What to do About Those Gosh Darn Nagging Sins

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“…because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” ~Romans 8:2

I love this verse, and yet sometimes I don’t see it as a reality in my life. I know that through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, I am supposedly “set free” from the law of sin and death. But it leaves me to wonder why there times when I don’t really feel free.

As much as I hate to admit it, I experience character flaw flare-ups from time to time. You know, those recurring nagging sins that you think you’re “over” only to have them come back again days, weeks, months or even years later? My most recent one was impatience. It’s something I have worked and worked on, prayed and prayed about and have even experienced God’s transforming grace over the years. But just when I think I am totally over the impatience thing, BOOM, it flares up again out of nowhere and I feel like I am back at square one. Whatever our flare-ups are — an angry outburst, a jealous rage, a quiet envy, a lust for physical affection, a paralyzing fear, a giving into too much food or alcohol — we all have them. So what are we to make of them, in light of the truth that through Christ, we have been set free?

Sometimes, when we are experiencing the recurrance of nagging sins, it’s easy to think we must not be “doing enough” spiritually or else we wouldn’t be struggling as we are. But as we go back to God’s Word, and hang out a bit more in Romans 8, it becomes clear: it really isn’t about us doing more in our relationship with God so that we can be more free. But it’s about letting the truth of what God did once and for all, through Jesus, seep deeper into our hearts and souls:

“For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who…live according to the spirit.” ~Romans 8:3-4

Did you catch that? God did it. God. Did. It. All of it. It’s done. It’s finished. There is nothing we can do to change our right standing with God. We are no longer condemned by our own sin, as we were before Christ was sent to die in our place. See, before Christ came, the Israelites were given the law to live up to. But since they could not live up to it, thus failing to fulfill the righteous requirement of the law, it meant they had to be condemned. Without going into too much detail, the Law was basically given (by God through Moses) as a temporary solution to the human problem of sin, but it was never meant to be the permanent solution to sin. It simply exposed human sin, and therefore paved the way for a permanent solution: Jesus. Jesus was sent to take on all of the world’s sin — including ours — and receive the punishment that we deserved, so that we could be forgiven for our sins and enjoy a direct relationship with our Father…for eternity. Through Jesus then, we can see that we have indeed been set free…but from what? The punishment of sin, not sin itself.

So what does this tell us about sin in our lives?

It helps to introduce the “already…but not yet” concept here as it relates to sin. Jesus was sent to stand as a substitute for us, taking on our sins so that we could be forgiven and enjoy eternal life in the presence of our Father. That has already been done. It’s finished. We are free from condemnation (Romans 8:1). Rejoice!

BUT…

It does not mean we are entirely free from sin itself. While we are free from the eternal punishment of sin through what Christ already did for us on the cross, the fact is, we still live in a sin-stained world.

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. ~Romans 8:10

Our bodies are still awaiting total redemption when Christ returns. That is the “not yet” part.

...but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for…the redemption of our bodies. ~Romans 8:23

I don’t know about you, but I find this Romans 8 section extremely comforting. It somehow gives reason to the presence of nagging sins in our lives from which we so badly want to be free.  It doesn’t mean we give into them, saying “Oh well, I guess I’ll have to live in defeat of this sin.” Heavens no! When we continue in Romans, we learn of a great gift we have been given to help us in overcoming the sin that so easily entangles us.

“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his spirit who lives in you.” ~Romans 8:11

The very same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, is the very same Spirit living in us, NOW. Wow, think about that. We have access to that power to rely upon and call upon in our moments of struggle and weakness in overcoming our various sins and character flaw flare-ups. This is the promise that gives us our hope in overcoming the sin that still is at work in this world, threatening our mortal bodies, be it selfishness, pride, jealousy, anger. None of these things have the final say. Knowing this truth — that the Spirit will help us in our weakness — and believing it, means we must actively live by it, as Paul encourages the Romans.

“Therefore, we have an obligation — but it’s not to the flesh to live according to it. For if you living according to the flesh, you will die. But, if by the Spirit, you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” ~Romans 8:12-13

Our obligation is to live by the Spirit, not our own flesh. Practically speaking, what does that mean? It means…

  1. Calling Upon the Spirit for Help. When we are facing moments of weakness or temptation, we can call upon the strength of our Father and the Spirit that has been given to us overcome. “Lord, will you help me respond to my husband with patience…will you keep me from turning to food for comfort…Lord, please help me in my weakness!” No thing can separate us from the love that is in Christ (see Romans 37-39)!
  2. Soaking in the Truth of God’s Word…Daily. When we are constantly soaking in God’s Word, the Spirit simultaneously nourishes, strengthens and feeds us with His Truth and fills us with His presence. This is one way to be “filled by the Spirit” and we will experience the “fruits of the Spirit” manifesting more powerfully in our lives as a result (see Galatians 5:22-23). Make it a daily habit of spending time with God and communing with Him through reading and meditating on His Word each day.
  3. Embracing the “Already…but not Yet” Tension. It’s easy to fret about sin and allow the especially nagging ones to get us down, discouraged and full of doubt. “Am I even saved?” Living by the Spirit means constantly thanking God for the work He has already done in Christ, and thanking Him also for the total redeeming work that has not yet come with Christ’s return. Allow your nagging sins to serve as little reminders that total redemption of our bodies and total freedom from sin is on the horizon!

Prayer:

Lord, thank You that even if I struggle with persistent nagging sins, I am not condemned because Jesus already removed the eternal punishment I deserved. Lord, though my body is still subject to death until the day of redemption, I will see it as an opportunity to wait on You patiently for what has not yet occurred. I gladly and eagerly await the day where my body will be totally and completely free from the grips of the dark and ugly forces of sin still operating in this world and lurking in my life. Until then, grant me hope for new levels of freedom as I rely upon Your strength, wisdom and power, not my own. Sustain me, o Lord, and give me grace where I need it most, enabling me to walk more and more in the beauty of Your holiness each day. Amen.

*For an more in depth and thorough explanation of  meaning of the cross and why Jesus
had to die, I recommend John Stott’s Cross of Christ.

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