Maybe you’ve heard or personally experienced this dilemma: “If I have accepted Christ and am a believer, then why do I still struggle with sin?”
This can be a devastating question for someone new or weak in their faith. We can begin to question: maybe my belief in Christ didn’t work and I’m not really saved… maybe I just need to believe harder… maybe I should just give up because no matter how hard I try, I still sin. Take a look at this issue throughout history and we quickly see we aren’t the first ones to struggle with this question.
Sadly, we won’t be the last either.
Why? Because of a subtle but important distinction in what our belief in Christ does for us, and what it does NOT do. I’m talking about the difference between birth and growth. (In more formal terms, justification and sanctification). So, what does our faith do… and not do?
Belief in Christ frees us from the PENALTY of sin: If we were to use a courtroom analogy, we receive a pardon, or a sentence of “not guilty” at the point of our belief. Because of what Christ did on the cross, we don’t get what we deserve.
Belief in Christ fress us from the POWER of sin: We are now free to choose another way. Sin no longer clouds our minds and judgment so that we see no other option. We can get guidance, counsel, strength, because of our relationship with God that has now been realigned.
But here’s the kicker: Belief in Christ does NOT kill sin. Consider every encounter Jesus has in Scripture with demons: in every case, the demons know exactly who Jesus is… in other words, they believe Jesus is the Holy One of God, but they still sin (e.g., Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34). In fact, they take sinning to a whole different level. They are demons after all.
Said simply, I am saved from the power and penalty of sin, but I am not free from sin. At least, not yet.
This is the stumbling block: so many people feel that belief in Christ should kill the sin within them. But then they sin… and for the life of them they can’t figure out why. And worse, they can’t seem to control it. Perhaps it’s shame, or embarrassment, or a feeling of hopelessness, but whatever the cause, the result is that people give up on their faith everyday because their expectation doesn’t meet the reality in their life.
There’s an important difference between believing and following. Think of it this way. Before knowing Christ, we live our lives in the prison of sin. When we believe and receive Christ, He comes and unlocks the prison door from the outside. But unless we open the door and follow Him outside, are we really free? We have to put movement in our faith. The movement to follow Him and not stay where He found us. I guess that’s why our faith is often described as our Christian walk!
So, what do we do about this? Here are two steps to get out the door:
1. Recognize the situation: Sin is still alive and well, so don’t let your guard down. Understand that while the door may be unlocked, you can’t stay in your cell and be truly free. Old habits and old haunts have to go. And don’t be surprised to find that your new-found freedom is only the first salvo in an ongoing battle.
2. Commit to follow Christ in every aspect of your life: This is a daily choice, but the good news is that you’re not alone as you strive to follow Christ. He promises the Holy Spirit to guide, teach, counsel, and encourage you. The difference between the demons and us is not what we believe, it’s about what we do with what we believe.
How do we do this? Well, you’ll have to tune in Thursday for my next post, “Saved FOR… what?” In the meantime, be encouraged… there is help for you today, in this moment. Praying a simple pray of belief with a commitment to follow will unleash the power of the Holy Spirit in your life.
You might say, all heaven’s about to break loose!
What has been your experience in this struggle? What advice have you provided to others who struggle with sin and belief? Use the comments to join the discussion!