If we view God as “always loving,” can we be nonchalant about sin?
MercyMe, a great contemporary Christian band, is known for penning a number of songs about God’s grace covering sin. “Smile like you just got away with something,” croons the band. “Why? ‘Cause you just got away with something. Ever since, ever since grace got you.”
In another song, they sing, “No matter the bumps, no matter the bruises, no matter the scars, still the truth is the cross has made, the cross has made you flawless. No matter what they say or what you think you are, the day you called His name He made you flawless.”
We love the celebration of God’s amazing grace in these jaunty tunes. Yet we must keep the lyrics in proper context. MercyMe isn’t suggesting that sin doesn’t matter, but rather that despite our sin, God continuously desires for us to be reconciled to Him. Christ’s sacrifice doesn’t give us a free pass on our behavior. Our sin is still a HUGE deal to God.
C’mon, Does My Sin Really Matter?
God LOVES US fiercely — so wide and high and deep that we can’t fathom it — but He hates our sin. Grappling with sin isn’t easy. On Christianity.net, we found the following question about sin. The poor punctuation and grammar doesn’t stop us from clearly seeing the condition of the heart of the person posing it:
This person wants to honor God, but temptation has the upper hand. This poster received the following answer, which we’ve condensed just a bit:
“That you continue to sin in the same way should indicate to you that you need to work particularly hard in that area not to sin. Try to work out what situations, decisions, activities or friends lead you into this sin, and then take steps to avoid them. And if you fall into sin, turn back to God and ask for forgiveness and then keep trying — remembering that a day will come when it will no longer be a problem. God is always ready to forgive, but we must never get complacent about sin and think it doesn’t matter. Rather, we do whatever we can to avoid temptation and deal with sin when it happens.”
God’s Focus: Our Transformation
What is our proper response to sin? The first step, clearly, is agreeing with God that we have sinned. “But wait,” you might be thinking, “I’m not really sure whether I’ve sinned or not. I mean, my church never talks about sin.”
Many churches are choosing to sidestep addressing sin, so as not to offend anyone, so it can be hard to get a handle on which thoughts and behaviors God considers sinful. In his article The Fundamental Divergence: The War Between Biblical Christianity and Popular Thought, Dave Miller, a pastor, notes that many churches and pastors have wholeheartedly adopted the gospel of affirmation, which teaches that God loves and accepts as we are. Indeed He does, asserts Miller. But churches also must proclaim the accompanying gospel of transformation. God never wants us to stay in sin; He wants to partner with us so that we transform into better reflections of Christ.
Bottom line, says Miller: If we preach the gospel of affirmation without the gospel of transformation, we are basically saying that Jesus endured torture and death for nothing. Think about that: would it make sense for Jesus to have gone to such painful lengths, on our behalf, if God was lax about sin??? #nope
As we’ve said many times during this blog series, what Jesus did on the cross MATTERS. Jesus didn’t come to earth just to die, adds author and speaker Rick Thomas. “He had a higher vision.” Jesus wants us to follow His example; He wants us to get to the point where we, also, willingly die to self because of our love for Him.
Evidence of Our Heart
True change, adds Thomas, manifests itself as a penitent person actively pursuing these five attitudes and behaviors:
> One: You actively put off your former life.
> Two: You actively renew the spirit of your mind.
> Three: You actively pursue true righteousness and holiness.
> Four: You actively live these out.
> Five: You motivate and sustain your behavior because you love Christ.
Thomas reminds us that the apostle Paul “perceived the saint/sinner tension,” and understood that Christians do sin (1 John 1:7-9) because of our fallen nature. But he encourages us toward change (Romans 2:4).
Another question posted to the Christianity.net website gripped my heart as well, as I’ve had similar thoughts about whether God really offers me continual grace. (Have you?)
Wouldn’t it be utterly fantastic if our transformation to being like Christ instantly took place when we accepted Him as Savior?!
