Over my years of preaching the Gospel, I have been richly blessed to speak with several individuals about lots of different topics.
One of the topics that has come up more times then I can count deals with excuses people make about not wanting to become a Christian.
Often we will sit and study (sometimes for hours, sometimes for weeks), and we will notice God’s incredible grace in sending His Son to die for us (2 Corinthians 9:17). We will study about His grace in allowing us time to hear His Word and repent of our sins (Romans 2:3-4). We will study about His grace in allowing us to be baptized into Christ, being buried with Him (Romans 6:3-4).
Then, the individual I am teaching will often make this comment (or something similar):
“Mark, I know that I need to be saved; but I can’t because I am just so afraid that I’ll mess up and sin after I become a Christian!”
Let me share with you what I tell those individuals:
“Let’s be absolutely clear here bro; I guarantee that you will mess up!!”
I often get a look of shock when I share that sentiment.
Friends, let me tell you something: temptation and human weakness are not things which just vanish the moment we are baptized into Christ!
Doesn’t the New Testament teach us this fact plainly?
When the Apostle Paul wrote to our brethren in Rome, they had been baptized with Christ (Romans 6:3-4). Yet he told them:
Romans 6:12-13 (ERV)-12 But don’t let sin control your life here on earth. You must not be ruled by the things your sinful self makes you want to do. 13 Don’t offer the parts of your body to serve sin. Don’t use your bodies to do evil, but offer yourselves to God, as people who have died and now live. Offer the parts of your body to God to be used for doing good.
Paul told these Christians that they needed to stop sinning.
Yes, they had been buried with Christ in baptism, and had risen to walk in newness of life. What then? Some of these Christians had “messed up” and were living in sin.
Did Paul say, “Wow, since you are sinning and have messed up, you can’t be forgiven.”
He said that now, they needed to repent and start living right.
When Paul wrote to the Hebrew Christians, did he not express the same sentiments?
Hebrews 12:1-2-1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Paul wrote to these Christians and encouraged them to lay down the sin which so easily ensnared them. The imagery of “the sin which so easily ensnares” is that of any type of sin which will surround us and cause us to trip. Some scholars have pointed out that this could have reference to certain types of baggage that a runner would carry in a race that would cause him to stumble, while others have related the language of Paul to certain kinds of loin clothes that a runner would wear which would cause hardship during the Olympics.
The point I want you to see is that these Christians, who had been baptized into Christ prior to Paul’s writing (Hebrews 10:22), were still struggling with sin in their lives. They had “messed up.” They had started the race and were still struggling with sin.
Did this mean that they were no longer saved?
Had the grace of God abandoned them because they had sinned after becoming a Christian?
Not at all!
I want to suggest five things to you about this mentality that “we can’t become a Christian because we will mess up later.”
First, the Bible makes it absolutely clear that you will continue to struggle with temptation and sin after being saved. Receiving the new birth does not mean that our temptations will cease, for as long as we have these bodies and live in this fallen world, we will struggle with sin. In fact, this seems to be the point that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians when he discusses the blessings of the Second Coming of Christ and how we will receive our new glorified bodies:
1 Corinthians 15:44-It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
Our “new bodies” will be “spiritual” and not “natural.” Many teach that this means we will receive bodies that are not physical (an idea which is contrary to the text-Christ’s resurrected body is like what our new bodies will be like, and as His body was a physical body, so will be ours-1 Corinthians 15:1-8; 23).
