Managing Sin vs. Loving Jesus

by Ricky Chelette

I want to sin. That is just the plain and natural truth. Everything in my fallen self desires that which is contrary to the spirit of God. It is so frustrating!

Unfortunately the church often doesn’t help. I know churches want to and mean to, but honestly, they don’t. Why? Well because most of our teaching in the church is geared at encouraging us (or worse yet, shaming us) into right behaviors. Now don’t get me wrong. Right behaviors are indeed good things and certainly should be evidenced in the life of every person who calls himself a Christian.  But far too often I spend more time thinking about my actions than my motivations behind the actions. And to be honest, we can all “manage” our behaviors for some period of time, but that rarely changes the desires of our heart.

The problem with managing our sin, however, is that eventually we become “weary in well doing” and relent. We stop white-knuckling it and lose our apparent grip on “holiness,” or what we think is holiness, only to fall head-long into the pursuit of our real passions — sin!

Despite the admonitions in scripture to “do right” or “behave correctly” the real thrust of the message of the Gospel is to allow its power in us to transform our hearts and minds so we desire to be imitators of Christ and not mere robots of behavioral modification.

What Scriptures calls us to is to love Jesus, to crucify the flesh, to surrender to the Lordship of Christ in our lives to the abandonment of our personal desires. The true Gospel calls us to be transformed by the power of God and the work of Christ on the cross.  It is not about our “managing” but about our utter and absolute surrender to the One who can do in and through us what we cannot do ourselves.
So yes, the things we do are important, but only to the degree that they are indicators of the wickedness or goodness that resides deep within our soul. Jesus reminded us of this reality in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14

9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10″Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men: robbers, evildoers, adulterers or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13″But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14″I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee was a man “doing good,” but his heart was wicked. His motivation was not one of bringing honor and glory to God, but managing his sin so as to somehow gain righteousness and therefore the approval of God.  We too, do the same. We think that somehow we can gain God’s approval and gather for ourselves righteousness that will please God. We have forgotten “there is none righteous, no not one.” (Rom. 3:10)  But our humanity screams there must be something we can do while our Savior bleeds and says, “It is finished.”  Let’s be honest with ourselves:  We have tried for a very long time to simply “be better” and we continually fail miserably.

So does that mean that what we do makes no difference at all? Am I suggesting that we simply live and let live and give no thought for our actions or how they affect others?  God forbid!  What I am saying is that we have to realize all that is good in us is Christ. As we surrender to Him, as His love overwhelms the darkness of our hearts, He promises that we will be “new creatures” (2Cor 5:17). The “new creation,” however, is not born of our goodness or ability to obey, but out of His indwelling our hearts and lives with His presence and grace. Lofty words indeed, but how does such a mysterious thing happen within the heart of mortal man?  Simply put: The Gospel!

Our lives and our actions are transformed when we realize what Jesus has truly done on our behalf — when we are so overwhelmed by the magnanimous gift of His love on behalf of each of us that we, like the tax collector, can only fall at His feet and say, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”  We are never changed by simple actions if those actions are not born out of a life whose heart and soul has been touched by the work of Christ.

So how does this work? What must we do?  Nothing!  We’ve been trying to “do something” far too long. It is time we realize that we must surrender to the Lordship of Christ and realize what He has done for us. Loving Jesus: It is THE motivation that drives obedience and dependence upon the only One who can truly do in us what we cannot do ourselves.