Rightly Handling Our Sinful Failures

Every Christian sins. We all, without exception, willfully “stumble” on occasion. But some of us, after continually failing to effectively battle the flesh and to rightly deal with our sinful failures, have found ourselves far beyond the “stumbling” stage. Many of us have reached the terrifying point when we felt utterly unable recoup from our falls and continue fighting, so we raised our white flags and allowed our fallen nature to ruthlessly subdue us. We hated the pain our carnal pleasures inflicted on our souls, but we didn’t feel like we could stop. Hopelessness settled like a thick, dark cloud over our hearts as we lost ourselves in the storm of sinful desire. As we plunged further into the lusts of the flesh, we began to believe that God didn’t care about us. Didn’t love us. Didn’t want us. We seriously wondered if he was even there . . .

Thankfully, most of us can gladly testify today that the God who is there stepped in and plucked us out of our sin-ridden state. When every ounce of our power was depleted and our stupidity seemed to have won the war for our souls, God reached down and with his saving arm gathered us back to himself. For reasons owing totally to his divine power at work within us, our seemingly dead faith reignited and we suddenly found power to repent. Would God have been right and just to allow our faith to disintegrate? Yes. Has he let others—who once professed faith but then threw themselves to sin as we did— totally forsake him and go their own way? He has. But in mysterious mercy, he didn’t let our faith fail (Luke 22:32). He didn’t let our indwelling sin win.

And I, for one, never want to go back to that place again. I never want to let my indwelling sin get such a hold over me that I, if left to myself, will throw the blessings of salvation away for a stupid helping of sin (Hebrews 12:15-17). God rescued me out of gross, willful rebellion once . . . and I don’t want to test his patience by treading those waters again. I can’t communicate in words how fearful I am of letting my indwelling sin prevail over me and potentially lead me to walk away from Christ and prove my faith fraudulent. I know that every single one of us will commit sin until we exit this wretched flesh—I don’t expect to live a life of sinless perfection. But I do, more than anything, want to prevent my sinful stumbles from compounding into a big, faith-threatening catastrophe.

Sin-dominated seasons like the one I walked in a few years ago usually don’t just pop out of thin air. Resilience to fight the flesh fades slowly. It was failure after failure to efficiently battle my flesh and rightly handle my stumbles into sin that eventually ushered my soul into a state of hopelessness and almost utter unbelief. So, until sin is completely expelled from my being, I am determined never again to let a casual approach to battling the flesh or ill-dealt-with sinful failures lead me into a potentially faith-destroying situation.

The following are a few “courses of action” that people much wiser than me have urged me to incorporate into my life to prevent such a catastrophe. My walk with Jesus has radically changed (for the better and more stable!) since doing so:

  • Confess and deal with sin immediately. Whether it’s a “big” or “small” sin—an adulterous affair, a fall into pornography, an episode of gluttony, or even a prideful or hateful attitude of the heart—confess it immediately. Don’t have such a naïve view of sin that you don’t deal with it urgently—unchecked sin breeds more sin. And don’t let the uncomfortable experience of confession cause you to “put it off.” Embrace the painful feelings—the guilt, the shame, the sorrow—and run speedily to the One who, by his own blood, can truly remove them from you. Don’t hesitate . . . deal with sin seriously and quickly. Go in haste to the throne of grace! Jesus is faithful to forgive; run to him and let him apply fresh forgiveness to your soul. Let him “create in you a clean heart and renew a right spirit within you.” – Psalm 51:10.
  • Ravenously seek God every day—especially the days following a fall into sin. “Discipline” is a concept many evangelicals shy away from, worrying it may be mistaken for, or morph into, legalism. But being disciplined about daily Bible reading and prayer is essential if you want to live even a semi-stable Christian life. Our souls need to feed on Christ through his Word and need to soak in the Spirit in prayer every single day. We must seek to abide in him (John 15:4). Personally, my desire to draw near to God is never duller than it is the days/week following some sin committed. Immediately after a fall, in a desperate attempt to escape guilty feelings, I am all about praying and reading the Bible. But after those initial feelings of discomfort dissipate, I find my heart a bit numb towards God. The lusts of the flesh really do wage war against the Spirit. When we feed our flesh through sin, the desires of our new nature immediately become less prominent. And this is why we must fight with all our might through the dullness of heart in the days/week following a sinful stumble. We must resist the temptation to spiritually “coast.” We must open our Bibles. We must get on our knees. If we really want to counter the inner workings of our flesh (and it is always working!), we have to constantly sow to the Spirit by filling our minds and hearts with the reality of God . . . especially in the days/week after a fall into sin, when our hearts grow less inclined to God.
  • Let people know how you are really doing. One of the greatest weapons God has given to help us continually fight the flesh and walk by faith is community. But our brothers and sisters in the faith can’t effectively help us wage war if they aren’t really aware of how we are doing. It’s essential that we be transparent and honest with trusted Christian siblings about the true state of our souls. If we are struggling with some specific sin, we need to let them know that. If we are regularly facing a certain temptation, we need to let them know that. Their prayers, encouragement, and accountability will serve as hedges of protection for us. So let’s not put on some front, pretending to be better than what we are. Let’s be real and utilize the gift God has given us in the love and friendship of other believers.

Sin is deceitful, friends. Every “stumble” into it has the potential to evolve into a spiritually catastrophic situation if we don’t deal with it seriously and immediately. If we aren’t sowing to the Spirit every single day, the flesh—even if seemingly quiet—grows stronger and will eventually rear its ugly head. If we aren’t walking in community with other believers and allowing them to spur us on (and us spur them on) in pursuit of Jesus, it’s only a matter of time before our sin will get the best of us. So let’s fight! Let’s fight to apply the gospel to our failures and to let grace pick us up and keep us going! Let’s fight to subdue the flesh by filling up on the Spirit! Let’s fight this fight of faith with one another and for one another!

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” – Hebrews 3:12-14

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