“How on earth can a Christian commit that sin?” Have you ever heard someone ask this question? On the surface, it seems like a good one, doesn’t it? We’ve all heard of Christians, even preachers or pastors, who commit what seem like heinous sins. We are certain they should know better. But they’ve fallen. How on earth can they commit that sin?
But this is the wrong question. Read on to find out why.
The Wrong Question
This is the wrong question because the answer is so obvious that we shouldn’t even need to ask it. A Christian can commit that sin because a Christian is still human. A Christian is not perfect.
As Romans 7-8 points out, Christians are people who once obeyed sin and became slaves to sin (cf. Romans 6:16). Though now Christians are in Christ, they are still growing. This means they still mess up. Additionally, now that they are in Christ, they are special targets of the one who is seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8). Finally, the mere fact that Christians think to answer this question is part of the problem. I Corinthians 10:12 says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” When Christians think that being a Christian means they can’t commit a certain sin, they are in danger of falling over the principle of this verse. If your response to another Christian’s sin is, “How could he/she do that? I’d never do that,” watch out. Satan views that as an invitation to prove you wrong. Or even more subtly to let you believe you are right while defeating you with some other sin you deem not quite as bad.
Perhaps Christians know God’s law better, but that doesn’t mean they are immune to violating it. They are just more likely to know when they have. Certainly, as they grow in Christ, they should know better how to overcome. And that leads us to the right question.
The Right Question
How on earth can a Christian not commit that sin?
That is the question we need to be asking. When a person comes up out of the watery grave of baptism, they have become a new creation, but they are still the same person. That is, their sins have been washed away. They have been transferred out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. They have been raised to walk in a new life. However, they have the exact same background they always had. They have the same upbringing, the same baggage, the same tugs, temptations, and triggers. So, how can they keep from falling prey to them like they used to?
Certainly, they are riding on a spiritual and emotional high from their recognition of God’s love, but eventually that honeymoon ends and the real walk with the Master begins. Then the question really becomes how on earth can they not go back to their old sins?
Certainly, knowledge is part of it (Hosea 4:6; Psalm 119:11). I have to know the will of God, what is sinful, what is righteous. Otherwise, I’ll sin. But there is more to overcoming sin than that.
If I want to overcome sin, I must first recognize that I can’t overcome sin, but my God can. Sin is like Goliath on the battlefield. None of the Israelites could beat him. They all knew it. The difference between David and the rest of the Israelites was not the belief that they could not beat Goliath. They all agreed on that. The difference was that David knew God could. When I quit trying to prove to God that I can beat sin, and instead simply surrender to the God who can beat sin, I’ll overcome sin (cf. Ephesians 3:20-21).
This means I need to walk in God’s presence. I could simply say pray, but this is more than that. More than having a schedule of prayer, I want us to heighten that by recognizing God is with us. I Thessalonians 5:17 says we must pray without ceasing. But this is more than just checking off an action from our to-do list. This is understanding that if I am not connected to God, I’m going to die. He is here with me; I need to talk to Him like it. As I talk to Him with that understanding that He is with me, I change the direction I’m walking and the behavior I’m practicing. (cf. Ephesians 6:18).
Additionally, I need to seek out God’s ways of escape (I Corinthians 10:12-13). Too many times I’ve walked a path right up to the edge of sin protesting that I hadn’t done anything wrong yet, thinking that I would get off the superhighway to sin at just the last moment. It doesn’t work that way. If I want to avoid downtown Atlanta, I can’t pass the exits to the bypasses saying, “I’m not in downtown Atlanta yet.” I’ve got to take those bypass exits when they are available. In the same way, I’ve got to take the way of escape long before I’m knocking on sin’s door. Otherwise, I’m going to end up smack in the middle of sin with no defense or justification.
I need to cut off everything that leads me to sin (Matthew 5:29-30). Most of the time, our big, overwhelming, Goliath-like sins have a ritual. Guys who struggle with alcoholism and other addictions understand this. The ritual may begin with driving a certain way home from work that passes a certain liquor store or bar. Your sin may be fits of rage at your wife and kids. This may be preceded by wandering around the house looking for things to be mad about or going and spending an hour in your mancave watching the news that gets you all angry. There is nothing wrong with driving home a certain way or watching the news. But if this ritual leads you to your sin, chances are once you start the ritual, you are going to sin. Cut off the ritual.
Pack your bags for righteousness. I really get this from a combination of Romans 13:14 and Philippians 4:8-9. I must not make provision for my fleshly lusts. That is, I must not pack the bags for the trip into sin. Making provision for a trip and taking the trip are not the same things. Sadly, because of that, I often justify making provisions by claiming I’m not really on the trip. I think of the number of Christian men I’ve heard say they will go to the water park with women wearing their bikinis and just make a commitment not to lust. Certainly, I must leave room for the exceptional brother who can pull that off, but for most, hanging out with bikini clad women is packing the bags for fleshly lusts. Along those same lines, I’ve had to quit watching certain television shows and listening to certain songs because I know that at the end of them I’m always revved up in my fleshly lusts. I’m not saying they are wrong for everyone, but I’ve had to unpack them from my bags because they always lead me to sin. Rather, I need to pack my bags for righteousness. I need to think about, focus on, talk about things that promote righteousness. The bags I pack typically determine the trip I take.
I need to quit taking the journey alone (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Right now I’m thinking of a good friend of mine. I shared my struggles with him. In those moments, I was always ashamed because it seemed to me like he was so much better than me. He had it together and I was such a mess-up. He never shared his struggles with me. I thought that meant he didn’t have my kinds of struggles. That is, until I found out he was in the midst of an affair, was leaving his wife, and was turning his back on the Lord. After two years, he still hasn’t repented. I know this brother and friend. He is not living the life he most wants to. I know he is not. Unless he has simply cauterized his heart with his sin (which is a distinct possibility now), I know he is filled with guilt and shame. How did this happen? He was taking the journey alone. Even though I was right there, confessing my own sins and struggles, he never invited me or anyone else on his journey. Don’t make the same mistake.
And, finally, when I mess up and commit the sin I need to immediately turn back to God. Like Peter who upon sinking turned to Jesus and not back to the boat (Matthew 14:30), I need to turn back to Jesus when I’ve messed up. Jesus didn’t die to give me permission to sin. But neither did He die for me to feel so much shame that I just hang on to my sins. He died to set me free. He wants me to turn to Him so He can say, “Neither do I condemn you.”
What do you think?
These are just a few of the things I can think of off the top of my head. Please, drop down to the comments section and share other answers to the right question: “How on earth can a Christian not commit that sin?”