However, in context, the meaning of “spiritual” and “natural” is very clear:
“Paul: You misunderstand what I meant by the term natural. The New Revised Standard Version and its predecessor the Revised Standard Version are the only translations to use the word physical. Virtually every other translation renders the word natural.[ 12] Those who translate the word as physical are mistaken, and it is easy to demonstrate this. The Greek word we are talking about is psychikos.[ 13] Would you like to know how many times in the Bible, including the intertestamental writings, this word means physical or material, as the New Revised Standard Version suggests? Zero! It is never used that way.[ 14] The Greek word we are talking about for spiritual is pneumatikos.[ 15] Would you like to know how many times this word means immaterial as the New Revised Standard Version suggests? Zero![ 16] To see what I meant by these words, you only need to look a few chapters earlier in my same first letter to the Corinthian church…I’m saying here that the natural man who is controlled by his fleshly and sinful desires does not accept the truths of God because they can only be understood by those who are controlled by desires that are centered on the true God—in other words, spiritual people. Thus, in chapter 15, verse 44, I’m saying that our bodies are buried with all of their fleshly and sinful appetites. But they are raised with only holy appetites that are focused on God. There is no reason whatsoever for translating what I wrote to mean that we are buried with physical bodies but will be raised with immaterial ones, leaving the old body in the ground.” (Michael R. Licona, Paul Meets Muhammad: A Christian-Muslim Debate On The resurrection, 1590-1602 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)
Friends, as long as we are in this world, we will struggle with temptation and sin.
Second, please consider this: God’s grace is more then sufficient!
Some seem to have the idea that God’s grace is abundant in leading us to become a Christian, but after that, it somehow loses its power. This is, I think, what caused some in the second and third century church to believe that there is no forgiveness to a Christian who sins. It is almost as if people think, “Well, God’s grace brought me here; now it’s up to me.” Oh, they won’t use those words; but they will often live in such a way that they believe they must be sinlessly perfect, and if not, then that’s it.
They are “once saved, always in misery.”
Friends, please understand: the grace of God is more then sufficient for you! Isn’t that what the Apostle John meant in 1 John 1:7?
1 John 1:7-But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
John is writing to Christians, and he reminds them that if they (Christians) say that they have no sin, they are deceiving themselves (1 John 1:8). Notice the tense of the verb: John says if there are Christians who say they HAVE (present tense) no sin, then they deceive themselves. M
Could there be a more vocal claim that Christians sin and “mess up?”
Far from claiming that Christians never “mess up,” John says if a person says they never do, they are lying to themselves!
Yet John points to a powerful truth in verse seven. He says that if we KEEP ON walking in the light, then we will KEEP ON having fellowship with each other; and the blood of Jesus Christ will KEEP ON cleansing us from our sins.
The verb “cleanses” that is used here is very important, as are the tenses:
“The Greek for to cleanse is katharizein, which was originally a ritual word, describing the ceremonies and washings and so on that qualified an individual to approach the gods. But, as religion developed, the word came to have a moral sense; and it describes the goodness which enables people to enter into the presence of God. So, what John is saying is: ‘If you really know what the sacrifice of Christ has done and are really experiencing its power, day by day you will be adding holiness to your life and becoming more fit to enter the presence of God.’ Here indeed is a great conception. It looks on the sacrifice of Christ as something which not only atones for past sin but also equips people in holiness day by day.” (William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Letters Of John And Jude, 34 (Kindle Edition); Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press)
The saving blood of Jesus does not lose its power after the waters of baptism. Instead, the blood of Christ continues to cleanse God’s people of sin, even as Jesus Himself continues to be the Advocate for His people (1 John 2:1-2).
Third, this passage-and all the ones that we have studied-demonstrate that even though we will sin as Christians, we must continue to fight against sin in our lives. Salvation is not n excuse to keep on living in sin; rather, it is the means by which holiness may be attained.
When we are baptized into Christ, there is a definite sense in which we are saved (set apart-sanctified).
Isn’t that what Paul told the Corinthians? And such WERE some of you? But you were WASHED, but you were SANCTIFIED, but you were JUSTIFIED in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11).
Yet there is also a sense in which we as God’s people ARE BEING sanctified (as 1 John 1:7 teaches).
