The Sin Problem
Wouldn’t it be great if the moment you became a Christian all temptation to sin suddenly disappeared? Unfortunately that is not the case, and if you have been a Christian for more than a few minutes, you have experienced this firsthand. While Christians everywhere know that sin doesn’t evaporate with their new life in Christ, it does create a significant problem as we try to walk in obedience to Jesus.
Now that you’re a Christian, what do you do when you mess up? How are you supposed to feel? Who are you supposed to tell? How are you supposed to change?
Many high school students feel like they are stuck in their sin, and they struggle to see a way out. And this is not just the high school experience. Many Christians feel this way. Maybe you’re there right now. I know I have been there. You feel overwhelmed by the pressure to obey God’s Word, but hopeless to conjure up enough willpower to actually make any changes in your life. But you don’t have to feel hopeless.
The truth is there is hope in the gospel. The truth is there is now no condemnation if you are in Christ (Romans 8:1). The truth is you are no longer a slave to sin, but a slave to Christ and to His righteousness (Romans 6:17-18). The truth is even as you are fighting your sin, God is working in you, making you more like His Son (Philippians 2:12-13).
Maybe you believe these truths, but still find yourself struggling to make and see changes in your life. Perhaps you are trying to solve your sin problem with a solution that wasn’t meant to actually solve the sin problem.
Solution Through The Law
When we sin, one of the first things we often feel is guilt and shame. Now, at first, this is an appropriate response to sin. We should be grieved when we sin. Sin is contrary to our perfect God and is the cause of our separation from Him. Our guilt of sin should lead us to repentance and acceptance of the gospel. But once our lives are hidden inside of the gospel there is no more room for guilt, shame, or fear.
So what happens if we fail to truly understand our reality, that we are forgiven sons and daughters? When you walk too long down the road of guilt and shame you are tempted to do two things.
First, you are tempted to hide your sin. Guilt and shame are powerful emotions that keep you from being authentic and vulnerable with the people around you. But this is very dangerous. Hiding your sin is one of the most deadly things a Christian can do. Sin thrives in low light environments. If you keep your sin in the dark, you will fail to experience the forgiveness that Jesus can offer and will find yourself trapped in that sin for much longer than you ever wanted.
But I understand; it only happened once. You’ve got it under control, or at least you’ll get it under control. I have had those same thoughts too many times to count.
The second temptation will be to fix yourself up a bit, to earn back what you lost and then start fresh. Put enough time between you and your sin, and things will be back to normal soon enough. So you try to work a little harder. You set up some extra guardrails and guidelines to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But when you do this, you are obeying out of obligation to earn back the salvation that you feel you lost. And the next time you sin, the dam will break and those old feelings of guilt and shame with come flooding back into your soul, drowning you in the process.
This is the cycle of sin and shame that we often find ourselves in. We sin, we feel overcome by guilt and shame, we try to fix ourselves and clean up the mess we made, only to sin again. The cycle continues, throwing us deeper and deeper into sin and shame.
The law cannot save you; it was never meant to. And you cannot save you, but there is someone who can.
Solution Through The Gospel
When you sin, instead of allowing yourself to get overcome with guilt and shame which leads to concealing your sin and a lack of authenticity, bring your sin into the light and the bright rays of the gospel burn it up. Remember that you cannot save yourself, but Jesus can. Remember that instead of guilt and shame, you get grace and forgiveness. When you remember the grace and forgiveness that you have in Jesus, instead of hiding your sin, you have the courage to bring it out into the open and confess it to your community. Not hanging your head in shame, but raising your hands in worship to the King who forgave you.
Confession, repentance, and the gospel all work together. When you repent of your sin and remember the gospel, you are emboldened to confess your sin to your small group or community. When you confess your sin to others, they remind you of the grace and forgiveness found in the gospel and urge you toward repentance.
Once you have reminded yourself or someone else has reminded you of the gospel, you get to continue striving for greater obedience to your God and King. But now your obedience is not driven by obligation but gratitude and joy. You have been forgiven yet again, and it is as if you are experiencing the moment Christ first saved you all over again. Now you are full of excitement and joy, desiring to serve and please your Savior.
Now you will still sin, and when that happens, you remember the gospel yet again. Sin, confess and repent, remember the gospel, pursue obedience as a free son or daughter, repeat.
So if you feel stuck in the cycle of sin and shame, one of the first steps you should take is to find a small group of people you can trust and confess your sin to them. Allow them to share the gospel with you again and remind you of all Christ has done. Experience His grace and allow Him to lift you back to your feet so you can continue to walk in obedience. You will still sin, but the more you repeat this cycle of the gospel, the more you will fall in love with your Savior and the more sin will become distasteful to you. God will continue to grow in you and change you to become like His Son, and one day, he will finish His work and you will finally be complete in the presence of the perfect God who saved you and changed you.
Confess your sin. Don’t let it remain hidden in the dark and grow out of control. Remember the gospel. Jesus saved you when you could not save yourself. He took your punishment on Himself so you can live in freedom from punishment and sin. Obey out of gratitude. Strive to obey Christ, not to earn salvation, but because Jesus has already given you salvation. And when you sin, repeat.