The Importance of Christian Identity in the Fight Against Sin
“‘I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.’”
I’ve often heard that Christians need to be in the habit of preaching the Gospel to themselves daily, and I’ve started to understand why. The Gospel reminds the believer in Christ of his or her identity, and a proper understanding of our identity is so crucial in choking the life out of the sins that enslave us and the addictions we hate to love.
One of the aspects of Christian identity is that if you’re a believer in Christ, you’re no longer condemned by God but accepted. And not grudgingly accepted. We’re talking recklessly and passionately accepted. You’re a child of God now, which means that he might discipline you when you stray from him, but he’ll never punish you since Jesus took your punishment on the cross.
A big part of what fuels habitual sins and addictions in Christians is that we just forget this. Too simple? Okay, walk with me through this then. When we forget that we’re forgiven by God, we’ll feel condemned by God. If we feel condemned by God, we won’t feel worthy to go to God. And if we don’t feel worthy to go to God, we are utterly on our own and thus helpless. Apart from him you can do nothing. Hebrews 4:16 is a huge verse here:
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
In your time of need, when you’re struggling with [insert your sin struggle], you need God’s mercy and grace. You need his power to deliver you from it. But to receive this mercy and grace, you must go to him. You must “draw near to the throne of grace.” But look how the verse says we’re to approach him: with “confidence.” If you don’t feel worthy to draw near to God, you won’t. And if you won’t draw near to him, you will be without the mercy and grace you need to stand up to sin. You’ll be a sitting duck. A sense of unworthiness cuts us off from God. Thus, a sense of unworthiness fuels sin in our lives.
This is why preaching the Gospel to ourselves every day is so important. On our own, yes, we are unworthy to go to God. But the Gospel (or “good news”) is that we’re not on our own anymore. Jesus took the punishment we deserved so that we could receive the benefits of his perfectly-lived life. Because he took my place on the cross, his righteousness is imputed (or “credited”) to me. That means that now I can approach God, not because I’m righteous but because Jesus is righteous, and I’m on his tab.
I think some of Satan’s biggest victories against us are not in his getting us to commit a particular sin, but in increasing our guilt over it. It’s like that old proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Similarly, get a man to sin and you’ll separate him from God for a moment. But get a man to feel guilty, and you’ll separate him from God forever. Guilt causes us to believe that God doesn’t want us, that his arms aren’t open to us, that his attention can’t be grabbed except by maybe extreme effort. It causes us to believe that we’re damaged goods and that God couldn’t possibly still want us.
I don’t think it’s too bold to say that the moments after sin can be more dangerous than the moments before it. How you respond to sin is so important. Will you move further away from your only source of life and help as a result of it? Or will you move closer to him? We need to preach the Gospel to ourselves every day because we sin every day, and the more we sin, the more we’re reminded that on our own we have absolutely no right to speak with God. But we need to let that drive us to Jesus as our only right to be in the presence of God. Jesus killed sin’s guilt. And because there’s no longer any guilt or condemnation for God’s children, then sin’s power begins to diminish in their lives, because they’re confidently running to their Father for strength.
We should feel sorrow and grieve after we sin, sure. But there’s a godly sorrow and a satanic sorrow. The Puritan Thomas Brooks writes: “That sorrow for sin that keeps the soul from looking towards the mercy-seat, and that keeps Christ and the soul asunder, or that shall render the soul unfit for the communion of saints, is a sinful sorrow.” In other words, if the sorrow you feel after you’ve lost your temper, looked at porn, or gone back to drunkenness leads you away from God, it’s not from God. Godly sorrow will drive you back to him. It won’t be fun. It won’t be easy. But you will find grace there. And in those moments, you need to cling solely to Jesus. Because he can be in the Father’s presence, you can, because you’re united to him.
This is an identity issue. What delivers you from sin is running to God, and you’ll only run to him if you have the confidence to do so. Writing about pornography, Tim Chester writes: “To win the battle against porn, you need to keep drawing near to God, and that movement starts with confidence in his gracious welcome.” That confidence is gained by remembering who you are in God’s eyes. Whatever excuse you make for why God won’t graciously welcome you into his presence, Scripture says something which undermines it. If you are a believer in Christ, you are fully forgiven, because he is without sin. So run to God for everything. You’ll only find open arms at his throne. You’ll never want to be with him more than he wants to be with you.
Truth: “I’m forgiven.”
Lie: “I’m condemned.”
“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.”
Romans 8:1-4 (New Living Translation)