“Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.“
One of the critical marks that distinguishes true Christianity from “Christianity in name only” is the lifelong struggle of believers against sin. As J.C. Ryle has said, “True Christianity is a fight.” The disciple who “abides in My word” (John 8:31) realizes with Scriptural clarity that the life of faith granted to us is one in which we fight against the incessant raging and heart-borne temptations of “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Though graciously blessed by Christ’s glorious redemption, we recognize ourselves as wretched men yearning to be set “free from the body of this death” (Rom. 7:24).
In simplest terms, the purpose of our salvation is to glorify God by being “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). Our Christian life of sanctification can be seen as rigorous, temporal, spiritual training in which our reflexes of thought and deed increasingly reflect the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to us, but not yet fully exhibited in us. We are commanded by Scripture and compelled by the indwelling Spirit “to be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Our pursuit of holiness, of Christlikeness, is the fight of the Christian life. It is true Christianity.
“‘True Christianity’—mind that word ‘true.’ Let there be no mistake about my meaning. There is a vast quantity of religion current in the world which is not true, genuine Christianity. It passes muster; it satisfies sleepy consciences; but it is not good money. It is not the real thing which was called Christianity eighteen hundred years ago. There are thousands of men and women who go to churches and chapels every Sunday, and call themselves Christians. Their names are in the baptismal register. They are reckoned Christians while they live. They are married with a Christian marriage-service. They are buried as Christians when they die. But you never see any “fight” about their religion! Of spiritual strife, and exertion, and conflict, and self-denial, and watching, and warring they know literally nothing at all. Such Christianity may satisfy man, and those who say anything against it may be thought very hard and uncharitable; but it certainly is not the Christianity of the Bible. It is not the religion which the Lord Jesus founded, and His Apostles preached. True Christianity is ‘a fight.” J.C. Ryle
That the Christian life is a fight, as Ryle notes, any genuine Christian will readily attest. Yet, though we are awestruck and full of praise that God gives us “victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57), we find ourselves at times failing in our fight. Though we have been “washed … sanctified … justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11), we yet remain in the flesh, and we yet sin. It is a fact of our progressive sanctification that the greater our grace-granted, Spirit-aided growth in holiness is, the more sin we come to see in ourselves. This humbling through holiness is well-captured by Robert Murray M’Cheyne: “The nearer you take anything to the light, the darker its spots will appear; and the nearer you live to God, the more you will see your own utter vileness.”
When we as believers sin, we are grieved. Our sin dishonors God, abuses Christ’s cross, and can have devastating effects on our walk, our witness, and our worship. Puritan Thomas Watson gave keen wisdom when he wrote, “Many think they repent when it is not the offense but the penalty that troubles them.” The heaviest weight on the genuine believer is not from the fear of penalty for our sin, but for the great offense our rebellion is to our God and our Redeemer. When believers sin, therefore, it is imperative that the knowledge of truth from the Word of truth be our guide, “for the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light” (Prov. 6:23).
Though We Sin, Salvation Is Irrevocable
One thought quick to flow across our minds after we’ve sinned is deliciously pleasing to the enemy, encouraged by him, and is the product of our natural, works-oriented minds. The notion that “a real Christian would never do that” presents itself as an indictment against us. “I must not really be saved” comes the accusation. Such a thought would be appropriate if our salvation depended on us. If we secured Christ’s redemption by our own efforts, our sin might rightly serve as a warning that we are not truly redeemed. But such a salvation is unknown to true Christianity. It is, rather, the status quo of false religions across the world which tout the works we must do to achieve God’s favor. It is not “the faith once for all delivered” which is only and always the pure act of God in love for us by the extension of His pre-determined grace upon us. We did not earn salvation by our noble efforts, neither can we lose it by the grievous sin we yet still commit.
Paul states it clearly: “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). Our salvation is grounded in the decree of God in His electing purpose. The apostle gives us glorious truth when he wrote to the Ephesian saints: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4). This gives great comfort and encouragement, even when facing a sin-borne accusation against our redemption. God chose us before time when we didn’t yet exist in time. Christ died before we’d ever committed any sin. Though this truth must not compel us to presumptively abuse His grace through intentional sin (Rom. 6:15), Christ’s historic act of redemption has blessed, favorably eternal consequences for us. Because our salvation required a “But God” moment on our behalf (Eph. 2:4), and not a “But Me” one, means our immutable God who never second-guesses Himself has granted to us an irrevocable gift. As John MacArthur has helpfully noted, believers persevere to the end because we were chosen from the beginning.
“God’s decree is the very pillar and basis on which the saint’s perseverance depends. That decree ties the know of adoption so fast, that neither sin, death, nor hell, can break it asunder.” Thomas Watson
Sin does not rescind our redemption, but interrupts our communion. While we know from Scripture that God does not answer the prayers of the unredeemed, it is also clear that unconfessed, unrepentant sin in the life of a believer hinders our Word-borne, prayerful communion with Him. The Psalmist wrote, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Ps. 66:18). In the Lord’s plea to Israel through Isaiah, the prophet wrote, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear” (Is. 59:2-3). Paul pithily wrote to the Romans that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Sin always separates. It separates the unbeliever from God in righteous judgment, and it separates the believer from Him in communion.
