American religious culture often makes room for a compromise between sin and Christianity. Many pastors trumpet from the pulpits that we all sin in “word, deed and truth.” There is a sort of wimpy Christianity being promoted that essentially says that the grace of God is strong enough to save you but not strong enough to keep you from sinning. If we could invent a time machine and bring the Apostle Peter or the Apostle Paul back from the past, they would discover modern preachers who expend great effort in being defenders of sin and consoling those who find it ‘impossible’ to achieve a life of holiness. Rather than feeling a deep disgust for their sin many take great comfort in their idea that they can sin and still maintain their Christian walk with God.
What a glaring contrast between the message of Christianity in the 1st century and the 21st century. John the Baptist ‘s message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:2) The word ‘repent’ means to feel regret or contrition for past sins. It means to make a 180 degree turn away from sin and toward the holiness of God.
The Apostle Paul never proclaimed any ‘right to sin’. He was humiliated by his sinful nature. Can you sense the great emotion that accompanied these words, “Oh, wretched man that I am.” (Romans 7:24a) Paul felt the weight of his sin and he detested it, he never tried to excuse it. After revealing his despair over sin Paul asks a very important question, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” This isn’t a man who is making room for sin in his life. This isn’t a man who is making excuses for his sinful behavior. He certainly is not rationalizing behavior that is grieving to the heart of a holy God. Paul is heart-broken because of his sin.
Finding the right answer to Paul’s question can mean the difference between eternal deliverance or eternal damnation. There is only One who can heal a cancerous heart from the disease of sin. Jesus Christ can deliver us from sin. We can abandon the sinful lifestyle through the precious grace and mercy of the crucified Christ. The adulterous woman was brought to Christ to be condemned and stoned. Christ forgave her and said to her, “Go, and sin no more.” (John 8:11) Christ never commands us to do something we can’t do. He fully expected the adulterous woman to apply the grace made available to her and cease her adulterous behavior.
Jesus always intended to make those who sin feel uncomfortable in their sin. The function of the Holy Spirit is to bring conviction to sinful hearts. The voice of God the Father thunders through the ages with the unchangeable message for all generations, “Be holy because I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44, 1 Peter 1:16) Why has it become the lifetime goal of so many ministers of the gospel to make people comfortable in their sin and assist them in rationalizing ungodly behavior?
Unfortunately, these ‘sinning’ Christians have lost all power to witness to friends and neighbors. The one thing that has run more people away from God is the ‘Christian’ who invites them to have a relationship with God but whose life hasn’t been radically changed by the spilt blood of Christ. So, the prevailing question in the heart of the unbeliever is, “Why should I become a Christian if I will be just like you, unchanged? I want something that will change who I am.”
I’m not declaring the Christians live in the perfection that belongs only to Christ. Christians will never attain this perfection as long as we harbor this treasure in clay jars. But Christians can draw upon an everlasting fountain of grace and strength provided by Christ to help us to live holy lives. Does a Christian sin? He doesn’t have to. But if he does sin, John tells us what to do. “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 John 2:1) If a Christian does sin his heart is filled with remorse, he feels humiliated and regrets having hurt the heart of his only Savior. He calls his Lawyer to approach the seat of judgment and plead his case. The Lawyer accepts his expression of regret and reminds the Judge that the penalty for his client’s sin has been paid in full!
The Christian sacrament of Baptism gives us a description of the problem. When Christians are baptized they are dipped (bapto) in water to witness to those who see that they have entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ. The temporary dipping is only the starting point of a permanent emersion (baptizo) in the life of Christ. To be baptized means to be ‘identified with’.
The Greek poet and physician, Nicander, lived about 200 years before Christ. Nicander explained it by describing the recipe for a pickle. The pickle is first dipped (bapto) in hot water and then it is baptized (baptize) in a vinegar solution. The pickle identifies with the solution.
So many today experience the temporary dip but they fail to experience the permanent change. They have never really become identified with the Holy Savior.
My wife and I adopted our son when he was four months of age. When we finally signed the final adoption decree he officially became a Probst. That short but meaningful ceremony opened the door for him to join the family. But now, six years later, I can say that he has fully identified with the Probst family. He has been immersed in our lifestyle. He is as much a Probst as any of the rest of us who call ourselves by that name.
Christians, don’t be satisfied with a quick dip into Christianity. Fully immerse yourselves in the life of Christ. Pursue holiness because of what it is, a life or death matter