Ps 42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation
How is the Christian to deal with those besetting sins that continue to rise up and slay them? When sin is always seeming to win the battle against us it can lead to our discouragement. We can begin to think, “Surely I’m out of the circle by now.” But the answer is not to despair nor to be discouraged rather the answer is God’s grace. Writes Bridge,
Though your sin be great, is not God’s mercy great, exceeding great? is not the satisfaction of Christ great? are the merits of Christ’s blood small? Is not God, the great God of heaven and earth, able to do great things? You grant that God is almighty in providing for you; and is he not almighty also in pardoning: will ye spoil God of his almightiness in pardoning?
The point is made, God’s grace is bigger than our sin. His love is beyond measure. The Apostle writes
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14–19
Part of the battle is correcting a deficient understanding of who God is. There seems to be two thoughts on this, some don’t want to think about the attributes of God or theology because it becomes a source of discouragment when they realize there is so much they don’t know. The mountain of knowledge just appears to daunting to even begin climbing. This view is content to stay at the “base camp”. The simple matters are enough for them. Forgetting the exhortation of the Apostle who wants us to grow in the matters of the faith
11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. Hebrews 5:11–13
The other side has left the base camp. They have begun the climb and left others behind. Scripture speaks of these as the ones who know the truth but their heart is far from doing what God has said. They live duplicitous lives.
13 And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,14 therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” Isaiah 29:13–14
The answer is to grow up and take the solid food of knowing God and what he has done for us in Jesus Christ and also to let that knowledge increase our love and devotion for him. When we understand the greatness of God, the atoning work of Jesus for all sin, we find the knowledge we possess serves as a great comfort and encouragement in times of distress. Especially in times of spiritual distress, when sin continues to rise and be a burden on our soul and mind.
If part of the answer is correcting a deficient understanding, then what is the deficiency? Simply stated we think that God will not forgive our great sin and only forgives small sin. We forget God’s name is Mercy. He is the merciful one who forgives our sin. In Isaiah 43. God rebuke Israel, “Yet you did not call upon me, Jacob but you have been weary of me, O Israel! You have not brought me your sheep for burn offerings or honored me with your sacrifices….you have not bought me sweet cane with money, or satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities…” yet says the Lord later in the same chapter
Isaiah 43:25 I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
Even though these sins committed against and before God were many and great, He did not want them to be discouraged for the sake of sin. All sin is great but sometimes we view certain sins as too great to be forgiven. But God pardons our sin even those that appear too great to be forgiven in our eyes. Remember David’s prayer in Psalm 25.
Ps 25:11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.
David does not say, “Pardon my guilt/sin because it is small.” Forgiveness of sin that seems insurmountable is God’s specialty. He only does amazing things. God is the Almighty God who pardons the great guilt of his people and therefore our great sin is no reason to be discouraged before an Almighty God who is the font of grace and mercy.
The other deficiency we have, is that God only forgives those who quickly repent. Those who have been in the battle for a long time and have lost are beyond his grasp. This is the backslider, and in the eyes of man they have wandered too far away, they are lost without a way home.
The prophet Jeremiah compares those who wander from the faith for their love of sin and then attempt to return to the Lord as the man who divorces his wife, and when she re-marries he tries to gain her back. To that person Jeremiah 3 says, “…would you return to me?” To him the Lord says, “that land is polluted, you’ve played the whore with many lovers.” Yet continue reading and and learn what God tells his prophet to say. The prophet is to bring the good news to God’s people
12 Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, “ ‘Return, faithless Israel, declares the Lord. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the Lord; I will not be angry forever. Jeremiah 3:12 (ESV)
“Return, faithless people,” declares the LORD, “for I am your husband. Jer 3:14 (NIV)
The battle with sin, even when it is a losing battle, is not a sign that we are forgotten. This was the cry of God’s people of Zion in Isaiah 49
Isa 49:14 But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.”
To them (and us) God’s responds
15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. 16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. Isaiah 49:15–16 (ESV)
Those who were in the midst of judgment of God, still receive mercy. They are not cast out but called back. To those God says, “You say I divorced you, but you have no bill of divorce.” The world issues a bill of divorce, but not God. If Christ becomes yours he will never by any means abandon you.
If we understand that God forgives all sin, even those ongoing sins, the response may be that we have no sense or feeling of joy in forgiveness. This deficiency is that we think our forgiveness is based on our work. They must re-discover the joy of being justified by faith alone.
Perhaps the soul has atrophied after such a prolonged absence from the ordained means of God’s grace. And after many years of failing to grieve for sin a valuable lesson has been lost. The amazing truth that God’s love is free. Your initial love of Jesus may have subsided, diminished and failed but his love for you is not dependent on your love for him. Why do we want to return to being justified and accepted by our works so easily? We fall back into the trap of the flesh, thinking somehow our acceptance is based on our faulty works. The backsliding soul needs to be reminded of repentance. This grace is available to all of us, all who come home find Christ running out to meet them, falling on their neck with holy kisses, taking your raggedy clothes, and dressing you in fine linen, washing you and restoring you to his people.
Jesus tells Peter when he is asked about forgiveness to be a person that is identified by forgiveness. You have been forgiven therefore forgive others.
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Mat 18:21-22
This is what the Lord requires of his disciples, don’t we recite this in the Lord’s Prayer “forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Our new nature is a nature of forgiveness. The prayer is not “forgive us so that we will then be forgiven.” But as we, citizens of your kingdom, are continually forgiving others, be the continually forgiving God you are. And if he requires this of us how much greater at this is he?
Matt 7:11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Those who have been away from home for so long, apart from his embrace in the means of grace, may not find their hearts immediately warmed as they remembered. They may feel still a certain distance. Does this mean we are altogether lost? No. This son has only lost what it means to believe by faith, to remember we are accepted in Jesus Christ alone. Why aren’t there tears? Why isn’t your soul changed or feeling contrite? Even in this moment God keeps us in a spirit of dependence upon him, trusting him even when our feelings are tell us otherwise. This is a tactic of the enemy, to cause our eyes to look within rather that outside of ourselves. Don’t look to your heart, look to the Cross. There is where your sin is nailed. God will not be satisfied with our emotions, he was satisfied with the Son. Jesus was the man of sorrows, he was the guilt-bearer, we are the recipients of this gift. The gloomy clouds may cover the sky but they will move, the sun is always there.
We must guide our hearts to esteem Christ. Life teaches us our hearts are not trustworthy, even to ourselves. Our hearts are so easily enticed to sin, and when presented the remedy of the Gospel they look upon it condescendingly with pursed lips. This is why we must guide our hearts and not follow them. It was our heart who led us into sin, but God’s word leads our heart to life. This turning is our repentance. It is a turning from our former way unto God’s way.
Do we view God so harsh, a God who withholds forgiveness, who is stingy with grace? Do you think that if we said, “God I have sinned, forgive me” his response would be “no” ? Of course not. Therefore even when we find ourselves in the midst of great sin, prolonged periods of sin or when we don’t feel the joy we once had there is no reason to be discouraged. We are reminded all again that we are saved by God’s grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone. Praise God!