“Yes, Lord” When I’m Stuck in Sin
This weekend my family took a little road trip up to College Station to watch the Aggies play basketball. On the way up, we passed through Bastrop, where a few years ago wildfires destroyed so much of the beautiful forests full of pine trees that lined the highway. Chris pointed out what used to be the beautiful golf course and reminisced about times he’d played there. Now that golf course has been covered up by overgrown weeds and rocks and bushes and trees. He said, “Sin is just like that, you know? It takes something that was once beautiful and useful and chokes the life out of it and makes it ugly and useless.”
I’m gonna go ahead and give away the punchline here right off the bat. No secrets. No surprise endings. What should you do when you’re stuck in sin? REPENT. The end. There is no magic potion or fancy strategy here. When you are stuck in sin, REPENT.
Last week in Christa’s discussion group, Dianne shared that she had lost a letter from her daughter that she hadn’t even gotten to read yet. She knew it was a special letter and she wanted to wait to read it until she had a chance to focus her full attention on it. But she couldn’t find it. She’d searched everywhere and just couldn’t find this letter. She shared with her group and they stopped and prayed that Dianne would find this letter. When they’d finished their discussion time, Pam and Dianne came out where I was and Pam asked Dianne if she could look in her purse for her. Dianne said, “Sure! I’ve looked in there several times and I’m sure it’s not in there, but go ahead. Maybe it’s stuck in my calendar or something.” So we stood there chatting while Pam dug around. Pam pulled out the calendar, opened it and Dianne gasped – there it was – The Letter! They both squealed and hugged and jumped up and down and cheered and I’m pretty sure I heard a couple of Hallelujahs in there! My eyes filled up with tears just watching it all unfold! She was so thrilled to finally find this special letter from her special daughter.
It made me think of a few stories Jesus told about lost things being found. Let’s read Luke 15.
Here we find Jesus surrounded by all sorts of people. There were tax collectors and sinners – the worst of the worst kind of people. These people flocked to Jesus because they saw that he had the power to change their lives. But he was also being watched by the Pharisees and the religious elite – they were skeptical and waiting for him to mess up.
His first story is about a shepherd who has a hundred sheep. One is lost, so he leaves the 99 to pursue the one. Jesus explains in verse 7 that there will be more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents than over the 99 who need no repentance. Of course it’s not that those 99 don’t need to repent, it’s that they think they don’t need to repent. Those Pharisees who were standing within earshot of Jesus as he taught this likely had no clue that they fell into the category with the 99. They thought that because they followed all the rules, they were ok. But they missed the whole point of Jesus’ teaching, so he told another story.
In this story a woman had lost a coin. Never mind that she had nine other coins. She lit a lamp and swept the house until she found her lost coin. Then she called her friends and they had a celebration over the found coin! Jesus explains that the angels in heaven rejoice over just one sinner who repents.
Now Jesus really wanted to drive home the point with all of these listeners. Here he tells the story that we know as The Prodigal Son. A man’s youngest son takes his inheritance early and blows it all on wild living while the older son stays behind with the father and is very responsible with what belongs to him and his father. The younger son runs out of money and there’s a famine in the land and he realizes that his father’s servants are eating better than he is. So he decides to go back. He literally turns around and begins walking back toward the father. The Father had been waiting on him and runs to him as soon as he sees him coming back. He rejoices that his son has abandoned his former way of life and is choosing now to live in his care. He not only welcomes him, but he throws a huge party, complete with a fat calf. The older brother is pretty bitter about the way his younger brother is treated, but the father reminds him that everything that belongs to the Father also belongs to him.
God loves finding lost people. He’s been all about it from the very beginning. Remember the Garden? God came looking for Adam, even though He knew that he had chosen sin. In fact, the whole gospel story is evidence of God’s desire to find lost people! Before God ever created the heavens and the earth, he knew that this whole deal was going to be about finding lost people. He doesn’t begrudgingly seek us because he has to, as a response to the fact that we sinful people went and got ourselves lost. No, he planned and intended to find us from the very beginning of time!
Initial Repentance – Realize you are Lost
There are a few phrases that we Christians like to toss around to make everything incredibly confusing. Phrases like “getting saved”, “asking Jesus into your heart”, “accepting Christ” “getting right with God” are all terms we use to talk about salvation. Let me make it simple for you. Your sin separates you from God. You can choose to keep sinning or you can choose to put God in charge of your life. You put God in charge by admitting you’re a sinner and that you need Him to be your Savior. Then you do everything you can to follow the example He gives you in Scripture. Some Christians remember the exact moment of their salvation. I do. I was 8 years old in my parent’s bedroom. Other Christians just look back over a period of time and know that it was in that time that they chose to turn away from their old sinful lives and turn toward a new life in Christ. Either way, the point is that there is a CHANGE. There’s a difference between the old way of life and the new way of life. We call that repentance. Repentance is defined as a literal change of mind, not about individual plans, intentions, or beliefs, but rather a change in the whole personality from a sinful course of action to God.
