A few weeks ago we were at Church and we heard a sermon given on the last portion of the infamous Lord’s Prayer: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.Overall, I was pleased with the sermon. The preacher did an excellent job of unpacking this and delving into the nature of temptation and evil in our world and how God protects us from it.
But one thing that he said stuck with me, and as much as I pondered it, I couldn’t help but feel it was unbiblical. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “When you are faced with temptations, as we all are, inevitably you will fail. But that’s okay, because we do not rely on our own righteousness, but on the righteousness of Christ!” He not only said this once, but multiple times emphasized the virtual certainty of our eventual failure in the face of temptation.
I appreciate what he was trying to say. He thought he was giving encouragement to those that have been battling temptation, and though they may have 100 victories, are completely shattered when they have one failure. But I couldn’t help but think that his message, which was intended as a message of comfort, was really at its core a message of hopelessness.
What is the man battling a pornography addition supposed to think when he is told that as much as he tries, it is inevitable that he will succumb to his temptation? What is the woman battling alcoholism supposed to think when she is told that though she may be 6 months sober that it is only a matter of time before the temptation to take a drink will just become too strong? What am I supposed to think, as man who struggles with a short temper and routinely feels like a failure as a father and a husband for lashing out at my wife or children? Am I supposed to give up hope of ever overcoming this temper? Is my family doomed to forever live with a father who will always lose his temper?
What kind of depressing, hopeless message is that?
I wouldn’t think too much of this, except that I don’t believe this specific preacher is alone in his perspective. In fact I get the impression that this view that everyone will inevitably succumb to their sinful human nature. It doesn’t matter who they are, or how strong their faith in Jesus Christ is, sin just can’t be avoided. It is a pervasive idea through-out the church, in just about all denominations. Our culture even has an oft repeated slogan that, “Nobody’s Perfect!”
But what am I to think about this:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2)
Or what about this?
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. (1 John 1:5-6)
Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:10-11)
It is clear that God has set a pretty high standard for us. The standard is nothing less than sinless perfection. God intends us to live without sin. Are we to believe that God has set a standard for us to meet and has provided no means by with we are to meet it? How cruel is that?
Sure, you may point out that:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)
Or perhaps that:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)
You may point to countless other passages that reveal the utter depravity of mankind, and how we all are sinners. And you are right. We are all sinners, or rather, we were all sinners, before Christ. But I thought that when someone accepted Christ that:
… he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
You see, all those passages talking about how all have sinned are talking about life before Christ. Without Christ we are hopelessly bound by our sinful nature to rebel against God’s Holiness and fall into sin. So yes, all have sinned. No one is free from guilt. Anyone who claims to have never sinned is a liar. We are all in desperate need of salvation that is only found in the blood of Jesus Christ.
But when you accept Christ, something truly miraculous happens.
Our sinful and depraved nature gives way to the righteousness of Christ. Through Christ we are transformed from hopeless sinners, into victors, empowered by the Holy Spirit. The transformation is so spectacular, that it is as if our old sinful self no longer exists, and an entirely new creature is left in its place.
So we are no longer bound by the limitations of our flawed nature. We now have a power that is above our own that will fight for us. And we have an Almighty God who protects us such that:
He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
When I read scripture, I see a very different message than, “You will inevitably fail!” I see a message that says, “I have given you the power to succeed!”
Of course absolute perfection is not achieved instantly. What I’m saying here should not be viewed as a condemnation of those who are not living a perfectly sinless life. If you do still sin, even after accepting Christ, He will not turn His back on you:
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 John 2:1)
I’m not saying that I am perfect; far from it. I still have countless issues that I’m working on. But the point is, I’m working on it. And while I’m not perfect yet, I know that I can be. I know it because God tells me that I can be, and that he has given me to power to achieve it.
I don’t know why the church is steeped in the lie that no-one can actually achieve a sinless existence in this life-time. Perhaps it is humility; that no one wants to stand up and declare themselves perfect. Perhaps it is because so many of us know we have a lot to work on and it somehow relieves our conscience to convince ourselves that we can’t help it. I don’t know the answer. But whatever comfort we may take from the message that “Nobody is Perfect” is overshadowed by the hopelessness that our striving for holiness is in vain.
It is not in vain. Following Christ is never in vain.
So to those who are fighting addictions, to the teenager who feels that purity called for in scripture is just too much, to the woman who can’t stop overeating and feels trapped in a body that is overweight and unhealthy, to the man who battles with anger and rage from a short temper, to anyone who battles any kind of sin that just seems insurmountable: my message to you is a message of hope. God has not forgotten you or turned against you. Your past failures are not a certainty of future failures. Your fall back into sin is not inevitable. It can be overcome. Don’t let the mantra that “Nobody is perfect” steal you of the hope that you might one day be victorious over your sin.
I’m not perfect, but the day that I believe that I can’t be; is the day that I might as well give up all hope.
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