By Robert Beames
No man wants to hear his girlfriend say, “It’s not you; it’s me,” —usually the red flag signaling the beginning of a break-up. Yet, these same words, when found in the Bible, are welcome, and in fact, hold the opposite meaning for us. They indicate that our relationship with God remains strong. Rather than signaling a break-up, they indicate a relationship that even our own sin cannot shatter.
That’s not to say that we should continue in sin. Let me summarize our previous discussion on this topic, which you can review in the Pest Control category of the Genuine Motivation archives. (The first four points were discussed in the May ‘10 issue and the last two were covered in the July and August ’10 issues, respectively.) It is intended that through God’s Spirit these collective truths will help free us from the powerful control of sin.
Sin is fun: Some sins represent more of a threat to us than others, because we enjoy them.
Sin seems safe: It can feel safe to sin, especially when our acts do not appear to harm anyone.
Guilt can drive us to sin more: When we dwell on our failures, it may cause us to return to our sin.
Give up, not in: When we’re aware of our inability to conquer sin, we’re right where we should be.
Give more, get less: We begin to realize that the next time we sin, we’ll risk more and enjoy it less.
Beware the victories: Success over sin-pests may cause us to underestimate their alluring power.
This brings us to the present point: It’s not us.
When Paul says, “It’s not you” in the seventh chapter of Romans, we understand that when we sin, it’s really a monster within us committing the evil deed. This may sound a bit like the excuse “the devil made me do it,” but, no, this is not a cop-out. Instead, it’s an attempt to understand the never-ending, internal struggle we now have as Christians. Paul explains: “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do; but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” Romans 7:18-20.
This entire chapter is paramount to understanding our relationship to sin as believers, but it’s also important that we focus on the statement “it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me.” This certainly does not give us a “Get out of Jail Free” card. We know from other passages, we are still responsible for our actions. So how do we reconcile our accountability with the fact that it is sin living within us that actually does our sinning?
This priceless nugget of truth becomes some of the best news we may ever mine from the Bible. Precisely, it means we can hate the selfish, nasty, faithless things we do without disproportionately hating ourselves. Of course, in relative terms, we are to hate ourselves in such a way as to “value others above” ourselves, (Philippians 2:3). But, God hates our sin, while forgiving and accepting us, because of the sacrifice of Jesus. We should have a similar consideration for ourselves. This doesn’t mean we ever accept our sin, but we should always accept ourselves as invaluable to God. It means we continue to view our sin as detestable, disgusting and something we want out of our lives. It means we continue to fight against our sin as if our lives depended on it; but win or lose at the end of the day, we know that they actually don’t. As we struggle with our sin, we can still have respect for ourselves as valuable co-heirs with Christ. Our status, our identity, never changes, because it is Christ who gives us these. Paul reminds us of this in Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
When we sin, that isn’t who we are, who we are meant to be or who we will become. Although it’s serious, it’s just sin, not us. Sin has devastating implications for us and for those around us, but our identity is not wrapped up in it. We should despise it, and we should never become comfortable with it, but until Christ comes again, sin will always be right there with us. As Paul continues in verse 21 of the above chapter, “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” We continue to subdue our sinful nature, but we won’t completely be rid of it until we are fully made like Jesus—our future hope.
In the meantime, we can agree with those who point out that our sin is ugly. We can say along with them, “Yes, I did that. I hate it. It was detestable. I wish I hadn’t done it.” At the same time, we remind ourselves, “It was the sin within me that did it and it’s not who I am!”
Through His grace, we can choke the life out of certain sins, never to see them raise their unsightly heads again. But when we do sin, we can humbly ask for forgiveness without having to crawl under a rock in shame. It sounds crazy, but when we sin, we remain clothed in His brilliant righteousness, and our relationship with Him remains unbroken. His discipline can feel like the relationship is severed, but it’s not. It’s why Paul could announce later in Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
It has been said that in medieval times if a person was found to be responsible for the accidental death of another, the guilty party was forced to strap the body of his victim on his back, carrying the decomposing remains around with him wherever he went for a set period of time. So it is with our sin. In Christ, sin is dead. It is powerless. It is separate from us. However, we still carry the disgusting carcass along with us. Sometimes it stinks up the place with its foul stench, but we can point to its loathsome existence in our lives without pointing to ourselves in guilt. We don’t have to like it. Indeed, we dare not. But, its presence is also a promise that it will someday be removed when we are transformed into the perfection of Christ. Someday.