Ugh. I went a little long on today’s post, but bear with me as I could kinda use your help. I’m going to be totally transparent here in saying I’m having a little trouble with the My Utmost for His Highest devotional dated 8/15/12. Particularly the last paragraph of that day’s entry:
“Whoever has been born of God does not sin. . .” (1 John 3:9). Am I seeking to stop sinning or have I actually stopped? To be born of God means that I have His supernatural power to stop sinning. The Bible never asks, “Should a Christian sin?” The Bible emphatically states that a Christian must not sin. The work of the new birth is being effective in us when we do not commit sin. It is not merely that we have the power not to sin, but that we have actually stopped sinning. Yet 1 John 3:9 does not mean that we cannot sin— it simply means that if we will obey the life of God in us, that we do not have to sin. (www.utmost.org)
Let me take this passage in reverse and unpack it as I see it. Maybe you can help me come to some understanding of the problems I’m having. First off, “Yet 1 John 3:9 does not mean that we cannot sin— it simply means that if we will obey the life of God in us, that we do not have to sin.” Okay, I get that. In fact, as I understand what Mr. Chambers is saying here, it is the very essence of the saving grace of Christ: My belief in Christ as being who He said He was, that He went to the cross, died for the sins of the world (including mine) and rose again on the third day, therefore MY sins have been nailed on the cross with Him ~ past, present and future.
Does that mean I am free to sin now? As Paul would say, “By no means!”
But! Does it mean I have now been given supernatural ability to NOT sin?
Is that even possible?
The Utmost devotional goes on to say, “The Bible emphatically states that a Christian must not sin.” Okay, I get that too. Both Jesus and Paul say that . . . several times: Not that those who follow Christ WILL not, but they MUST not. (That’s a key point for later.)
Chambers also says, “The work of the new birth is being effective in us when we do not commit sin. It is not merely that we have the power not to sin, but that we have actually stopped sinning.” Um . . . wait a minute. Let me run the antithesis of that statement, because by my understanding, if it is true one way, it should be true the other way: If we haven’t stopped sinning, it is because we do not have the power not to sin. And, if we commit sin, the work of the new birth is not effective in us.
Problem #1: If THAT sentence is true–yet we earnestly accepted Christ’s saving grace into our lives–what happened? Why isn’t the “new birth being effective in us”? Did we do it wrong? Did we lie? Are we bad Christians?
Chambers says, “To be born of God means that I have His supernatural power to stop sinning.” Again, taking the antithesis of this: If I do not stop sinning, I do not have His supernatural power, and therefore I have not been born of God.
Problem #2: (Actually, it’s the same as Problem #1 . . .)
Lofty goals indeed, and damning consequences (no pun intended).
Again I ask; is this possible?
I suppose my sticking point on this subject is in trying to see these “inspirational” words through the eyes of a new Christian, or in fact, someone far from God, or someone who doesn’t even believe in a god. Asking these very same questions. Feeling these very same frustrations. I see these folks saying, “Well crap, I can’t do that.”
THEN they look around at the plethora of self-professed Christians of the world and say, “Well, apparently they can’t either.” And conclude with a hearty, “Why bother?”
This is why absolutes drive me absolutely nuts! We have set the bar so high it’s unachievable–not just for those far from God . . . but for us as well! And I emphasize, GOD didn’t set the bar that high, WE did! Or put another way, FAITH didn’t set the bar that high, RELIGION did.
Matthew 22:37“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (NLT)
“MUST not sin” is a goal that we should all strive for; out of a genuine love and respect for God and our neighbors (i.e. everyone else). Yet when we fall–and we will–thank God for the gift of Christ.
“WILL not sin” is a goal that is simply unachievable. If it were, the law would have been sufficient, and the gift of Christ . . . unnecessary. And Paul’s letter to the Romans would have never been written . . .
Romans 7:18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (NLT)