Have you ever felt trapped in sin—like there seemed to be no way out? Have you done something so terrible you think God can never forgive you or love you? Do you sometimes feel like you are irreparably bad and that change is impossible?
I once felt and thought this way, but now I understand differently. Take courage, there is hope!
Sin is a reality in all of our lives. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In the story of Bathsheba, David, “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) and God’s anointed king of Israel, fell into sin (see 2 Samuel 11). He coveted another man’s wife, committed adultery, plotted that the husband be killed and then lied to cover up the whole mess.
I can relate to David. The sin of adultery is one I also committed. I too had an affair.
Since that time, I’ve had 20 years to better understand a few things about sin and God’s life-changing love. I want to share those things with you—so that you can more quickly come to a place of repentance, restoration and transformation—in the arms of our loving Father.
The Bible clearly tells us that Jesus—the Son of God—died on the cross for our sins. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We in the church today understand that when we believe in Jesus, we are forgiven of all of our past sins.
But this article is not about the forgiveness of past sins; it is about being set free from future sins. It is about being set free from the propensity to sin. It is about dying to Adam’s old sin nature and taking on the new nature of Christ. Every single one of us—no matter how “good” our religious upbringing, group of friends or culture tells us we are—falls far short of the person God made us to be. Scripture encourages us to, “Put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:10). Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
But how do we do that? How do we get to that place where our minds are renewed, where we put on the new man/woman God created us to be, where we are fashioned after the image of Christ? Is such a place even possible this side of heaven? What, at the core, is the cure for our sin problem?
First of all, let me mention a few things that are not the solution.
Three Approaches That Will Not Bring Transformation
#1: We will not be set free from our sin by increasing its negative consequences. In David’s time, both adultery and murder were sins punishable by death, but that didn’t stop him. Think about people in your own life. Maybe someone you knew continued to drink until their liver failed. Maybe a neighbor ended up in prison for life because of illegal financial dealings. Maybe a friend had an affair that ultimately led to the splintering of marriage and the disintegration of family. Clearly, dire consequences aren’t enough to hold sin in check.
#2: Transformation will not come about by changing God’s definition of sin or making excuses for it. Yet, we all have a tendency to edit God’s laws. We can’t live with our sin; it creates a horrible discord within us. We hear this anguish raging in David after his affair with Bathsheba and before he came to God in repentance. “When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer” (Psalm 32:3–4).
From 20 years ago, I remember that gut-wrenching discord in myself. The Holy Spirit was convicting, but I was resisting.
One wrong way to reduce this anguish is by changing the definition of sin so that it does not apply to us. Satan tries to distort our definition of sin. He calls evil, good, and good, evil. Satan could not stop Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for our sin, but he can stop us from receiving the benefits of that sacrifice by telling us we have no need for it. “You are okay. That isn’t sin,” he hisses in the same sly voice he used with Eve. “Did God really say …?”
Another way to reduce the anguish is by whitewashing our sinful behavior by making excuses for it. “My husband was too busy at work.” “My mom was my best friend and she was dying.” “I needed someone to listen to me.” But the blood of Jesus does not cleanse excuses. It cleanses sin confessed as sin.
Beware the trap of rewriting the 10 Commandments or any of God’s laws to accommodate sin. Sin is sin. Painting it as anything else is hurtful to the person caught in the sin because it hides the real need for repentance and restoration. By refusing to call sin “sin” we mask the need for God’s complete, unconditional love that covers the sin and brings transformation.
#3: The solution is not to become rule-focused like the Pharisees. We are not supposed to try and prevent sin from expressing itself in our lives by putting more and more rules on ourselves. God doesn’t want us to try and keep sin bottled up inside so that it cannot escape. The Pharisees lived such lives and Jesus called them, “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27). Think about those words. The Pharisees looked clean and proper on the outside, but inside death lay hidden.
Jesus said, “You Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness …. Woe to you Pharisees! For you … pass by justice and the love of God” (Luke 11: 39, 42).
After the affair, I fell into the trap of cleaning myself up on the outside—while leaving the inside a mess. To keep the wrong behaviors from coming out of me, I slapped more rules on myself so the sin inside wouldn’t escape. “Keep your guard up.” “Never be alone with a man except your husband.” “Keep yourself so busy with other things that you don’t have time for it.” “Pray every morning that God will protect you.”
But good-intended rules can’t keep us from sin. That’s why God sent His Son! He intends that transformation come from the inside!
When I put more rules on myself, I put more rules on others too. After the affair, I became judgmental. I was on the look out for temptation and feared I would fall into it again. In fact, I become so sin conscious that I lost sight of Jesus.
At one point in his writing, Paul loses sight of Jesus in the mess of his sin. See Paul’s misplaced focus: “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:15–19). At the center of the word “sin” is the little word “I.”
But then Paul’s focus changes. He breaks free and writes: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! … There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (7:24–8:1).
By the end of Romans 8, Paul, who had persecuted and killed Christians, writes: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 38–39).
This gives us a clue to the solution!
We Set Our Eyes on Jesus and Trust in His Unfailing Love
God loves us and has our best interests at heart. Believing deep in the core of ourselves—knowing beyond doubt—that God loves us will allow us to lay our heart open before Him so He can clean us from the inside out. God will bring about transformation when we come to trust Him as really is—full of unfailing, unconditional love for us.
We see this transformation with David in Psalm 51. After Nathan came to him with the story of the poor man and his little lamb (see 2 Samuel, chapter 12), David saw his sin for what it was. Boldly then, he went to God and cried out, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love: according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1–2, NIV). “Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (v. 8, NIV).
