Recently I’ve been thinking about a situation that happens all too frequently in churches across America, especially in youth ministry. Let me set the scene:
It’s Sunday. Worship went smoothly in the morning. Everyone mostly kept to themselves during the service, other than some brief mingling out in the commons before and after. Small groups and home bible studies met later that day or perhaps early in the week. Good turnout. Great discussion. Prayer requests – yep, lots of them. Prayer for Jim’s friend Tommy, Bob’s broken finger, Aunt Sue’s pet bird, the family that someone “kinda” knows who’s having a rough time with something that you don’t really know what it is…you get the picture. Prayer – done. Boom, everyone leaves. And as you’re walking out, one of your friends seems to linger outside. Under the cover of darkness, he/she approaches you. In a shy voice, they start to make polite conversation. Just when the conversation begins to lull, they quickly give two glances to the right and the left. Then, they say it. “Hey (insert name here), could you be praying for me? I’ve been struggling with sin lately…”
Wow, a sinner in our midst! The truth finally comes out! You glance into the distance, half-expecting a bolt of lightning to flash across the sky and rain to fall on the ground. What do you say?! How do you respond?! “So, you struggle with sin?…”
What? Not what you were expecting? Let me explain:
First, I suppose I should clarify to those of you who are offended already – I would never actually say this to someone who comes to me with a struggle. I don’t mean it in an insensitive way, or to be condescending. Sin is bad. It pains me. I long for a world in which it is gone. However, here’s the point:
Sin is bad, but struggling with sin is, well…good. In fact, if you’re not struggling with sin, then you’re either already in Heaven, or you’re not a Christian.
Think about it. If I’m talking to you here on this earth, and sin is not a problem for you, then something is terribly wrong. This means you’re either unaware of your sin, or you don’t care about your sin. 1 John 1:8 says “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.” As Christians, we should be very aware of the sin in our lives.
For us to admit that we’re struggling with sin shows that we are aware of it. This is actually a sign of saving faith. God’s light reveals to us reality. We see the truth and goodness of God, and consequently we are able to recognize things that don’t match up.
Now let’s turn to the key word in our phrase: struggle. A struggle indicates that there is resistance being shown. There is a fight. Alternatively, if there is no struggle, then there is no resistance.
We are controlled by things that we don’t resist. They have complete power over us. This is true for anything, and certainly for our sin.
This is why the Gospel is so powerful. Romans 6:11 says, “So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.” He has set us free from the power of sin. It no longer controls us. This doesn’t mean that sin goes away. Yes Jesus forgives us and we are seen as righteous in God’s eyes, but sin is still very present in our lives. We still have a sinful nature. However, it does mean that we have the necessary tools to struggle against it and to be victorious over it.
Let me put it this way: Without Jesus, we are controlled by our sin and struggle with God. With Jesus, we struggle with sin and are controlled by God. There’s a huge difference. We receive the inheritance of what controls us. Controlled by sin = death. Controlled by God = life.
The only time we will struggle with something, is when we think we can win, or if we can see some type of victory in store. Once again, this is true for just about anything. As Christians, we are able to struggle with sin because we know that we can be victorious over sins in our lives, and we can take comfort in knowing that there is ultimate victory because of what Jesus did for us. Otherwise, there would be no point to the struggle, would there? You would be fighting a losing battle. However, we also need to ask ourselves – are we really struggling? Are we putting up resistance, or do we no longer care? Perhaps we need to be reminded to set our eyes not on the battle itself, but on the victory.
My best advice? Keep struggling with sin. Sin is bad, but the struggle is good. There will be victory for us. You are not fighting a losing battle, but a winning one.
So if struggling with sin is good, and is in fact expected by us as Christians, then why are we so afraid to admit that we struggle? Trust me, I’ve stood in the place of both people from the scenario I described earlier. I’ve been the guy who was afraid to admit that he was a sinner. I’ve been the guy who thought Christians were supposed to be perfect. I’ve been ashamed of my blatant hypocrisy.
The real problem though, was that I didn’t admit I was a hypocrite. See, when the world looks at Christians, their biggest complaint is not that Christians sometimes do bad things. Rather, it’s that Christians don’t admit that they sometimes do bad things. And that makes all the difference. Maybe we should stop acting like we’re perfect, and start admitting that we struggle with sin. We don’t need to be embarrassed. We don’t need to wait until everyone else leaves the room. We don’t need to hide under the cover of darkness. Struggling with sin is good. God’s power is on display when we declare that He can use bad, broken people to do good, holy things – when our lives can be examples of miraculous change and victory. And how does the victory come?
Through prayer and through people.
It’s amazing how God works. If we don’t confess our sins and our brokenness to each other, then it’s awfully hard to heal. Now, I’m not saying we should blurt out our deepest darkest secrets to everyone, but I do think that we should be more willing to admit our brokenness. I do think we can ask for others to pray for sin in our lives (whether we mention specifics or not).
This is my challenge for us as Christians. Just admit that we struggle with sin. It’s not a bad thing. That’s it, simple…but hard. To do so, we have to overcome our pride, and that’s a mountain that isn’t easy to climb. But if we dare to do it, the impact will be great – defeat to victory, shame to confidence, judgment to understanding, and hurt to healing.
“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” – Romans 8:1-2
Without Jesus we are controlled by our sin and struggle with God. With Jesus, we struggle with our sin and are controlled by God.