It’s easy for me to grow discouraged by how far I have to go. Many days the extent of my sinfulness is out of sight, out of mind. But sometimes I know my sin all too well.
I see it clearly.
I know its destructive power.
And I hate it.
Far too often, the oppressive weight of sin produces despair rather than action, defeat rather than fight. I just want to give up.
It seems like there’s so much that needs to change, so many things I should do, and such a long way between who I am and the man I want to be.
In these moments I not only feel unfit and unclean, but also paralyzed and helpless.
What do you do when you don’t even know where to begin to change?
A few years ago I made the mistake of doing Crossfit. My legs still hate me. As I looked around the gym each morning, I realized just how weak I actually was.
This is not a realization that occurred to me while waiting in line at Bojangles for another Spicy Chicken Biscuit—something I’d done far too often up until that time. But, now I saw clearly that there were many guys. . . and girls, and grandparents who were far stronger than me.
I watched them lift and tried to replicate their actions. Surely, I could squat as much as my trainer’s mother, who was working out beside me. One squat later and I sat on the gym floor with weights strewn about me and a massive hole in my gym shorts.
I learned a valuable lesson that day: You can’t go from where you are to where you want to be overnight.
The same desire for immediate change wreaks havoc on my spiritual life as well. Intuitively I know that I can’t add 200 pounds to my bench press in a week. But, I think I can do the equivalent in my spiritual life. I respond as if I believe my evangelistic intentionality will change overnight, those nagging middle-school sin patterns will disappear and never tempt me again, and my prayer life will automatically take on a Spurgeon-like quality.
I get discouraged when it doesn’t.
I get angry when the change that God is producing seems unnoticeable.
I lose hope that change is possible.
I give up.
My response reveals an impoverished view of gospel. While change may always feel a bit out of reach, God has already brought about true transformation that I long for.
And, as a dagger to my pride—this transformation was produced apart from anything I’ve done. As Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Those whom God saves have a righteousness “which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:9).
So, my right standing with God is a gift of grace, not the result of my words (Eph 2:4 –9). Because of Jesus, my sin does not define my identity. God does not shake his head in disappointment at the gulf between who I am and who I should be. He’s pleased with me, even when I’m not pleased with myself.
This reality frees me to respond differently to me sin, even when I know that I have so far to go. I’ve often doubted Jesus words in Matthew 11:30: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
What? It sure doesn’t seem easy and light. It seems like the least burdensome action would be to run headlong into my sin and forget the toil and pain that comes from fighting my sin.
But I know that transformation is best for me. God desires to free me from slavery to sin—to produce victory over sin in my life. He wants to change me. And this is for my good. The gospel message frees me from the overwhelming despair that this process of transformation can easily produce. It reminds me that I am transforming into the person God has already declared me to be. In a real sense, I am becoming what I am.
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