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When we overly fixate on the sin, we will complicate the problem with some of these additional issues, like a “sin cloud” that gathers around the original problem.
When we overly fixate on what others did to us, we will complicate what they did with some of these additional issues, like a “sin cloud” that gathers around the original problem.
A sinful response to sin, regardless of who is guilty, will bring more trouble into your life and relationships. Part of our problem with sin is a lack of tolerance for it, coupled with a lack of expectation for it happening. It is like we adhere to a sin-free doctrine—a world where people are not allowed to make mistakes.
This miscalculation was my first disappointment with God shortly after He regenerated me. The next day at work, I lusted while looking at a woman. As I was standing there, I was thinking, “Why am I lusting at this woman? I asked the Lord to save me yesterday, and today I’m doing the same things.” I felt the sting of disappointment rising in my soul. What I did not know at the time was how salvation was the beginning of my change experience rather than the end of it.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).
Regrettably, the beginning and the end of my sin plan was salvation, thinking that was all I needed to do to fight my old nemesis. The temptation to get angry, lust, or depend on me was still active, even after the Spirit of God took up residence in me. I did not know about or understand the difference between positional, definitive sanctification and progressive, practical sanctification.
Progressive sanctification places a call on your life to put to death the deeds of your body until you receive a new one (Romans 8:13; 1 Corinthians 6:20, 15:50-58). While your identity is in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and you are seated in heavenly places (Colossians 3:1-4), your practical, functional sanctification is not complete. Though you have everything you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4), you are not entirely sanctified.
Some Christians focus on their identity in Christ as the be-all, end-all while forgetting James’s call to be doers of the Word, not hearers only (James 1:22). He says if our faith does not have works, it is dead (James 2:17). While there is much to enjoy and benefit from our positional completeness in Christ, we also have a fight on our hands.
There is a necessity upon all of us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We are not working for our salvation, but we are working out what the Lord is working in us. I did not know this when the Lord regenerated me. I was on the “be saved, be complete plan,” not knowing I would be in a fight against sin all my born-again days. My ignorance kept me perplexed and frustrated about ongoing corruption in my life and what I experienced from others.
Without a biblically appropriate sin awareness for yourself and your friends, you will always respond poorly to sin. The idea of coming alongside a fellow struggler in a spirit of gentleness to restore them (Galatians 6:1) will remain a grade level you will not attain because of a skewed perspective and application of the doctrine of sin.
The combining of positional and progressive sanctification implies that I have changed, but I have not entirely changed. You must own this truth, or you will sabotage your walk with the Lord as well as your relationships. This perspective raises an essential question for us to ponder: “I want to change, but why have I not changed yet?”
The truth is that the Lord has not removed all our sins and the sins of others from our lives. There can be several reasons for the doctrine of remaining sin in our lives. One of those is the Lord uses sin to humble us while creating a dependency within us to rely on Him rather than ourselves (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). Being in Christ and having a relationship with Christ is not primarily to overcome sin.
If our goal were to overcome sin or not be affected by sin, then sin removal would be our chief point of focus. This strategy could lead to all kinds of human-centered, self-centered contrivances. We could become performing legalists like Paul, who was probably the most righteous person of his day, though he did not know Christ (Philippians 3:4-6). He hated sin with a passion, but he missed the prize of Christ in all his Pharisaical holiness.
The primary purpose of being a Christian is to have a robust relationship with God and others (Matthew 22:36-40). It is not primarily about sin but about a relationship. Though this may be a subtle shift in your thinking, it will have a profound out-working in your life. The part sin plays in our lives becomes the instrumentality the Lord uses to press us into a deeper relationship with Christ and His body. This worldview, in a gospel-counterintuitive way, is the blessing and purpose of sin.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief (Isaiah 53:10).
This idea of the Lord using sin sinlessly should cause pause while reining in our hearts a little on how we think about the bad things He allows and even orchestrates into our lives (Genesis 50:20; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Sin is what drove you to God in the first place (John 3:1). Remember? The Lord used your sin sinlessly. You were broken by your sin (Psalm 51:17), grieved by your sin, desiring to overcome your sin. What did you do?
You cried out to God, and He came to you to give Himself to you (John 3:7, 14:6). Your sin was your motivation to find God so that you could mature in your relationship with Him. Sin does not have to be a relationship crippler. It could be the impetus to drive you into deeper friendships. The key for you and me is not to be sin-centered but Christ-centered.
Do you see your sin as your opportunity to know Christ more effectively? Let evil be part of what fuels your passion for the Lord (Philippians 3:10) rather than an obstacle that deflates and paralyzes you. With these things in view, let me walk you through three steps that will help you to see how God can use sin—yours and others’—sinlessly.
Sin is a reminder that we are not complete. This daily reminder should motivate us to press on to know Christ because we are not yet what we ought to be. This critical thought is vital when thinking about the things that tempt us to sin. Too often, when we sin, we choose evil reactions while blaming our circumstances or our relationships. This wrong move is wrong thinking that runs counter to the Word of God. (See James 1:14-15.)
If the presence of sin in your life causes you to look outward first rather than inward, you’ve missed the Lord’s purpose in allowing evil in your life. Focusing in the wrong direction will never help you to overcome your problems. If the cause of your sin is outside of you, then you will become a blaming victim who will never overcome what you say you despise.
You will become blind to the real need in your life. An outward look for the cause of sin will lead to bitterness and bondage. An inward identification of incomplete sanctification will lead to humility and freedom.
In every conflict in which you find yourself sinning, the first move is to own your sin before addressing whatever someone did to you. If you do not do this, you will never be able to strengthen your relationships. This wrong move will also immobilize you from being a restorer of others. There is a logical order to strengthening your relationships, which always begins with what is wrong with you (Matthew 7:3-5).
This kind of humility will set you up for God’s ongoing, unending, unmerited favor in your life—He gives grace to the humble person (James 4:6). If you don’t pursue Christ to change you first, you are misjudging your present circumstance. This kind of sober self-awareness of the genuine need of your heart releases you to change. Knowing you are not perfect should not discourage you but motivate you to run deeper into Jesus. This insight is appropriate gospel awareness:
I’m not perfect, and the circumstances in my life help me to identify what needs to change within me.
There is a prize before us, but we tend to look backward. We pay attention to what others did to us rather than what the Lord wants to do in us. Looking back while walking forward will cause you to run into a tree (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul had a way of looking at life that freed him to be more than a conqueror through Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37; Philippians 4:13; 2 Corinthians 12:10). His goodness and badness served as the fuel that pushed him deeper into his Savior (Philippians 3:4-8; 1 Timothy 1:15).
I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).
The prize is to be like Christ. Paul wanted the Lord to transform him into the image of Jesus more than anything else. That was his singular and tenacious aim. He did not focus on sin but on Christ. He thought about what he wanted to become. We must learn this lesson. Whatever you want to become is what you will spend your time focusing on (Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34).
This lesson is one of the hardest to teach hurting people. They are so dialed in to the sin in their lives that they cannot see the yearning Savior, the only prize worth savoring. They have another prize in mind—a prize designed to feed their deepest longing, which is not the Savior. Paul chunked all of those things, counting them as manure (Philippians 3:8), because he found something that surpassed all sublunary loves (Luke 14:26).
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).