Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Why Do We Struggle in Our Lives as Christians?

"The Prodigal Son"
by Rembrandt
Another question from my "Quora ministry."

Q: Why is it that I have a struggle in my relationship with Christ?I have my high and lows. I follow after God and love Him. I want to honor and glorify his name. Then, there are periods of my life I commit habitual sin. I repent. Turn. Then later go back to it. I am disgusted in myself.

A: You are going through the same struggle that all Christians go through — even the ones who seem to be paragons of virtue. I’m certainly still going through it and I’ve followed Jesus for some time. As Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” (Mark 14.38), and that struggle is still there even after we receive the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5.16–17). We have been justified -- made right -- by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross so (and this is important) God does not condemn us for our sins anymore (Romans 8.1–2). This means that shame is not part of the cycle anymore. If God doesn’t condemn us, then who are we condemn ourselves?

There is a stage after being justified, of course, usually called sanctification. This is the work of the Holy Spirit and, quite frankly, it takes all of your life. This is what Paul is referring to in the Galatians scripture I mentioned above, and what you and I are going through right now. Sanctification is an act of God just as justification is. Our part is to cooperate with the Spirit within us. How? By focusing not on our many sins but on love, because, “the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’” (Galatians 5.13–15, Matthew 22.36–40). Our motivation for everything should become love more and more because as Paul says, the only thing that counts really is “faith working through love,” (Galatians 5.6). And God himself “is love,” (1 John 4.8, 16).

 But becoming like God — which is what sanctification really is — is a lifelong project. Nobody does it right away — or even over decades. And as you say, there are habitual sins and faults and weaknesses that all of us have. So what if we have a moment of weakness and commit a sin? What if we slip back into committing some sin several times in our lives? Does God condemn us? No, he himself says that he does not. Should we be overcome by shame and disgust with ourselves? No, we are justified, forgiven of our sins and have been adopted as God’s own children.

 So what do we do about it? As soon as you realize it, do this: “Confess [y]our sins, [for] he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1.5–9). No drama, no shame. Just acknowledge you messed up, then go back to growing in love and working with the Holy Spirit in becoming more and more like Jesus.

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