sure it would be edifying anyway). I will say that I haven't had an extramarital affair, but that these sins nonetheless constitute unfaithfulness to the Lord and to the vows I made to my wife, and for that I am truly and deeply sorry.

I have already confessed the specific sins in this area to God, to my pastors and to certain friends. My wife too is aware of my sins and has been incredibly gracious. I know enough theology to recognize that God's love and grace through Christ are greater than all my sin, and that as I confess my sins to Him, God is faithful and just to forgive me my sins and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Praise God for this.

However I know also that confession that never continues on into repentance, turning radically away from the sins it has confessed and replacing them with biblically right actions, is ultimately not true confession. In other words, the one confessing must intend also to repent, to "go and sin no more", otherwise confession is a hollow and hypocritical exercise.

"Physician, heal yourself", goes the old saying, which basically means, if you say you are capable of healing others, prove it by first healing yourself. But its meaning can also be: if you are going to go around trying to help others, first show that your remedies work in your own life. This applies to me as a Christian blogger-- if the Christian principles and truths I expound upon in this blog are not radically changing me into a more visibly Christ-like person, how can I hope to persuade others that Christianity is real and true and right? Of course, the failure of Christians like myself to fully and consistently live out their faith does not necessarily prove Christianity false-- rather, it shows that sin is a very stubborn reality in human beings, even after conversion to Christ (a truth the Bible explicitly teaches, see Romans 7, or 1 John 1:8). But on the other hand, when Christians sin-- when media headlines show prominent Christians divorcing, committing adultery, engaging in pornography, misusing or stealing church funds, and other sins-- the name of Christ and His glory are both dishonored. This may give non-believers an excuse for avoiding consideration of the truth claims of Christianity ("look at Mr. Pastor who had an affair, left his wife, kids and church behind and has now run off with his assistant to start a new church-- see, these Christians are just like everyone else-- so why should I become a Christian?").

This is a great shame to the church, because it is also unnecessary-- for the power of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are available to me and to all Christians, that we may live lives that bear good fruit and bring glory to His name. But with the reality being that Christians will never be absolutely sin-less, we Christians perhaps should practice being more transparent about our on-going struggles with sin. Then, if and when our sins become exposed, great scandal will not ensue, and their exposure won't make us look so hypocritical.

The problem arises when Christianity is presented as a being the miraculous deliverance from all sin into a life of on-going victory and prosperity. In this portrayal, sin, sickness, trials, suffering and other kinds of problems are not supposed to affect the believer in Christ, and the believer no longer really a sinner who struggles with sin. If such is really the Christian life, then when a Christian is found to be sinning it seems to the world like there's a huge gap between how we have presented ourselves and what our lives are truly like (in other words, it seems like hypocrisy, and perhaps often is).

But the "sin-free" portrait of the Christian life is neither accurate nor biblical. All Christians sin, and will continue to do so until we meet Christ face-to-face. Even for believers, there continues to be a "law of sin that dwells in my members"(Romans 7:23), which means, not that we must sin (1 Cor 10:13), but that the possibility and temptation to sin is always present within us (Romans 7:21). Now one of the hopes of the Christian is that God's transforming power is gradually squeezing sin out of our lives, as we learn to think with the mind of Christ, and to value the things that are eternal over the things of this world.

Through the scriptures the believer in Christ is given great confidence in the outcome. We learn that the struggle with sin as well as the trials and sufferings undergone in this life are only temporary. We are promised that "for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). We understand then that God's sovereign purpose is being worked out in our lives in all things (Ephesians 1:11)-- including even our struggles with sin (which do not take God by surprise).

And with this eternal perspective we learn to how to endure in all the circumstances of life, including the most painful trials. "So we (Christians) do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

In regard to sin, the Christian also is comforted and encouraged by the truth that He is both forgiven and justified by the cross of Christ. Depending solely upon God's empowering grace, the Christian knows that he or she is slowly progressing forward in becoming like Christ (aka, the process of sanctification). But if we understand God's grace to be a license for sin, we have fallen into the Devil's deception. For though God has poured out his abundant grace to us through Jesus Christ, grace more than enough to pay for all sins (Romans 5:20-21), this grace is not to be abused. Paul wrote, "Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2). To my great shame I admit that sometimes I have sinned in the presumption that God would forgive me. This is definitely an abuse of God's grace and a testing of the Lord that just added to the sinfulness of my actions.

I want to leave behind such shameful ways. I want this moving forward in holiness and bringing glory to the name of Christ to be the witness my entire life proclaims. By holding on to certain habitual sins I have been expressing mistrust in God and his goodness, showing that my heart still grips certain idols. But today I must remember that when God calls something sin, it can never, ever be good for me, no matter how much temporary pleasure one might find in it or how I may try to rationalize why I need this sin. The things that God has provided, on the other hand, are always good, and good for me (James 1:17). May I with God's help destroy all idols in my heart.

Let's face it, change is very hard. Becoming a Christian does not normally produce instantaneous transformation in ones' thinking, lifestyle and habits. Some have testified to being instantly delivered from a cigarette, alcohol or drug addiction. They are the exceptions, however. New Testament Christianity is all about lifelong change that occurs from the inside out as we replace deeply ingrained sinful patterns of thinking and behavior with new, godly ways of thinking and behaving. So change does indeed come, but only as I act on my responsibility to renew my mind by God's word and to daily abide in Christ. The battle with sin has not been made easy for us; it is a fight on a spiritual plane and requires spiritual strategies and power to win. The Bible exhorts us over and over again to understand the true nature of this battle and to fight it with all the weapons given by God, that we may be victorious in it.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2)

"So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good...

... you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:1-2, 9-12)."

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm (Ephesians 6:10-13)

My friends, brothers and sisters in Christ. Please hold me in your prayers as I re-commit myself to fighting the good fight of faith and to believing and trusting in God's good promises, that the deceitful, unfruitful ways of sin may be rooted out completely from my life, and that my life may bear increasingly good fruit, to the glory of God alone.

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