David was able to throw himself on God’s mercy because he knew God’s unfailing love. He trusted God to “blot out” his past sins and he trusted God to “cleanse” him from the sin nature—so that he could be “whiter than snow.”
After the affair, I didn’t do what David did. I saw my sin and prayed to God to forgive me, but I didn’t open myself to Him for deep cleansing … because I was afraid … because I didn’t think that God could possibly still love me.
For six years, I condemned myself. The Holy Spirit convicts; Satan condemns. I was listening to the wrong voice, but I didn’t know it.
I felt that God couldn’t possibly love me after what I had done. But He did love me and He does love me. Our sin doesn’t keep God from loving us. However, Satan uses our sin to keep us from believing in God’s life-changing love.
I fell into the trap of thinking that I needed to work hard and clean myself up before God could love me. So, I tried to fix my sin problem from the outside—by obeying more rules and putting on “good” behaviors to compensate for the bad. I built strong walls around my soul to hide my sin from the world.
But walls built for hiding sin and keeping the bad from coming out also keep God’s good from coming in. With the walls firmly in place, I couldn’t receive God’s love for cleansing and transformation. And because I couldn’t receive God’s love, I couldn’t love myself or others. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19, NIV). And so, I became a hard, unyielding, self-righteous Pharisee Christian.
That was the condition I was in—still going to church, but unable to receive God’s love—when a wise, old, Christian friend told me, “Mary, you don’t love.”
The moment she said those words, I knew they were true. The first few verses of 1 Corinthians 13 flashed through my mind. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angles, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”
With sudden, sickening clarity I realized I was just a loud, irritating noise-maker. All the “good” things I had been doing were worth nothing. I slumped onto the floor and prayed, “God whatever it takes, work your love into me.”
That was 14 years ago. Since then I have learned …
God loves me unconditionally and always. My bad behaviors don’t make Him love me less. My good behaviors don’t make Him love me more. He loved me before I became a Christian … before I was even born. He loves each one of us with infinite, unwavering love. His compassion extends to all. He loves Muslims, Christians, atheists, gays, straight-people, transsexuals, drug dealers, pastors, child molesters …. We simply can’t get our heads around God’s kind of love.
Human love is fickle. It gives up if pushed too far. It wants to be paid back. Human love sulks when it doesn’t get its way. It seeks to stop the sin before it will embrace the sinner. It often whitewashes sin, or calls it acceptable, before it will befriend a sinner. At other times, human love, for fear of being labeled intolerant, comforts the one trapped in sin while ignoring the underlying sin itself.
But God’s love is an unchanging reality. It is truth. God hates sin. He hates sin because it destroys the people He loves. God hates sin, but He loves each and every sinner. And as we embrace this truth, it begins to change us from the inside out.
As I began to understand more of the depths of God’s love for me, it gave me the courage to go to God and open my heart to Him. And I realized, the root of my sin was buried in my soul—in my mind, will and emotions. The wrong behaviors that expressed themselves out through my body came from wrong thoughts and feelings embedded deep in my soul. Proverbs 23:7 tells us, “As he thinks in his heart, so is he.”
But these wrong ways were so much a part of me—engraved in my soul—that I couldn’t see them for what they were. Only when I felt something wrong or uncomfortable (like lust or anxiety) or when I did some blatant sin, did I realize something inside wasn’t right. And so, these became indicators to me that deep inside I was in desperate need of God’s loving care and restoration. In this way I came to see sins and uncomfortable feelings as red flags my soul was waving in silent cries for healing: “Help! Something isn’t right in here. Set me free.”
Only God could dig out the false, hurtful thoughts and feelings that caused my sinful actions. And so my daily prayer became, “Search me, oh God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23–24). My short version of that prayer is: “Whatever it takes, God. Get the garbage out of me.”
And I found out that way down in the core of myself I did not really understand God’s love. Even though I knew my past sins were forgiven, I didn’t trust His love enough to realize that He really did have my best interests at heart. And because of that wrong thinking about God, I had run off to fix the sin in my own way and search for love in all the wrong places.
Today this journey of healing continues. God’s love is so much greater than I can even think or imagine. And as I learn to rest in that love, it is gradually washing out the wrong thinking and feelings in my soul. I am gradually coming to a position of no longer working to receive God’s love—and always falling short. More and more I am living in awareness that I am loved. Rather than working toward a place of feeling loved, I am living from a place of being loved.
Our hearts need love and we were designed to be continually connected to God. That love connection is the cure for our sin problem. Knowing God and abiding in His love cleanses us from sin from the inside out. God’s love forgives our past sins and sets us free from Adam’s old sin nature. When we abide in His love our minds are changed—our thoughts come into alignment with His—and we become the people He created us to be, fashioned after the image of Jesus.
God created us in His image: He said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). We were made by God to radiate His nature of love: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). When we see and know the depth of His love—with all the walls (veils) surrounding our souls torn down—we shall be transformed into His image: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
We are changed—transformed—as we come to know God’s love for us. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35). The world will know we are followers of Jesus when we become loving even as He is loving.
John says, “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us … because as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:16–17). In knowing and believing God’s love, Jesus’s nature becomes ours; we become like Him “in this world.”
Paul prays, “That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17–19). Knowing God’s love will fill us “with all the fullness of God.” That sounds like transformation to me!
There is a cure for our sin nature this side of heaven! God’s love will get us there. Our need for love and God’s love for us holds us, with magnetic attraction, in the abiding relationship in which we are transformed into His image. Just like with the forgiveness of past sins, our only part is to believe. Our only part is to know and trust in God as He really is—full of love for us.
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