3 Reasons Why God Ordains that Believers Should Struggle with Sin

God could simply remove our sinful nature entirely at the moment of our conversion, as He will do at the moment of our glorification, but He does not. So why not?

Killing sin is a life-long calling, an intense battle that never ends in this life. As we fight, sometimes we need reminders and motivations to keep fighting and at other times we need comfort and assurance that the fight will be over and we will be victorious. The motivation and the assurance both keep us encouraged and striving, knowing that we are not fighting in order to earn God’s love and salvation, but rather we are able to fight because of the great love the Father has given to us in His Son, Jesus Christ.

 

Recently, I wrote a post on 7 Reasons and 7 Ways to Kill Sin, which calls us as Christians to battle sin to the death in our lives and seeks to equip us for the fight. Wrestling in any serious way against the sin in our lives can often lead believers to ask another crucial, related question: Why?

Why does God allow/permit/ordain that we as believers should continue to struggle against sin, be tempted and fall to temptation as long as we continue in this life in this world. Most of us can identify all too easily with the intense struggle of the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:

 “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” – Romans 7:15-24, ESV

But why? Why is this the testimony of believers who are trusting in the Lord Jesus, who delight in the law of God in our inner beings and who desire to do what is right?

Of course, some Christian teachers would teach us that such a struggle is not inevitable in the experience of a believer in this life. Various forms of perfectionism would have us believe that we can experience a level of sanctification that would free us from the struggle of battling sin in this life. I don’t have time to engage that teaching, except to simply state that, in my experience, perfectionism is not only unbiblical but is also very destructive, loading Christians down with multiplied guilt and shame. I do not anticipate progressing in my sanctification beyond the Apostle Paul, which brings us back to the initial question: Why?

Is it because God wants us to sin? Does God Himself tempt us with the desire that we will sin? Absolutely not! “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” – James 1:13 

Still, though God Himself does not tempt anyone and though His will for us is that we would not sin, He is sovereign over all things and, by permission, He ordains that all believers should experience temptation and sin as ongoing realities in this life. He could simply remove our sinful nature entirely at the moment of our conversion, as He will do at the moment of our glorification, but He does not. So why not?

1. God wants to humble us. When I experience great victory over besetting sins in my life, I am almost immediately tempted to an even greater sin: pride. Paul relates a similar explanation for the thorn in his flesh in 2 Cor. 12: “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” (2 Cor. 12:7, ESV)

The worst thing that can happen to us in this life is not that we would lust or covet or lie, though sin is a serious deadly enemy and cancer. No, even more deadly than these sins is the greater sin of pride, which leads us to think we do not need God. We need God and we cannot trust ourselves. So God humbles us regularly to keep our perspective true.

2. God wants us to be merciful toward others. One of the most central themes of Jesus’ earthly teaching ministry was the need for us to forgive others even as we have been forgiven. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.”

In the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt. 18:21-35), the servant was forgiven an enormous debt (the equivalent of almost $4 billion) and them refused to forgive a fellow servant a substantial but much smaller debt (the equivalent of about $10,000). We must continually forgive others the wrongs they do against us, which are often very substantial wrongs. As we continually need forgiveness for our own offenses against God, which are far greater, it should keep us in a posture of being willing to forgive when we are wronged. 

3. God wants us to long for heaven. We are aliens and strangers in this world. Our redemption remains incomplete until God’s kingdom has fully and finally been consummated at the Second Coming of Jesus. For the believer, few things make us long for heaven more intensely than the ongoing reality of sin in our lives. 

When Paul groans in Romans 7, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?,” he is able to immediately answer his own question, Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” This final deliverance “from this body of death” will happen when Jesus returns and we are made fully and finally like Him.

This is not an excuse to grow complacent with sin because we can rest assured that one day we will be delivered from it. Rather, we should have the same attitude as the Apostle John, who wrote in 1 John 3:1-3, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we areGod’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (ESV)           

Killing sin is a life-long calling, an intense battle that never ends in this life. As we fight, sometimes we need reminders and motivations to keep fighting and at other times we need comfort and assurance that the fight will be over and we will be victorious. The motivation and the assurance both keep us encouraged and striving, knowing that we are not fighting in order to earn God’s love and salvation, but rather we are able to fight because of the great love the Father has given to us in His Son, Jesus Christ.

So let’s keep striving, growing, wrestling, fighting, killing sin and living for the glory of God through the victorious power of Jesus Christ our Lord! 

Jason A. Van Bemmel is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. This article appeared on his blog Ponderings of a Pilgrim Pastor and is used with permission.