My pastor‘s been preaching a series on the fathers of the faith (the ones in Scripture, not the ones I hear all too often about here at seminary re: all the John’s – Bunyan, Calvin, Owen, Edwards…) A few weeks ago he preached on King Solomon and something he said is still with me, and will be with me for a very long time. (If not the rest of my life.)
Dan (my pastor) was talking with a friend who asked if all sins are forgiven. He was asking about a specific sin (in this case, it was adultery) and was wondering just how much he could ‘get away with’ so to speak. My pastor’s response was this: “Deliberate sin is perilous to the soul.”
Now that’s something to pause on.
My sin, deliberate or not, will always be forgiven. This is what I say to myself when I am at the crossroads of temptation. I haven’t sinned yet, but it’s right there, tempting me. The choice is before me and I know that I want to do the thing which leads to the sin. And I feel, in some dark corner of my heart, this forgiveness is what allows me to sin. But allow isn’t even the right word, really. It’s more like “makes it acceptable in my own mind.” God’s forgiveness of my deliberate sin doesn’t allow anything. It just makes me know that I won’t be held accountable.
Ah, here is where the rubber meets the road for me. Not living a life of grace (I’ll get to that in a minute) means I am living a life of “sin = punishment”. But there is no eternal punishment for me. And if there are present consequences, I don’t see much of them. (There are some obvious consequences for more external sin, but I am referring to the sins that really only affect my own soul. The ones that are so easy to hide…) So basically, I am free to do as I like.
Obviously, this is putting the emphasis in the wrong place.
What this does mean – what this leads me to – is something I’ve known all my life. That my choice to sin or not can only be made with one thing in mind (from which all things flow): Is this what God deserves? (No) Is this honoring to him? (No) Do I love him above my own sin? (…probably not) If I did love him more than my sin, would I always choose him over it?
The answer to the last question feels like it should be “yes”. But it’s not, for one, it doesn’t taken into account the Fall.
Before the Fall, Adam and Eve could choose to sin or not sin. After the Fall, we became so broken that our hearts would always choose sin over obedience. And as this last weekend (Easter) reminded us, I am now free to resist that sin.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law,weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1-4 (ESV)
Because of what Christ did, I no longer have the same relationship with sin I once did. As a disciple of Christ, I am no longer captive to sin. But sin is still very present in my heart and in the world around me. It will be until my death or the Lord’s return. The sin and the flesh are constantly fighting the Spirit; this is an effect of the Fall, and an effect of Christ’s death on the cross at the same time. The Fall broke me, Jesus reconciled me. But sin didn’t disappear, nor did the temptation to sin disappear. God just made it so I could fight off the desire to sin with the help of the Spirit.
My old self could not help but sin. My new self has a choice in the matter. But my new self is still broken, and is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). But it is not fully renewed. (Side note: one of my professors – Dr. Agan – calls our hearts’ “wanters” and often says in class “Our wanter is broken. It just wants the wrong things.”)
As I drove to church this evening, and pondered this whole issue and tried to figure out exactly where it was I was hung up – what the flaw in my argument, if you will, was – I figured it out just as I was taking my seat. The issue is that I want my sin to have an element of “I just can’t help it”. I want an out. And just as I want my sin to have that much power over me, I also must keep into perspective that my love for Christ is not as powerful as I want it to be. Because none of this is about my ability to do anything. It’s about my inability to do anything.
This is why deliberate sin is perilous to my soul. Because it lands me in a place of “The devil made me do it.” Instead of a place that says “Jesus can overcome it.” So the second reason why I will not always choose Jesus over sin is because I can’t.
So we have a bit of a conundrum, just like much of the Christian life. The “already/not yet” the “sinner/saint” the “God’s sovereignty/our responsibility”, the “faith/works”- all these antimonies (unresolvable tensions) exist in the Christian faith. This is not what is perilous to my soul. What is perilous to my soul is deliberately choosing to sin when Jesus gives me the power not to. It’s choosing to be the sinner when I can be the saint.