Life is full of highs and lows, great heights and deep valleys. Today, I want to talk about the lows. If you’re like me, those lows can be so irritating. I hate it when I get into a spiritual rut after doing so well for a long time. It’s discouraging and, frankly, just depressing. I find myself asking, “God, I know who I am. I know what you’ve done for me. I enjoy serving you and following after you. How did I end up here in this dark place? Why would I ever prefer anything to you?”
To make it worse, I notice a real, dark, and sly hypocrisy that creeps in. When I see others that sin so deeply against God and when I see people that are so broken in their sin, I’m filled with disgust and despair. I wonder how those people live with themselves. But then I start wondering about my sins. How come I’m not as disgusted with my lusts and pride as I am with let’s say homosexuality or drug addiction? I overlook my flaws, but others’ flaws stand out so strongly.
What do we do about spiritual ruts? How do we respond to our hypocrisy? Simply thinking about these things does little good, so I turn to the Scriptures. The Bible explains what these ruts are, how we should feel about them, why they happen, and how we should respond.
I know plenty of people who’ll get hotheaded by that statement. They’ll quote verses saying, “No one born of God will continue to sin” or “nothing unclean will enter heaven.” But the truth is, Christians sin, and the Bible (along with common sense) makes it clear. I also believe that ignoring the verses I’ll bring up in this blog leads to a dangerous, pharisaical attitude. Instead of focusing on ourselves, we focus on others. Instead of focusing on inward sins, we focus on outward ones. When you stop fighting your sin, you start losing to it.
John does say “No one born of God makes a practice of sining,” but he also says,
 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:7-8 ESV)
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1 ESV)
It’s quite obvious that John expects us to still have ruts in our lives. The blood of Jesus cleanses (notice the present tense) us from all sin. He says if we don’t have sin, we’re lying. He adds that if we do sin, we have an advocate, Jesus; implying that these are Christians he’s talking to.
The fact that we do sin, that we are continually cleansed from sin, and that we ought not sin are three realities that we must understand simultaneously.
WE LIVE IN BODIES OF DEATH
The question that may follow is, “But why do I still sin? Didn’t Jesus conquer sin? Isn’t faith in him supposed to stop my sinful inclinations?” The answer is “yes”… and “not completely.” See, Jesus atoned for the ultimate penalty of sin, namely hell. At its very root, sin is preferring anything to God. It dishonors him, and it destroys us. It breaks apart the nature of relationships and order that was set up by God in his infinite wisdom. It’s an infinite crime to prefer something to God, because he is infinite. The ultimate punishment is his wrath, and it is his wrath because he won’t be mocked. And that’s what Jesus took for us (you can let out a sigh of relief). God deferred his wrath onto Jesus (see Isaiah 48 and 53) and not only gave us a second chance, but changed the nature of our reality entirely. He gave us his righteousness (for more on that, see The Pursuit of Righteousness).
In status, we are righteous. We wear Christ on our sleeve, so to speak, and this will permit us to enter heaven. However, we’re not practically righteous yet, and the main reason is our flesh. There are three enemies: Satan, the world, and our flesh. I’d argue that our bodies are the most dangerous. The pharisees during Jesus’ time made a grave error because they thought sin was merely out there rather than in here. And this is not to say that the physical is evil. It’s not. There were some false teachings in the early church that required abstinence from marriage, sexuality, foods, and other things. But these are all beautiful things in their appropriate contexts. The issue is, that our bodies are corrupted. They crave without limit, and will fall to utter ruin if fed without restraint, if fed without accordance to God’s instruction. Listen to how Paul puts it. I find these to be some of the most emotional and honest words in the Bible:
 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate …  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,  but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
(Romans 7:15, 18, 22-25 ESV)
Do you feel Paul’s cry? I’ve prayed these words so many times! “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Every time, the answer is Jesus Christ. We need to recognize that we live in bodies of death. We live in bodies that will always gnaw at us, pursuing our glory rather than God’s; pursuing our desires, rather than the desires of others; pursuing vain pleasure rather than true satisfaction (See, The Pursuit of Happiness). It’s always going to tempt us with its desires. Our job is to keep it so weak that it cannot overpower us; that we don’t make a practice of sinning. Our flesh will be with us until the last day. This is where hypocrisy comes into play. We’re all broken people, but we’re broken in different ways. Some will be tempted to alcoholism, some will be tempted to drug addiction, some will be tempted to greed and the love of money, some will be tempted to slander and gossip, some will be tempted to religious and prideful understandings and attitudes, some will be tempted to homosexual desires, some will be tempted by heterosexual lusts, and most will be tempted by pride of some sort. What use is it pointing fingers at someone who sins differently than us? What we should be doing is pointing to Jesus; leading the way to him.
There is some debate here about whether Paul is speaking about his Christian self. Some say that he is referring to his past, unbelieving self. But I disagree. I’m sure there are more, but here are four reasons that come to mind of why this Paul is the Christian, struggling Paul: (1) Paul speaks in the present tense here, unlike earlier in the chapter. (2) Paul “delights in the law of God” here even though in the next chapter he says those in the flesh (unbelievers) are “hostile to God” and to his law. (3) When speaking of sin, Paul says he does what he does not want to do. Unbelievers who live according to the flesh don’t feel the same tension between the Spirit and the flesh. (4) Lastly, Paul turns our attention to his hope despite his struggles, Jesus Christ.
Romans Chapter 8 is all about our response to our flesh, and to Jesus justifying us before God. I highly encourage you to read it for yourself.
It would be a mistake to assume or expect that total holiness is a state that we can reach here on earth. In his Mortification of Sin, John Owen famously said, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” He got those words from Paul who put it this way:
“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).
It’s not a matter of attaining holiness. It’s a matter of life according to, either the flesh, or the Spirit. If you’re not a Christian, what you need first is to turn to God and give up your whole self to him, to trust in Christ for his righteousness, to live according to his will, and the Holy Spirit will fill you with his new desires.
But after turning to Christ, you will have a daily battle, a daily choice. Will you live according to the flesh? Or will you live according to the Spirit? Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). In our case, I find that this cross he speaks of is the denial of our sinful, fleshly desires.
It’s our job to be putting to death our sense of pride that tries to tell us that we’re better than those around us.
It’s our job to be putting to death our sexual lusts that dehumanize those precious beings we see every day.
It’s our job to be putting to death our pursuit of pleasure that inhibits us from pursuing a true, lasting, and godly legacy.
It’s our job to be putting to death our passiveness that keep us from embracing the responsibility God places on us.
It’s our job to be putting to death our self-obsessions that consume our time and keep us from loving others.
We can’t do it on our own. But the Holy Spirit will help if we pursue this battle. But it IS a battle. Never stop fighting. Complacency is a synonym for defeat.
“Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering thing compared with that richness & energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed.” – C.S. Lewis
Here’s the real good news: God will give us new bodies. Heaven will be a place with all the joy, pleasure, satisfaction, fun, and peace with none of the pain, grief, and evil that accompany our current bodies today. No more temptation. No more struggle. On the last day,
 We shall all be changed,  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
(1 Corinthians 15:51-55 ESV)
Yeah, it stings now, but victory’s already written down. Just got to keep flipping those pages to reach the end.