Don’t be too downcast when you fall into sin
(23) All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, (24) but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus.
So reads Romans 3:23–24 (CEB), a pertinent passage for the season of Lent, as now is a time for us to (among other things) confess our many sins to God and repent of them.
And let’s not pretend to be people we aren’t; you, me, him, her, them, we all have a multitude of sins to confess. All of us. There is not one human on the face of this planet who’s perfect, everyone knows that. Imperfection is part of the human condition, and imperfection means sin. We all do something wrong, just about every day for most of us. And we all know it.
These sins can take various forms, from minor little ones that your conscience barely takes note of, to more significant things that even give you pause before you do them. Some we’re aware of committing, others we might commit unknowingly and therefore habitually.
Why Are We so Sinful?
Why are things like this? For sins committed with the intention of gaining an advantage for yourself, for example, some might say it’s human nature to be looking out for our own self-interests, combined with how our modern society shapes us to act. Some others might say it’s our sinful nature and inclination towards sin as humans, resulting from original sin. Still others might say it’s merely weakness on the sinner’s part (and I don’t agree with that view, personally).
My opinion on this is really quite simple: Sins are delicious. We are souls living within vessels of flesh, and therefore sins of the flesh are so tempting to us. How else can we resist them besides God’s grace? The pleasures of the flesh (which are anything that stimulates any of the senses, food being the most common) are ever-present and perfectly designed to indulge the appetites of our fleshy nature, keeping us focused on the fleshy physical rather than contemplating the spiritual. Because the flesh and the spirit are opposed to each other; indulging one weakens the other (Galatians 5:17).
Now just because something is delicious or pleasurable doesn’t mean we must indulge in it. Although we will never be free of temptation as long as we live, there still might be ways for us to build discipline about avoiding certain ones, for example. One of my earliest Medium articles was on that topic, and you can read it here if you like.
But let’s be clear: failure to resist sin at some point is inevitable. We will all fail sometimes; we will all fall into sin — and perhaps even stay there for a while! No one is perfect like I said, and sometimes our strength and resolve fail.
Do not Be Discouraged, Do not Be too Downcast about Your Sins
I’ve already sinned during this Lenten season, with a sin that I’ve been trying to avoid. I felt extra bad about it because it’s Lent, the season when I’m supposed to be confessing and repenting my sins and doing penance for them. It’s not the season for adding more sins to the list! As usual I turned to Jesus Christ, confessing the same sin for the billionth time, asking for forgiveness for it for the billionth time. “I just feel like I’m going nowhere,” I thought. I felt like I must be pathetic under heaven’s gaze.
But I just so happen to be reading a book called The Imitation of Christ right now. This is a classic piece of Christian literature from the 14th Century; it’s a treasure trove of wisdom on how to seek Christ in the realest way. It’s been an enlightening, yet personally challenging read. What could be better?
In a chapter entitled “A Man Should Not Be too Downcast when He Falls into Defects,” a speaker named The Voice of Christ (much of this book is a dialogue between The Voice of Christ, a name used to represent the wisdom of Christ, and a disciple) points out how quickly humans fail at living virtuously. But He doesn’t condemn it, and at one point says regarding trials, temptation, and failure:
Remain tranquil and prepare to bear still greater trials. All is not lost even though you be troubled oftener or tempted more grievously. You are a man, not God. You are flesh, not an angel. How can you possibly expect to remain always in the same state of virtue when the angels in heaven and the first man in paradise failed to do so? I am He Who rescues the afflicted and brings to My divinity those who know their own weakness.
Wow! That was exactly what I needed to hear at the time. Indeed, why was I expecting I could get things perfect, Lent or not? I need to admit my weakness and rely on Christ, for my own strength is not capable of defeating temptation, at least not forever. It’s just as Christ says in John 15:5 (CEB) “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything.”
Although we shouldn’t seek it out, some amount of failure is inevitable. We need to put our faith in Jesus Christ and pray to Him so we can rely on His infinite strength, by means of His grace. If we don’t, we are powerless against our sins in the long run. The sins will get us eventually.
But don’t despair, because when we fail, we know that we can confess our sins to Jesus and receive His forgiveness. There is no sin that is too great for Jesus Christ to forgive through his sacrifice on the cross. To believe there is would amount to claiming there’s a sin that’s greater than the power of Jesus, which would be denying the divinity, power, and authority of Jesus Christ. The question of whether a particular person will be forgiven cannot possibly be known by us; we are not the judge, nor will we be present when the person is judged (for a slightly more fleshed out explanation of this with Scriptural backing, read my article about it here).
