What should we do if we keep repeating the same sins? Is this evidence that we are not actually saved? Today, Burk Parsons speaks on the nature of true repentance and the Christian's growth in holiness.
NATHAN W. BINGHAM: This week I'm joined by the senior pastor of Saint Andrew's Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and also a Ligonier teaching fellow, Dr. Burk Parsons. So, Dr. Parsons, if someone keeps repeating the same sins, does that mean that they're not Christian?
DR. BURK PARSONS: That's a great question, Nathan. And as you know, that is not as simple of a question as many make it out to be. The reason it's not simple is that we have to define our terms. We have to really understand what it is that's being asked when we talk about sin and when we talk about the repetition of sins and repetition of particular sins and, of course, what it means to be a true Christian.
Firstly, we need to consider that Jesus tells us that if we love Him, we should obey Him. If we love Him, we should keep His commandments. We read in 1 John"in fact, the entire first epistle of John really addresses this very question. It's a very helpful epistle in addressing this whole matter of our sin, confessing that we actually do sin, knowing that we have an advocate with the Father through Jesus Christ. But then John in chapter 3 of his epistle says this, he says, "Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness." Later on in the same chapter, John writes: "Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous." But then in verse 8, John writes: "Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God."
Now, when you read that, you can come away feeling, "Wow, am I a Christian at all?" Because I sin and I sin daily, and I sin in ways I don't even know I sin. I repeat sometimes the same sins. Maybe not every day, but sometimes weeks will go by, months will ago by, perhaps even years will ago by, and I'll find myself falling into the same sin.
When we talk about sin, we really, again, need to understand the significance of what that means. A lot of times people think of sin merely in terms of the act of sin. And while sin is indeed an act, it can be an act of the mind, an act of the motive, an act of the will, an act of our bodies"what we say, what we do, and so on. We also have to understand that the reason we sin is because we're sinners and that we are depraved throughout our entire being. And that sinfulness within us, that depravity within us, is riddled throughout everything we do and say. In one sense, we can't really do anything in some sense without it being tainted by sin. Because the noetic effects of the fall have so infiltrated our minds and our hearts and our lives that in one sense we sin in ways every day, sometimes with repetition, sometimes not the same sin. We need to understand firstly that in answering that question, that we'll never in this life escape sin completely or entirely.
Now part of the problem with this question, the way in which it's often answered, is the way in which people explain what it is to practice sin according to John and what it is to repent of sin. Firstly, when John talks about practicing sin, what is he talking about? Well, he's certainly not talking about sinning at all, because at the outset of his epistle he talks about admitting that we are sinners and confessing that we are sinners and that if we don't admit that we're sinners, then we're liars and there's no truth in us. So we first have to recognize that we're sinners and confess that we're sinners. So, when John talks about practicing sinning here, it seems that what he is dealing with is ongoing continual sin without repentance, without stopping that sin and striving towards righteousness. When we talk about repentance, we also have to understand what that means. And that's, I think, the most crucial thing that needs to be understood when it comes to this whole matter of repeating sins and questioning whether or not if we repeat the same sins if we're truly Christians.
A lot of times people think that repentance is just feeling badly about sin. Well, that's a part of it" feeling badly, being convicted of our sins by the Holy Spirit, not just feeling remorse. We know that Judas felt remorse, but he was not truly repentant. Peter was repentant of his sins, and that repentance was repentance not unto death. It was repentance unto life, restoration and forgiveness by God. When we talk about repentance, we certainly understand that there's conviction of sin, but that's not all repentance is.
Repentance is not just conviction of sin; it's also a contrition over our sin"a humility and a brokenness over our sin, recognizing that our sin offends God, that it is against God, is against His Word, against His law, and in some ways it's against others and even often against ourselves and our own bodies. But it's not just conviction of sin. It's not just contrition over our sin. It's also a confession of our sin. And a lot of times, people think, "Well, I just feel badly about this sin," but they actually never go to God and confess that sin to God. Or if it offends someone else or if they've sinned against someone else, they have not confessed that sin to their brother or sister in Christ.
Then lastly, and a very important part of repentance, is our consecration to a new way of life, that we are not only being convicted of our sin, we're not just feeling contrite and broken over our sin, we're not just confessing our sin; we are actually striving, and sometimes that means with the help of others. Sometimes that means with a pastor, an elder, a friend, a counselor. It means striving towards a new way of life and consecrating that we are going to strive to live fighting that sin. I worry most for those Christians who feel like giving up in their fight against sin. If we've given up, that's when we need to worry, because if we have stopped fighting and stopped confessing and stopped consecrating our lives to a new way of life, it may be in fact that we never in fact knew the Lord, that we were never Christians.
So, what we need to be concerned about is what happens when we sin. What do we do when we sin? How do we react when we sin? Do we just continue in sin as if it's no big deal, sort of a cavalier, apathetic approach to our sin, saying: "Well, that's just the way I am. You know, that's just how God made me. That's just my personality or that's the sin I was born with. That's my besetting sin"? You know, James tells us in James 3 that we all stumble in many ways, but what we also have to cling to most importantly is if we really know the Lord, if we're trusting Him, if we're confessing Him as John says throughout that epistle, well, then we know that we abide in Him. And so, it is by faith and faith alone, in Christ alone, all by the grace of God alone, that gives us that unity with Christ and that we can know that we have the Holy Spirit within us.
As Paul says in Romans 5:3"5, we know we have the Spirit within us because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts. And so, if we know that convicting power of the Spirit, then we who are truly Christians, truly trust in Christ, should also know and remind ourselves, even preach to ourselves, not just the convicting power of the Spirit but the comforting power of the Spirit to know that if we are in Him truly, we can never not be in Him. If we didn't earn our salvation, we can't unearn our salvation. It is God who began a good work in us, and He is the One who is faithful to complete it even when our growth in grace, when our sanctification occurs far more slowly than we would like. We have to cling not to our circumstances, but we have to cling to the cross because that is our only hope, the life and the death and resurrection of our perfect Savior.
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