God is perfecting us my friends. Part of that purifying process is the struggle against sin. Therefore we must not stop struggling against sin! Instead, we must fight against it (1 Timothy 6:12), as we work to discipline our body and spirit (1 Corinthians 9:24-27), and continue seeking those things which are above (Colossians 3:1-3) by continually putting to death sinful actions that would separate us from Him (Colossians 3:5-11), and adding those things which are needed to help us grow into the people that God wants us to be (Colossians 3:12-25).
So don’t use salvation as an excuse to sin: use it as the motivation to become what God calls you to be!
Fourth, know that when you fall short and sin, you can still come into the presence of God through repentance and prayer. Paul writes:
Hebrews 4:15-16-15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Some of my favorite words were written by John Piper as he commented on this passage:
“But it gets even better. On the way to the cross for thirty years, Christ was tempted like every human is tempted. True, he never sinned. But wise people have pointed out that this means his temptations were stronger than ours, not weaker. If a person gives in to temptation, it never reaches its fullest and longest assault. We capitulate while the pressure is still building. But Jesus never did. So he endured the full pressure to the end and never caved. He knows what it is to be tempted with fullest force. A lifetime of temptation climaxing in spectacular abuse and abandonment gave Jesus an unparalleled ability to sympathize with tempted and suffering people. No one has ever suffered more. No one has ever endured more abuse. And no one ever deserved it less or had a greater right to fight back. But the apostle Peter said, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22-23). Therefore, the Bible says he is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). This is amazing. The risen Son of God in heaven at God’s right hand with all authority over the universe feels what we feel when we come to him in sorrow or pain—or cornered with the promises of sinful pleasure. What difference does this make? The Bible answers by making a connection between Jesus’ sympathy and our confidence in prayer. It says that since he is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses… [therefore we should] with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). Evidently the thought goes like this: We are likely to feel unwelcome in the presence of God if we come with struggles. We feel God’s purity and perfection so keenly that everything about us seems unsuitable in his presence. But then we remember that Jesus is “sympathetic.” He feels with us, not against us. This awareness of Christ’s sympathy makes us bold to come. He knows our cry. He tasted our struggle. He bids us come with confidence when we feel our need.” (John Piper, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Cane To Die, 72-73 (Kindle Edition); Wheaton, Illinois; Crossway Books)
Fifth, remember that God has given you His Holy Spirit to help strengthen and perfect you. If you try to fight the struggles of the flesh on your own, you will fail; but with the help of the Holy Spirit you can succeed!
Romans 8:12-13-12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Friends, we need the help of the Holy Spirit to encourage us in our struggle against sin. We have to do our part-we work with the Spirit-but without the Spirit’s help, there would be no victory.
Also notice that if we stop struggling against sin-if we just walk away from the Lord and return to the world-then we will die. Compare this with 2 Peter 2:20-22.
Finally, even though you will “mess up,” you are not alone.
When you become a member of the church of Christ, you become part of a family of people who often “mess up” right along with you.
But you know what’s great?
Even though we mess up together, we pick ourselves up together and keep marching on. So we encourage each other when we assemble together (Hebrews 10:24-25), and we bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2). We pray for each other (James 5:16-20), and we love each other (Romans 12:9-13). We fall short, but we strive to forgive and encourage each other (Ephesians 4:31-32).
You need your church family, and your church family needs you.
So why are you waiting? The Lord has gone to the cross of Calvary to save you (Romans 5:8)! He was buried and arose from the dead on the third day to save you (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)! Jesus built and purchased His church with His own blood to save you (Acts 20:28; Matthew 16:18)!
Even now, realizing your sinfulness, weaknesses, doubts, and fears, He is ready to save you (Matthew 11:28-30).
Even knowing that you will at times “mess up,” He still wants to be your Savior (Hebrews 7:25).
Acts 22:16-And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’
If you are one of the ones like me who has “messed up” before-won’t you please come back to Christ today? He tells Christians:
1 John 1:9-If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Come back, to the Lord and to the church. There will be great rejoicing in Heaven, and on Earth, when you do!
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.