The other day, I got a great e-mail from a twenty year old college student whom my wife and I had the privilege of leading to Christ a few weeks ago and are having the joy of helping to grow in her newfound faith. She wrote, “I am getting really tired of being here at CU, what was ‘normal’ before, is now so…not. The parties, frats, sororities, drinking, ‘love,’ the general humanistic, believe what you want, skeptical, mindset, it’s so…not cool anymore. Really hard figuring out where I fit now, as I’m continually changing. It’s like I did a total 160, (not a 180) because part of me is still looking back and wondering!”
Simply brilliant! She did “a total 160″ instead of the classic 180. As soon as I read her e-mail, something clicked down deep in my soul. And maybe it clicked in yours, too. Because, if we’re honest, when we put our faith in Christ, at best we pull a 160. When Christ flips the light switch on in our dark souls, a radical transformation ensues. Legally, in the courtroom of God, we are declared fully righteous through Christ’s sacrifice for our sin. We are adopted into God’s family and are saved from the penalty of sin forever.
The same cross that saves us gives us the power to have victory over sin in our lives on a practical level. But, if we are honest, our practical sanctification is never a complete 180. That wasn’t even the case for a super saint like the Apostle Paul.
Listen to Paul’s raw admission of struggle with sin in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” He goes on to explain in later verses, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”
Sounds like a complete 160 to me. It also sounds like Paul was as frustrated as you and I get with the ongoing battle with sin in our own lives.
We battle. We win. We forget. We sin. We battle again. Argghhh!
I don’t know about you, but the 20 degrees of sin that I still struggle with (sometimes less/sometimes more) can be completely frustrating. It sure aggravated the Apostle Paul. He wanted to shake it, but every time he did, evil was right there with him. But these 20 degrees of sin kept him coming back to find his victory in Christ. This resident evil reminded Paul (and should remind us) that we still need the cross everyday. Although the penalty of our sins has been fully paid through Jesus Christ, we still have a bloody war to wage in our own souls. This battle is against sin and the victory is made available through the cross of Christ. When we choose to count ourselves dead to sin because of the cross and alive to God through the risen Christ who dwells in us, we walk in the victory that is ours through Jesus. When we forget or refuse to walk in the shadow of the cross and empty tomb, we lose that battle with the flesh every time.
Too many Christians, strapped and trapped by a gospel of leaven and legalism, can’t be honest about their sin for fear of violating their own anti-book-of-Galatians standards of self-righteousness. They are forced to fake it which, of course, leads to more secret sin. They become liars and legalists, all the while pointing their sharpened finger at the rest of us who admittedly still struggle with sin on a regular basis and who are desperately seeking to walk in the victory that is ours through Jesus Christ.
Personally, I am thrilled that Paul was honest about his struggles. I’m thrilled that, from the Old Testament to the New, Scripture is honest about the sins of some of his choicest servants. From Abraham to Moses to David to Jonah to Peter to Paul, we are in a long line of fellow strugglers who are seeking to live in the victory over sin which is ours through Christ.
Paul reminds us in Philippians 3:12-14, “Not that I have already obtained all this…” (in other words, he hasn’t made the complete 180 yet) “…or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
What was Paul’s attitude? He was going to keep pushing, pressing, and straining to attain that complete 180. He was going to forget his past victories and defeats and press on until he was everything that Jesus saved him to be.
That should be our attitude as well. Let’s not give up, give out, or give in until we are what Jesus has called us to be. Let us strive for perfection (aka “the 180″) in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And let us press on with Philippians 1:6 as an encouragement and a promise, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” We can know that Jesus will complete the 180 in our souls fully someday, even if it takes our physical death to make it a reality.
He will complete what he has begun.