When We Sin, Return To The Gospel of Grace
The believer’s Scriptural duty in the light of his sin is one of grace, blessing, and encouragement from the Lord. The response we are to have when convicted of sin as a believer is the same as our initial, grace-borne, Spirit-compelled response when we were born again . We respond to the Gospel command to repent and believe (Mark 1:15). The apostle John issued heartening, inspired, Gospel instruction for the saints: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
“Be as speedy in your repentance as you would have God in His mercies: ‘the king's business required haste (1 Samuel 21:8).” Thomas Watson
Such confession and cleansing is evidenced for us in the “You are the man!” episode between Nathan and David, following the King’s adulterous sin with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah (2 Sam. 12). The Lord sent Nathan to David to confront him with his sin. When convicted of his evil deeds, David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:13a), to which the Lord, through his prophet, replied, “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13b). David’s contrite prayer for divine pardon is given to us in his penitential Psalm in which the “man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14, Acts 13:22), who had yet grievously sinned, recognized, confessed, and repented of his sin. Recognizing the dark treachery of his own wicked heart, and knowing that God alone could absolve him, David prayed, “Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit with me” (Ps. 51:9-10). David’s great concern is captured in his words, “Do not cast me away from your presence” (Ps. 51:11). Our sin will separate us from our Lord, but He is ever faithful and gracious to forgive when we turn in repentance to Him.
Though We Sin, We Have An Advocate
Just as David recognized that God alone could “purify” him of his sin, “wash” him from its soiling, and create in him a restored, “clean heart” (Ps. 51:7,10), so too is it imperative for the believer who has sinned to remember the great promise of Scripture about Christ’s active, eternal ministry for us. John’s first epistle, written “so that you may not sin” (1 Jn. 2:1), points us to Christ: “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 Jn. 2:1).
The quip is oft-repeated, but its jocular tone often betrays the depth of truth it conveys. MacArthur has said, “If you could lose your salvation, you would.” Because sin is imputed to us (Rom. 5:18), because it is inherent in us – “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5) – and because we actively engage in it – “I practice the very evil that I do not want” (Rom. 7:19) – we would, by God’s decree of death on sin, find ourselves incapable of keeping our salvation intact if we had been able to earn it in the first place. But “Jesus Christ the righteous,” our Advocate, “appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin” (1 Jn. 3:5).
The inspired author of Hebrews gives us divine truth about the great Advocate of the saints. “Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). On what basis are we told we may “draw near” in prayer to God’s throne? Because “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God” (Heb. 4:14). The sinless, substitutionary perfection of Christ in His priestly office for us is eternal: “But Jesus … because He continues forever, holds His priesthood forever. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:24-25). When we sin, we are to respond with gospel repentance, humbly turning to Christ who advocates for us with the Father.
Sin Brings Discipline, Not Condemnation
Because our Savior is also our perfect, eternal, righteous high priest who “lives to make intercession” for us, we are comforted by the inspired words of Christ through Paul: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Because we know that we have been saved by grace through gifted faith (Eph. 2:8), by Christ we have been made righteous and are no longer under the threat of God’s righteous, eternal condemnation for sin (Rom 7:34-35).
But though God has poured His wrath for our sin on Christ, and not us, does not mean that the Lord will not discipline us for sin in our lives. Indeed, “we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world” (1 Cor. 11:32). In Hebrews we are told that “He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness” (Heb. 12:10). From the wisdom of Solomon we are divinely advised, “My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord or loathe His reproach, For whom the Lord loves He reproves, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights” (Prov. 3:11-12).
As Christ Redeems, So Christ Restores
One of the most glorious claims of Christ in all the Gospels is also one which comforts the repentant believer. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Just as Christ alone is the only source of salvation, so too is Christ alone the only source of restoration for the sinning believer. Jesus saves (Acts 4:12), Jesus sustains (2 Cor. 12:9), and Jesus restores (1 John 1:9). The advocacy mission of His high priestly office on behalf of believers is one in which, by His Spirit, He convicts us of sin, compels us to confession and repentance of our sin, and in which He forgives us and restores us from sin. Though we are commanded to “stop sinning” (1 Cor. 15:34), and while our life-long fight is against sin, empowered by the Holy Spirit through His sufficient Word, when we have sinned, we have an ever-faithful Advocate who has forgiven us, will discipline us for our good, and has secured for us, by grace, a salvation which cannot be lost.
As we come to worship our Savior this Lord's Day, let us remember that His glorious grace by which we are saved is also the same glorious grace by which He extends to us forgiveness for sin, grants to us the gift of repentance for sin (2 Tim. 2:25), and restoration from it. Let us humbly worship Him from whose hand we cannot be taken, not even as a result of our own sin. Let us praise the Lord that His grace for us is no less than His grace shown to the thrice-denying Peter (Matt. 26). The question by which the Lord restored Peter is the question we must consider when we've sinned against the One who has given us “so great a salvation” (Heb. 2:3): “Do you love Me?” (John 21:15-17). For the genuinely redeemed, to whom forgiveness has been unthinkably granted by His sovereign grace and for His eternal glory, Peter's answer is our answer, “You know that I love You.” We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19)and, we know, nothing can separate us from His infinite and faithful love, not even our sin (Rom. 8:38). In this grand truth of His infinite and everlasting grace, so let us worship Him.