the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1)
I imagine some of you went away from the first article in this series feeling condemned. After all, the piece ended with a warning against making excuses for habitual sin, saying, if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26-27).
This passage appears to give us little room for error. Many Christians struggle with reoccurring sin and these verses seem to indicate that any sin we commit after confessing Christ as Savior (any “non-accidental” sin) will condemn us to hell. However, as John Gill says in his comments on this passage, “it intends a total apostasy from the truth, against light and evidence, joined with obstinacy.” In other words, Paul is referring to sin that arises from disbelief and apostasy. He speaks of sin that is evidence of an unconverted heart. This is not merely recurring sin but sin as the spontaneous expression of a man's spiritual state. A person in this position will be aware of his condition - and typically will be unconcerned by it. So, if your life is characterized by habitual, willful sin - and you don't really care - then, yes, you are unconverted and condemned to hell apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, there are many true Christians who struggle with sin which so easily ensnares and cannot seem to find victory no matter what they do. Typically one in this circumstance is beset by guilt, broken and contrite of heart before God and spends a lot of time in prayer, crying out to God for help. Yet even then, an objective observer will recognize continuing growth toward Christlikeness. If this describes your situation then be of good cheer. Your reaction to sin and the evidence of Christian development indicate a new creation. That doesn't mean you should stop being concerned about sin in your life, but one of the first steps in gaining victory over sin is to recognize your status as a child of God.
Secondly, you may want to examine exactly what it is that troubles you. I have talked to Christians who claim they struggle with reoccurring sin only to find they are battling temptation and actually gaining victory over sin. Sometimes it is difficult for us to differentiate between temptation and sin. We think the temptation to lash out in anger, or the temptation to harbor unforgiveness, or the temptation to lust, or to gossip, or to lie – we believe even the thought of sin is an act of sin. In reality we are facing temptation. And if we refuse to go down the path suggested by temptation, then we are successfully battling sin. On the other hand, some folks give way to temptation immediately and so the temptation to sin and sin itself become one in their thinking. That is another subject for another article but for today's purpose I want to encourage you to pay close attention to the difference between temptation and sin. It is not a sin to be tempted; it is a sin to give in to temptation.
Third, sin, like weeds, grows in uncultivated soil. It is said that nature abhors a vacuum and the same can be said about the spiritual life. If you are not filling your heart and mind with the things of God through consistent Bible reading and prayer then you can be sure the fallow ground of your heart will sprout weeds of sin.
Moreover, Christians often find they struggle with sin simply because they attempt the battle on their own. There are two things we must do to remedy the error of individualistic Christianity. One, let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25). And two, look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).
We will continue this discussion next week.