Everything in me wanted to attack. After how I had been mistreated—by a friend no less—no way did I want to absorb the pain. Quite the opposite; in my sinfulness, what I really wanted was for her to hurt too. I wanted her to pay for how she had wronged me.
On the other hand, in my anger and hurt, I really did not want to sin. I wanted to be careful not to say or do anything that would be un-Christ like. I wanted to be forbearing, gracious, and forgiving. But I was afraid that because of how hurt and angry I felt, my contrary nature would win out.
An Ongoing Struggle
This internal conflict is the reality of being in the Spirit, and also living in a broken and fallen world. Through faith in Christ’s redeeming work for us at the cross, we’ve been set free from the power of sin, yet the presence of sin still remains. This means we will continue to deal with these dueling natures within us until we are glorified. Too often though, it seems there is no battle; the flesh just wins out. Like Paul in Romans 7, I identify with the desire to do what is right, but then going on to do what I don’t want to do instead.
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:18-20)
Despite what today’s popular Christian teaching would have us believe, an ongoing struggle with sin is the normal life of a Christian. But we tend to think we should always be getting better and better. By this I mean, sinning less and less. Yet, like Paul, and every other believer, the same sins we’ve been trying to put to death for as long as we can remember may continue to be a thorn in our side. If not a particular besetting sin, then something else!
While this sounds discouraging, Barbara Duguid, in her book Extravagant Grace, helped me understand it is in this ongoing struggle that we see more of our need for Jesus. Without the struggle—if the Lord had instantly removed all our sin and made us sin-free—we wouldn’t know the truth of “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) and would likely boast not in Christ, but in our own strength. It seems upside down, but it’s true. When we see more of our need of Jesus, and deal honestly with our sin, we’ll then see evidence of our growth in the Christian life.
Part of “seeing our sin” includes knowing what we are capable of, which in turn drives us to live in greater dependence on Jesus. “For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:10).” It is here, I keep finding myself. On the one hand, it’s not fun to see how weak I really am, yet at the same time, I am encouraged. I was once unaware of even my desire to sin (as evident in the that fact I wanted to make my friend pay for hurting me in the account above), and therefore lived oblivious to my self-righteousness. To now see more and more the extent of my sin is a good thing, for it makes me quicker to turn and call on Jesus for help.
In the thick of feeling hurt and angry from being mistreated, I came across this passage:
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24)
Only God can keep me from giving into my sinful desires. He is the one who will keep me from stumbling. If it were up to me alone, I would fail. This was such a great reminder at just right the time. It shifted my focus from building my case of self-justification and preparing my attack against my friend to instead reorienting my thoughts to prayer for protection from the enemy’s rule and the sinful desires of my heart.
What struck me in this passage is how amazing it is that he presents us as blameless when it’s all him! Nothing in and of myself is blameless. It is the Spirit’s work within me that keeps me from stumbling. Even more amazing is the truth that even when my flesh rules out, God still counts me as blameless!
This is amazing grace: God’s goodness to the guilty. I don’t deserve it; none of us do. But the more I know my sin, the more I realize the enormity of what God has done for me in Christ. And herein lies the power to change our affections and lead us to extend grace to others and to be people who turn the other cheek instead of fighting to be right, heard, or understood. When that happens, we know without a doubt, it is the Lord at work in us, and not we ourselves.
Now to Him who is able!
About the Author:
Kristen Hatton is the author of The Gospel-Centered Life in Exodus for Students, Face Time: Your Identity in a Selfie World and Get Your Story Straight. In addition to her own blog, she frequently contributes to the Rooted Ministry and Women’s Ministry enCourage blogs, and recently started Redemptive Parenting on Instagram. Kristen lives in Oklahoma with her pastor husband and is the mother of three teenage/young adult children. Learn more by visiting her website at www.kristenhatton.com.