"If I am Being Perfected in Christ, Why do I Keep Sinning (So Often)?" Or, "I Just Keep Getting So Dirty While Camping Here Below!"
So, I am beginning to understand (after much perplexity), why I just cannot seem to get this Christian life together. After all, I’ve been a Christian now for 39 years. By now, I should have figured it out - you know, “practice makes perfect”, right? WRONG!!!
Camping in the Dirt
Before I go any further, you must know about a camping trip I went on with my entire family 31 years ago. This story will help both of us (you and I) sort out the spiritual truths I’ll be referring to later in this post.
First, let me set the scene for the camping trip. Our youngest child was 2 years old at the time. My husband and I had four children in tow. Also, camping with us were both of my siblings - my sister, Kate, her husband and their three children and my brother, Richard, his wife and their three children. Our parents also joined us. As an added point of interest, all three of us siblings had daughters, all three of them born in 1980, who were now two years old (or very close to being 2).
We camped up in the mountains, surrounded by beauty. You know the scene - an infinity of pungent pine trees in countless shades of green, a beautiful glassy indigo lake, big billowy white cotton-like clouds. You’ve been there, right? But there was more dirt, more fine brown powdery, yet clingy earth than there was anything else. Dirt was absolutely everywhere - on the ground, in our tents, in the trees hanging over our heads, in our shoes, on our picnic tables, and all too often on us as well.
The three two-year olds had a ball. Laura, my brother’s daughter, was the oldest. The next oldest was our daughter, Bethany, and the youngest was my sister’s daughter, Stephanie.
Can you imagine three toddler girls, all dressed in pretty pastels, looking so cute, hanging close to their mommies in this new, unfamiliar and strange place? Well, imagine again. Two of the toddlers did just that. Two of the three barely took a single step away from Mom. Two of the three stayed clean because they didn’t venture out.
But one of the three decided she wanted to explore. Can you guess which one? Of course, it was my munchkin! Bethany was all over the place. As a result, dirt followed her everywhere. Cute, demure little thing - blond hair, blue eyes, button nose, sweet smile, dressed in pink - covered in dirt!
So I gave her a bath, as difficult as that was in a place that had no showers. But scrubbing the dirt off only gave her new opportunity to redecorate herself with grub all over again. Off she’d go, tumbling to the ground, and of course that meant the front and back of her clean clothes, her hands, face and other surrounding body parts were once again gritty and grimy. She reminded me of “Pig Pen”, the Peanuts character that has the “air” of dirt always floating about him whenever he walks. Dirt followed my toddler too. It hung like a dark cloud above her. But she had fun, and she also had so many baths!
Bethany and I got to know each other more on that camping trip than in the previous two years since her birth. She was continually in my arms as I scrubbed her clean all over again. She loved to explore and discover and I wanted that for her as well. But I also wanted to her to be clean, though I knew a little dirt wasn’t going to hurt her. After all, we were camping and dirt happens when you camp. It is just so very prolific.
Living Below in This Old Sinful WorldNow that you have that picture of my toddler daughter, you’ll also have a picture of me, here below in this sinful world. Not only am I surrounded by sin (dirt), but I still have a remnant of sin within me - a propensity to sin, buried deep in the recesses of my heart that is inextricable. Though Christ has delivered me from a lifestyle of sin, which I loved, I do still sin. And I sin everyday.
My Sin is Different Now That I Know Christ
My sin is different now, however. No longer am I running after sin and embracing it. I now run after Christ and embrace Him. No longer do I love my sin. I now hate it and I adore my Savior. I want so much to bring Him glory. I want so much to do His will and be used of Him. I want so much for His love through me to impact others so that they too can know Him and His extravagant grace. And how I long to worship Him!
My sin is different now. Though I sin as much as I did before, my sin is much more inward than outward. (Of course, lest you get the wrong idea, I also sin outwardly. Just ask Robert. No don’t, on second thought!) Now my sin consists mostly of grumbling about some silly thing that has annoyed me; or an attitude toward my husband that is disrespectful (there, I said it); I am ungrateful; and pride rears it’s hideous head everyday in my heart. When I am obedient, I congratulate myself - pride. When I worship in song with the saints, my thoughts are elsewhere, not on the Lord. Or, worse, I am thinking how others, hearing me sing, must be so blessed. (Oh! I said that too - so prideful and blasphemous!). Oh, how I hate that! So even my obedience is tainted with sin. (As I write this post, I must continue to confess the pride that tells me how admired I will be by those reading it. Yuk!)
My sin Is different now. Though it seems like I sin more than ever, I also confess more than ever and quicker. Quick to sin, quick to confess and be cleansed from all my unrighteousness. Then, clean, like my two-year old munchkin camper, I go and get dirty again. Ugh!!! It seems like the cleansing I experience is just a new opportunity to get dirty all over again. Oh, may it never be!
But my sin is different now. I no longer make so much of my sin, though I take it seriously. My sin never has the last word. My Savior and his matchless grace always have the last word to my heart. Where sin abounds, God’s grace much more abounds! How that gladdens my soul! I make much over His grace, not over my sin. My sin simply points me all the more to God’s love, patience, mercy, forgiveness, grace and compassion for me.
So What Hope Do I Have of Freedom From Sin?
Oh, I am just a camper here below. God continues to bathe me, clean me, and show His glorious, compassionate face to me in those cleansings. And then I get dirty again. And again my Savior cleanses me. He is so precious. He is so close.
Freedom comes through our Lord Jesus Christ! Freedom from the guilt of sin. How I used to beat myself up over my sin, so depressed because I could not change. But each time I sin, His grace for forgiveness shines and I see Him more clearly. I do not sin because of that, but when I do sin and confess my need for Him, He becomes even more precious to me. Seeing Him in that way, I apprehend more grace and strength by His Spirit to combat my sin. In that “depending” process of leaning on the Everlasting Arms, I am becoming more like Him. He is my hope alone! And He is working my sin together for my good (Christ in me) and for His glory.
Second Corinthians 3:18 says it so well: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Humility, Dependence and Gratitude
So, obedience or the “victorious Christian life” is not what I am focusing on now, or more importantly, that is not what God is focusing on for my sanctification. How proud I would be if, setting my mind to be obedient, I actually was (fat chance!). No, God’s broader desire for me is humility, and a greater and greater sense of my dependence upon Him, and a heart of gratitude. That comes by me beholding my Savior.
Obedience isn’t my focus for when it is, I simply find that it evades me. And if I do somehow manage to obey Him outwardly, I will have a heart full of pride. When, instead, I focus on God’s grace and mercy because I so desperately need it, I see more and more of Jesus and, by His Spirit, I will be more and more transformed into His likeness. Obedience then becomes a byproduct, not something I accomplish because I set my mind on it.
Set Free to Worship Without DisturbanceOne day, when I see Him face to face, His glory will permanently cleanse me from all remaining sin. He will wash me whiter - inside and out - than any garment can be bleached in my washing machine. Oh, oh, oh, what a glorious day that will be! No more will the hindrance of sin interrupt worship! No longer will obedience be a struggle. No longer will I sing, “I long to worship Thee”. I will worship without any disturbance to my soul. Never again something I long for, worship will be realized - effortless and glorious when I behold His precious face. What a Savior!!!
But for now I am camping here below, keeping my eyes up, off the dirt and on the beautiful scene of my Savior’s love, grace, mercy, compassion and forgiveness for me at the cross. And oh, what a magnificent view it is!