Anyway, for all my fellow sinners who may be reading this, read 1 John 1:8–9, take the words to heart, and be encouraged:
(8) If we claim, “We don’t have any sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (9) But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. (CEB Version)
If we put all our faith in Him, the forgiveness of Christ is ours if we repent. But let’s talk about repentance, and what it is and isn’t.
A Rough Guide to Repentance
As you may have noticed from the 1 John chapter 1 passage quoted above, confession is the first step to true repentance. What does the first step of a twelve-step program say? Something along the lines of, “The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one?”
No one on this planet is free of sin. Even common sense tells us that, in addition to Romans 3:23 which I opened this article with. If we claim, “We don’t have any sin,” we’re flat-out lying. And we can’t fool God. God sees all we do (Matthew 6:6) and He sees what’s in our hearts as well — our true intentions (Proverbs 15:11) which can be sinful.
Confession is the first step to true repentance, and forgiveness. In our case as Christians, we must confess our sins to our Lord Jesus Christ.
On that note, let’s talk about true repentance vs. false repentance.
Have You Repented? Answer True or False
To put it as simply as I can, I would describe the difference between true and false repentance as “being sorry” vs. “being sorry that you got caught.” Someone who’s truly repentant won’t just be sorry for any hurt or damage they may have caused by their sin — they will also be remorseful they did it in the first place, not because of any consequences they may have to face, but because they are remorseful of the act itself.
Someone who’s falsely repentant will say sorry with their lips, and they will most likely regret whatever consequences they face, but they won’t be remorseful of the sin. They might justify it to themselves thinking they did what they had to, and if they could try it again, they probably would. They don’t see the act itself as wrong, so they aren’t truly repentant before God.
Let’s imagine two people getting caught shoplifting, for example. Both get caught and confess to it, then they both face some consequences from earthly authorities. But one feels ashamed of the act and can’t believe they ever tried it, while the other justifies their attempt and perhaps even thinks of how they can try it differently next time. This is a good illustration of true vs. false repentance as I see it.
Next, as time goes on you should expect to see changed behavior from the one who’s truly repentant. Jesus said of people in Matthew 7:16 that “You will know them by their fruit.” In other words, don’t judge people by what they say, but rather by their actions. Anyone can say ‘sorry,’ anyone can claim to repent. But if they are truly repentant and hate their own sin, then you should see them change their ways too because they now scorn the act itself.
But let’s keep something vital in mind. We need to have the right attitude towards sin. Does having the gift of God’s forgiveness if we put our faith in Jesus and repent mean that we have a license to sin and then be forgiven?
Have the Right Attitude Towards Sin
This foolish saying seems to be a fairly common meme. Just because God is so gracious as to grant us forgiveness does not give us free reign to willingly walk in sin, thinking we’ll just go to Jesus later and be forgiven! That’s like trying to abuse God’s good grace. We have to try our best to reform our lives, to ‘change (our) hearts and ways’ as Christ phrases it in the book of Revelation. It’s our duty after being forgiven to rely on Christ as we try to overcome our sins and stop doing them. Romans 6:1–2 (CEB) explains it better than I can:
(1) So what are we going to say? Should we continue sinning so grace will multiply? (2) Absolutely not! All of us died to sin. How can we still live in it?
God’s forgiveness is an incomprehensible gift and we should never abuse it. If you’re a sinner like me, don’t you see the significance of being let off the hook on the day of your judgment? This is not a gift that everyone receives; it’s special and precious so we must regard it as such. When we’re forgiven, it’s a chance to reform our ways. God doesn’t forgive us of one sin so that we can run off and commit some others!
The fact that we are promised forgiveness is not an excuse for sinning or for not trying. We must try to resist temptation, we must try to overcome sin, and we must try to reform our lives.
We will never be free from sin and temptation as long as we live. Many passages in The Bible explain this. It’s just the reality of living in a fallen world and the sinful nature of our flesh. All humans are imperfect and bound to fail at times, falling into sin.
Jesus Christ knows this and has the power and authority to cleanse us of our sins if we put our faith in Him, confess, and repent. But to truly be forgiven, we have to be truly repentant; we have to scorn the sin itself and try our best to change our ways and overcome it, relying on Christ’s strength and grace in order to do so.
The gift of forgiveness offered to faithful Christians is absolutely invaluable … how can we even begin to describe its significance? This invaluable gift itself testifies to the goodness of our God. Therefore, we must never try to abuse or take advantage of it. God will not be mocked, and God’s forgiveness is not a license to sin.
Read my recent article on Lent here.