Every Christian struggles with what is called besetting sin. It could be impure thoughts, gossip, a bad temper, but the worst is that no matter how many times it is confessed or how much each person wants deliverance from that sin, they constantly find themselves saying, “Oh no, I did it again.”
Each of us also assume that a big reason for our salvation is that God will change our lives and make us better people. While He does do that, and while His goal is to transform us into the image of His Son, the primary reason, and even the only reason, is that God saves us for His own name’s sake, that He will be glorified.
Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power. (Psalm 106:7–8)
The power of God for salvation teaches me that He can change lives. I’ve experienced changes in the way I think, talk, act and have seen dramatic changes in the lives of others. So why then does He let us struggle with those besetting sins?
One reason might be the impact they have on how I think about myself. After a long struggle with something totally selfish, I finally get it through my head that I am a sinner, that I really don’t want to stop, and I deserve whatever punishment God could put on me. While this is most humbling, I’m beginning to realize my stubborn heart is not the main reason God seems to withhold His softening power.
After several days of reading the above verses, I see something deeper. God is showing me that His grace is greater than all my sin. I say, “Oh no, I did it again” only to hear Him say, “Oh yes, and I forgive you again.” His mighty power includes a patience with me that goes far beyond my comprehension. If I thought that God would and should strike sinners with lightning, He has shown me that He is not like that.
Yesterday someone posted on facebook thoughtless behavior of “sight-seeing” people in the Alberta flood zone. I felt sick about what they were doing, until I read some of the comments that explained the other side of the story. What looked like thoughtlessness was actually an expression of help and encouragement. It may have had an inappropriate side, but those sight-seeing folks were actually trying to cheer the depressed and bring a little joy into this calamity.
I felt rebuked. God saves sinners because He is a loving, saving God. It isn’t about what we sinners want or deserve but about the expression and revelation of His heart.
The facebook post exposed my heart. It also exposed the kinder, more thoughtful, and less judgmental hearts of others, even as it rebuked me.
This makes me realize that every time I cry out for forgiveness for something I cannot seem to stop doing, God forgives me and I learn about Him too. His failure to strike me with lightning exposes His heart. His repeated forgiveness is an expression of who He is even as it exposes and rebukes who I am.
Sometimes I will give other sinners a pass in an effort to be kind, or I make excuses for their behavior rather than call it what it is. However, God never forgives for those reasons. He is kind and loving, but sin is sin. He never makes excuses for what I do nor does He give it a euphemism as if it really isn’t so bad. Instead, He makes me deeply aware of the sinfulness of my attitudes and behavior, and the consequences. He gives me His hatred of sin.
Saving for His own name’s sake means God is being God. He punished Jesus Christ for what I do, and every time I repeat what I do. Each transgression is another blow on His back, another thorn drawing blood from His brow. Those who keep on sinning without confession or any desire to repent do face eternal damnation. Unless they run to Christ asking forgiveness, they will be lost forever. This is serious stuff.
I cannot trust myself to measure up. Besetting sin shows me that. As I rely on Him, His name becomes my strong tower, my shelter and refuge from the storms and temptations of life. Sometimes my greatest enemy is myself, yet God will save me for His own name’s sake.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1–3)
This is a process, and in the process, I find out that purifying myself isn’t as easy as I once thought. Besides that, God is showing me that my struggle with sin also reveals the incredible power of His merciful patience.