My husband knew a guy in college who claimed he hadn’t sinned for a year. He had found some religious group that showed him how to not sin, apparently, and this guy was completely serious about not sinning anymore. Sound preposterous? He’s not alone. Joyce Meyer, famous Christian author and speaker, believes the same thing. Perhaps you’ve seen the video clip where she publicly states that she has stopped sinning. (It’s only 31 seconds long- it’s worth the watch.) “I am not poor, I am not miserable, I am not a sinner,” she begins. (I guess she didn’t like the confession part of our service where we start out, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess to you all my sins…”) She goes on to say that if she was still a sinner, then Jesus died in vain. She further points out that she didn’t stop sinning until she got it through her thick head that she wasn’t a sinner anymore. “The Bible tells me I am righteous, and I can’t be righteous and a sinner at the same time,” she ends. Huh. Interesting logic. But here’s the thing- where is the focus when you believe you’re not sinning anymore? Are your eyes fixed on Jesus, or on your own good works?
Look, I have no qualms about admitting that I’m a sinner. I do it every day, often with great gusto. I don’t mean to brag or anything, but if there’s something I can do really well, it’s sin. I don’t even have to think about it most of the time. It comes naturally to me. And I’m guessing that if you’re being honest with yourself, you’d have to admit the same thing. I mean, hey, even the apostle Paul readily admits his own sinfulness. Remember that whole section in Romans 7 where he bemoans the fact that he doesn’t do the good he wants to do, but instead does the evil he doesn’t want to do? Or consider his admission in 1 Timothy 1:15- “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst.” He calls himself the chief of sinners, and this he wrote under divine inspiration, nonetheless! So if Paul wasn’t able to stop sinning, why should we be so bold as to think that we could overcome sin?
Now don’t get me wrong- I’m not saying that we should be complacent about our sins. We shouldn’t settle into a routine of blatant sinning knowing that we’ll be forgiven anyhow. There’s a constant tension in the life of a Christian. We know we should stop sinning, but we can’t. I know I should be patient and loving with my kids, but multiple times a day I lose patience with them nonetheless. It’s terribly frustrating, and each night I vow to do better the next day, yet that never seems to happen. The Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article III, about Repentance, says the following:
This [the Law] is God’s thunderbolt. By the Law He strikes down both obvious sinners and false saints. He declares no one to be in the right, but drives them all together to terror and despair. This is the hammer… This is what true repentance means. Here a person needs to hear something like this, “You are all of no account, whether you are obvious sinners or saints (in your own opinions). You have to become different from what you are now. You have to act differently than you are now acting, whether you are as great, wise, powerful, and holy as you can be. Here no one is godly.”
Ouch. That’s painful to hear. But that’s the Law at work. The Law is supposed to drive us to despair over our sins. It’s supposed to show us that there’s no way we can ever be right before God on our own accord. There’s absolutely nothing we can do to save ourselves. But we can’t stop there. The Smalcald Articles continue:
But to this office of the Law, the New Testament immediately adds the consoling promise of grace through the Gospel. This must be believed… Whenever the Law alone exercises its office, without the Gospel being added, there is nothing but death and hell, and one must despair… St. Paul says, through sin the Law kills. On the other hand, the Gospel brings consolation and forgiveness. It does not do so in just one way, but through the Word and the Sacraments… As Psalm 130:7 says against the dreadful captivity of sin, “with the Lord is…plentiful redemption.”
Aaaahhhh. And there’s the sweet comfort of the Gospel. If I believed I wasn’t sinning anymore, I wouldn’t need that Gospel assurance, would I? I could pat myself on the back and tell myself I was a true Christian because I had overcome sin. So if there’s a “good” side to being bad, it’s that my own sin and unworthiness drive me to the foot of the cross, where the most glorious exchange of all took place. There Jesus took my sin upon His sinless shoulders and gave me instead His righteousness. I can’t understand that. I don’t get it at all. It makes absolutely no sense to my human mind. Jesus became the most horrible sinner that ever lived as He hung upon that cross. And He did it for you. He did it for me. Don’t let yourself get caught up in believing you can ever overcome sin. Only Jesus did that. Instead, when you do sin, turn to Him for His unfathomable forgiveness and mercy. I can’t imagine better news.