If you’ve never repented – changed from a sinful life to a Christ-following life – please don’t let today go by without making that choice. You see, our repentance leads us to salvation. Without repentance, there is no salvation from sin. Without repentance we are separated from God here on earth, but also forever in eternity as well. More simply put, God will be in heaven forever and without repentance and salvation, you’ll be separated from him in hell forever. I truly hope you’ve made that choice.
Continual Repentance – Realize You can Change
After that initial repentance, turning away from our sin for the first time and choosing to follow Christ, life becomes perfect, right? Wrong! Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world and even Christ-followers will always struggle with the temptation to sin. Jesus himself was tempted by Satan while he was here on earth but he didn’t give in to it. But does that mean we have to sin? Does that mean we can’t help it? Absolutely not! We can and we must choose not to sin. When we do mess up, we have to confess it to the Father and repent.
Often, Christ-followers who sin feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit and they realize that they’ve messed up. They confess that sin to God and move on in a different direction. But sometimes, there are sin habits and patterns that are not so quickly eliminated. Sometimes even Christ-followers get caught in a particular sin and can’t seem to shake it, no matter how much they wish they could. Let’s look at Paul’s take on this: Romans 7:15-25.
No matter how many times you sin, even if it’s the same sin, over and over and over, God wants you to repent from that sin and walk in His ways. If you mess up again, repent again. If this sin pattern sounds all too familiar to you, it means you’re human! Don’t believe the lie that what you’ve done is too much for God to forgive or that because you can’t seem to break free from a sin habit, you should just give in to it. God wants you back. Remember there is nothing that can separate you from his love.
The Key to Fighting Habitual Sin
Habitual sin is any sin that you’ve allowed to become a habit. Sometimes habitual sin can seem pretty minor – maybe you’re not spending time with the Lord every day, maybe you haven’t prayed in a while, maybe your speech is littered with profanity, maybe your temper flares and you lose control pretty often. These are sins we need to deal with! And sometimes habitual sin looks even uglier and nastier to our human eyes (although it’s all the same to God!). Maybe you’ve let an occasional evening cocktail turn into an addiction that leads to repetitive drunkenness. Maybe you’ve got a bottle of painkillers that you can’t seem to stop using. Maybe you have a relationship with a man that is not your husband that has crossed over from friends to something more than that. Whatever your sin is, it isn’t too big. It isn’t too much. It isn’t too hard. God has healing waiting for you if you’ll repent.
James 5 holds a little nugget of truth that proves incredibly helpful in the battle against habitual sin. Verses 15 and 16 say, “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
Prayer plays a huge role in this battle over sin – it has the power to save the sick, forgive sins and heal people! But there’s another key here that I don’t want you to miss. It’s not the sinner who prays the powerful prayer here. It’s his friend. Because the prayer of faith is so powerful, confess your sins TO ONE ANOTHER that you may pray for each other and be healed. Confession of sin to each other is not something that we practice regularly these days. We know that usually the Catholics go to confession but as non-Catholics, we leave that confession thing to them and we go on about our business. While it’s true that each of us can approach the throne of grace with confidence, not needing an intermediary to intercede for us (Hebrews 4:16), James tells us that there is a benefit to us when we confess our sins to each other. If you’re stuck in a sin habit, wrestling with the same old sin over and over and seemingly unable to get out, find a trusted friend that you can talk to. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that if you need someone you can trust, I’m always available for you and I’d be honored to pray for your healing.
This whole process of sin-confession-repentance-restoration can be summed up in one word – sanctification. Every day you and I are being sanctified, which is a fancy way of saying we are being made holy. When Jesus was nearing the end of his earthly ministry, he prayed for his followers, including us! In John 17:17 he prayed “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Once we’ve made our initial confession of Christ as Lord, confessing and repenting of our sin, God begins the process of sanctifying us through His Word, which is truth. His Word starts with the Old Testament and the Law, which shows us our sin and our need for a Savior. Then the Savior comes and the New Testament shows us how to follow Him.
Why does he even bother with all of this? It seems like an awful lot of work, all this sanctification business! The answer is found in this same passage in John where Jesus is praying for his disciples and for us. Check out John 17:20-26. The first reason he sanctifies us is so that people will believe that he is the Messiah, sent from God the Father (verse 21). The second reason here is because he wants us to be WITH Him where He is (verse 24). He wants us to know Him, believe Him and be with Him. This is the whole point of the Gospel. As if that weren’t enough, Acts 3:19 gives us one more reason to repent – that times of refreshing will come! God doesn’t want us to live a miserable, sin-filled life. He has healing and refreshment for us!
Obedience when We’Re stuck in Sin
Remember at the beginning when I gave away the punch line before the lesson? How can we obey when we’re stuck in sin? We have to repent. The thing is, we can’t move on until we do. An unrepentant Christ-follower is no Christ-follower at all because Christ leads us to repentance. So if you have sin in your life that you have not repented from, you’ll be stuck until you repent. If it seems like too much or too big or too horrible, don’t worry. It’s not. Confess that sin to Him, confess it to a friend too and watch as He leads you to places you’d never dream of on your own. But remember, he won’t do that if you’re wallowing in the muck of the pigpen, refusing to repent from your sin. Trust Him to forgive you! Trust Him to bring healing to you and welcome you back, throwing a party in your honor. Remember, God loves to find lost people!