I’ve noticed a bit of a theme going on in some of my reading. It even came up in the comments of my last post. If we really are growing in the faith, shouldn’t we be sinning less?
What does it mean to be a mature Christian? After all, we are being sanctified and transformed into Christ’s likeness. I would expect that at 37 I would not be struggling with sin like I was at 17. Well, I have a yes and a no to this answer.
Yes: Looking back to my 17-year-old self certainly makes me feel holier. Many of the sins that I committed on a regular basis back then are not even desirable to me anymore. For that I am very thankful. And in the twenty years that have passed, God has given me better desires. I get upset with myself now because I find my desires to be too small. But compared to Aimee at 17, they are much deeper. I am truly amazed by God’s grace in saving me from my 17-year-old self!
When I think back to the end of high school and the beginning of college, it is astonishing that I am even alive. But at 17 I indulged in many sins that one would expect a teenager-who-thinks-their-an-adult to commit. I was immature, and in many ways I was expected to be immature. And I took advantage of this. I also cavalierly took advantage of the grace of God. I knew I was behaving like a lost person, even though I belonged to Christ. The ways that God has matured me have exceeded my expectations at 17, that’s for sure! And yet, my barometer of holiness is not to be compared to a younger version of myself; it is to be compared to the holy God.
No: Here I am at 37, torn up over my sin on a regular basis. If God has been faithful in my sanctification, why am I still struggling so much with my sin? As you probably know from experience yourself, in his grace God reveals our sin to us as we grow in holiness. It’s not so much that I’m developing new sins as a Christian, it’s that my sins have been developing, and now God is going to reveal them to me as he prepares me to face them. As I grow in my love for the Lord, I also hate my sin more. As I meditate on the cross, I am exposed. Here’s how Milton Vincent explains it in his book, A Gospel Primer:
…The deeper I go into the gospel, the more I comprehend and confess aloud the depth of my sinfulness. A gruesome death like the one that Christ endured for me would only be required for one who is exceedingly sinful and unable to appease a holy God. Consequently, whenever I consider the necessity and manner of His death, along with the love and selflessness behind it, I am laid bare and utterly exposed for the sinner I am (33).
I have a more mature awareness of my sin now. I’m not sure if I am sinning more or less as a 37-year-old, but I do know that I have a growing understanding of the severe depth of my sinfulness. At 17, I was well aware of a list of sins that I was committing. I even knew that some of them were pretty bad. But I had the immature idea that as I grew, I would knock off those sins one by one and then be a mature Christian. I was so deceived about the depth of my sinfulness! In our study on Hebrews, my Pilgrim ladies and I have reached a section on divine chastisement in chapter 12:3-11. Verses 9-10 really stand out to me:
Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.
It seems that with our heavenly father we always need chastening. Arthur Pink even notes that Scripture seems to reveal many of God’s children needing the rod later in their spiritual walk (think of Noah, David, Moses…). What a warning to heed! What a humbling and searching word is this “Furthermore.” The writer had already explained how God’s discipline is out of love for his children, but we need a furthermore. Why? Because my sin has also matured. It can disguise itself as good, and my Father’s discipline as a nuisance. I am warned by this to persevere in Christ so that I do not bring dishonor my Lord later in life.
And this is all the more reason why I agree with Vincent that we need to preach the gospel to ourselves everyday, for it is the power of God to salvation.
*Originally published on November 28, 2012.