Stay or Turn

If you’ve ever had those weeks (or multiple weeks) where you feel like a lousy Christian—this post is for you.  Because I’m there. And if we’re going to stop being lousy Christians, we have to first admit that we’ve been lousy.

The last two weeks have been awful, from a spiritual standpoint. I have not obeyed my God, I have dishonored Him in my actions, I have failed to trust Him to take care of me, and I’ve snapped and hurt some of the people I love the most.  I have confessed sin to Him, only to turn around a few hours later and fall right back into it.  I’ve let stress and fear make me lazy, instead of running to the arms of God.  I’ve let the temptations of this world into my life instead of pursuing joy in Christ.

It hit me as I went to bed last night and again as I woke up this morning that there are two choices before me: stay, or turn.

I can either stay in my sin, continuing to disobey God, walk away from my faith, and, ultimately, be proven false and spend eternity apart from Him. I don’t over exaggerate here–habitual, lifelong unrepentance ultimately leads to hell.  Not because “once saved, always saved” isn’t true, but because if you are truly saved, Jesus is Lord, and you dare not, and don’t want to, continue living life outside of His Lordship.

Or, I can turn.  I can turn away from my sinful actions, thoughts, and attitudes, confessing them before God, pouring my heart out before Him, and genuinely, sincerely, telling Him that I don’t want to stay this way.  I can turn from not walking with Him to ask Him to help me walk with Him.  I can turn from not trusting in Him and resting in His goodness to begin doing that.  I can turn from sin and start following Christ again, ultimately leading to the day where the good work He started in me is finished, and I rejoice as my Savior completes my salvation and takes me home into His presence for all eternity.

Obviously, option two sounds better.  But here’s the problem: option two is also harder.  It requires work.  It requires prayer.  Staying in our sin is always going to be easier than turning from our sin, because it doesn’t require change.  But it will always, always, always, cost more than turning from our sin, because it ultimately leads to hell.

But who creates that change?  We must be careful to not make repentance, the act of turning from our sin, out to be some work we do to earn God’s favor–it is not simply telling God we’re going to “do better next time” or “go to church more” or “try to be a better Christian.”  That’s a legalistic approach that denies the power of Christ and the necessity of the cross.

God doesn’t ask you to do better.  He doesn’t give second chances.  You and I have already blown it, and we will never get a chance to make ourselves right before God.  But God, in His mercy, sent Jesus to save sinners who have blown it.

Instead of giving us a second chance, which we’d ruin, He sent us Jesus.  And we are forever grateful that where we have failed, Jesus did not.  Where I fail to resist temptation, Jesus perfectly resists temptation (Matthew 4).  Where I fail to love others, Jesus did not (Luke 23:34).  Where I fail to honor God, Jesus honored the Father fully (Matthew 3:17).  And He did all these things not primarily to serve as my example, but to be my righteous substitute, my perfect Savior, in my place, before the Father.  So when you fall, as a Christian, as a believer in Christ, you fall dressed in the righteousness of Christ, no matter how far and how hard you fall down.  And you will get back up, continuing to trust in His righteousness and in His cross.

Martin Luther, in his 95 Theses, said, “All of life is repentance.”  We repent when we first come to God, and we will repent every day after, if we are truly His.  Repentance is about your heart before it is about your actions.  God-given repentance looks like Psalm 51, where David cries out, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”  It echoes the cry of the hymn, “Rock of Ages”: “Be of sin the double cure; save from wrath, and make me pure!” We see this desire again expressed in 1 John 1:9, where John the disciple is writing to the church about how to handle sin.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  True repentance desires both forgiveness and cleansing, because true salvation recognizes Christ as the Savior we need and the Lord we must follow.  Just as Christ is able to forgive us, so is He able to change us.

While repentance is a work we do, it is a work God gives, by His grace.  It is not primarily us changing our actions, but submitting our hearts and our lives to God, asking Him to change our hearts, and subsequently, change our actions.  I often pray that just as I trust Christ to save me, that He’d give me the faith to trust Him as Lord and obey Him for my joy, for His glory, and for the sake of the gospel.

One of, if not the, hardest things we do as Christians, as people, is admit that we’re wrong.  What’s even harder is to admit that we can’t fix it and submit to the authority of the One who can.  I wish I could say, “I’ll do better,” or, “I’ll try harder,” or, if I’m really confident in myself, “I’ll never do that again.”  But I can’t.  What I can say is this: The King who reigns and rules forever, the King who has full authority over all things, has authority in my heart and in my life, and even though I can’t fix myself, He can, without a doubt, change me.  And I am completely confident that He will finish what He started, no matter how far I’ve fallen.

If we are going to change, we must turn.  You’ll never start going north if you stay on a road going south.  It’s just not possible.  But when we turn back to God, confessing that Jesus is Lord and we want to follow Him, we can know for a fact that He forgives us through Christ, He accepts us through Christ, and through the power of Christ, we will not stay the same.  This is good news.  This is really, really good news.

So what do we do?  We ask Jesus to change our hearts and help us walk with Him, but does that mean we sit around waiting for a bright light to start leading us?  By no means.  Pursue Christ.  Spend time with Him and spend time with other believers.  Cultivate your faith and joy in Him.  Remember the gospel.  Pray earnestly and consistently.  As He changes us, we pursue Him, and seek to glorify Him in all that we do.

We are sinners.  But by the grace of God, we are also children of God, heirs of the kingdom, saints that are looking better each and every day, and one day, we will be just like our King and we will be with Him forever.  Rest in that.  Believe that.  Trust your Savior.

Lord, may we not stay in our sin.  May we turn, even though it’s hard to admit that we were wrong.  May we hate our sin and love your ways.  May we trust in you as Savior, to forgive us through your sufficient cross, and as our Lord, to change us and help us live new lives for your glory and for our joy.  May we realize that we can’t change ourselves, but that you who forgive us can also cleanse us.  May you finish the work that you started in us.

God bless,

Neal E.

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