I think we can all relate to the power of sin. We can relate to the struggle against sinful habits. We have experienced the discouragement and frustration that comes when we fall into temptation and sin. Perhaps that sin has become so habitual, so ingrained, that we don’t even see it as a sin anymore. Maybe we excuse ourselves away with statement like these: “I just don’t suffer fools.” “I have a temper, that’s who I am.” “I always speak my mind.” And in stating these self-identifications, we do not recognize the carnage that sin is causing in our lives and the lives of those around us.
Situations like that are difficult ones. Persistent sin is discouraging and it is damaging. We know we should not live like this. And yet telling ourselves to do better, to do things differently, to do more things like praying and reading the Bible, is often not sufficient. When we come face to face with sin, the question we want to ask is this: what will it take to bring true change at the core of our being? What will it take to bring heart change? You see, that is the kind of change that is necessary – not just new habits or new actions, but a transformation that happens at the center of who we are.
In looking for that transformation, perhaps we should ask ourselves another question: why do we sin? There are many potential answers to that question. We can defend ourselves and justify ourselves with our answers. But the question really only has one true answer. Why do we sin? Because we love the sin more than the Savior. The sin is greater in our affections than Jesus is. We prefer the self-righteous adrenaline of anger over a spirit of forgiveness. We prefer to think of ourselves than consider others ahead of ourselves. We love the satisfaction we get when we put someone else in their place more than the joy that is found in being gracious to others. Our sin is the result of what our hearts love most, and practically speaking it is often not the One who died for us.
Bryan Chapell, former President of Covenant Theological Seminary, shares some thoughts on this in his book Holiness by Grace: Delighting in the Joy that is our Strength. He notes that often the apostle Paul, as he is writing to churches and praying for churches, began with “knowing” rather than “doing.” He began by expressing to the churches what they knew before he shared about what they should do. He began by unpacking salvation and the wondrous gift found in Jesus Christ before he moved on to telling the church how to live in light of that gift.
All too often we are guilty of reversing that order. We put a lot of emphasis on doing over knowing. Doing can be a good thing, but truthfully, we cannot really do until we know. There is no real foundation to our action if we do not know first what Jesus has done for us.
If you are like me, your typical response to sin in your life goes something like this: I sin. I feel convicted. I confess that sin to the Lord. And then I pledge to try harder, to do more, to be more committed, etc. What would happen if we changed that response? What would happen if, after we confessed that sin to the Lord, instead of doing, we concentrated on knowing? What would happen if we focused our efforts on preaching the gospel to our hearts rather than trying to do better? What would happen if we targeted our affections rather than our habits?
The most powerful spiritual weapon a believer has in his arsenal is the truth of the gospel of Christ, the mercy of God as revealed in Jesus. What place do the truths of the gospel have in our hearts? In light of the gospel, what do we know about God and about us? Let’s be faithful in preaching the gospel to our own hearts. Meditate on God’s eternal love for you. On Christ’s humble birth. On his perfect, sinless life. On his selfless, substitutionary sacrifice. On his victorious resurrection. On his present and coming glory. Meditate on the blessings found in the gospel. Redemption and forgiveness. Reconciliation and adoption. Righteousness both now and for eternity. The gospel is the message that transforms our hearts. The truth of God’s love displayed in Jesus Christ is the only thing that can truly change our affections. If we want to have victory over sin, it starts with loving Jesus more that we love our sin. And that can only come when we invite the truths of the gospel to invade and transform our hearts.