Unfortunately, our transformation is more typically a day-to-day, life-long process. And therein lies the rub: sometimes we choose to circle the mountain (repeat our sin) numerous times until we finally get tired of the result and finally decide to cease doing it. Even addicts have to reach rock bottom before they’re ready to ask for help. But God says it’s never too late for us. “Too much damage” already been done? No way, no how.
Understanding His Love
In his article 10 Things You Should Know About the Love of God, Garry J. Williams reminds us that we tend to quickly leap to the wrong conclusions about God’s love. This comes out very clearly, he writes, “when someone says something like, ‘If I were a God of love then I . . . ‘ The reasoning that follows is usually untethered from God’s wider portrayal of himself in Scripture. When we do this God becomes, in effect, just a massive projection of our own selves, a shadow cast onto a screen behind us with all of our own features magnified and exaggerated.”
Williams’ point: We are not free to pick up the ball of “God is love” adds and run with it wherever we will. “The statement,” he writes, “must remain tethered within its immediate context in 1 John 4, within the broader context of John’s writings, and within the ultimate context of God’s entire self-description in Scripture. The local context immediately reminds us of the connection between love and propitiation, which requires that we understand God’s love alongside his justice and wrath.”
When temptation beckons, it can feel so hard to live within God’s parameters. But we must remember that though we are sorely tempted by people, objects, and especially our own bad habits, God desires more for us. He promises us, in His Word, that if we are faithful to His standards, we will avoid so many of the life issues that derail, if not defeat lives.
It comes down to this: do we trust that God’s plan for us is better than what tempts us to sin?
In constantly encouraging us to “Be You!”, society pretends to have the power to validate our freedom to live within our personal view of “truth.” So it also demands that we accept and affirm the lifestyle choices of everyone — or it labels us judgmental and close-minded. But there is no equating society’s standards to God’s standards. God’s Word tells us that every single one of us is in need of repentance and transformation because of sin. What God says matters way more than what society deems to be appropriate. Here’s the thing: society’s standards continue to decline; God’s standards stay constant. And His standards, which are designed to protect us, stem from His LOVE.
Mirroring That Love Back to Him
Once we’ve gotten to where we’ll acknowledge our sin, we have to figure out a way to overcome it.
The right mindset, writes John Piper, requires us to move our motivation from trying not to mess up with sin, but to not sinning because of how deeply we love Jesus. Our loving Jesus becomes deep and foundational and transformative, as we begin to treasure Him above all things. “Christianity,” adds Piper, “what Jesus demands from us, is not most deeply and most fundamentally decisions of the will. That comes later. Deeply and most fundamentally Christianity is a new birth — a deep, profound transformation of what we treasure, what we love.”
God reminds us to “put on the armor of God” — truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, God’s word, prayer, alertness and perseverance — to keep our love and desire to please Him FIRST. We have to spend time in the Bible to stay connected with Jesus. The Bible is our life manual. (It’s really not the irrelevant, out-of-date history book you might think it is. It’s power! Open it!)
Truth: Mentally dwelling on our temptation only serves to cement our desire for it.
Picture sin as a slice of delicious chocolate cake. Got the image in your mind? Okay, now really examine the cake’s details. The spongey texture of the cake. The glistening of the gooey icing. The decadent aroma of chocolate. Now imagine how good it’s gonna taste in your mouth. You’re starting to salivate, right? Shoot! Now you’re full-on drooling! As you helplessly grab a fork, you fall, hard, into “But I couldn’t help myself from sinning!” mode.
But there’s a way to thwart this cycle: SLAM ON YOUR MENTAL BRAKES! With that first thought of cake, SHOVE the image out of your head like it’s a head of slimy broccoli that reeks. Ewwwww! We CAN develop this auto-reflex with practice. Baby steps can become big steps — even if the journey includes some painful falls. And God is right there in the process!
Sin. It gets into our brains, excites our emotions, then makes a mess in our life. The good news: God sees it all, but never tires of encouraging us to turn to Him for the strength to overcome. “With my help,” God says in His Word, “you got this.” Now that’s amazing grace!
This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!
If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.