The Old Man and the New Man
This article was a letter written to a college student who was wondering about repetitive sins and the guilt feelings that go along with them. This letter was my explanation to her. It is a problem that all Christians must understand and manage. For that reason, we will have a fair amount of discussion on this website about feelings.
I believe that you are a real, normal Christian of Romans 7!
Everything that you said is really normal. We have the “old man,” and while we are to reckon him dead, he is very much alive. The interesting thing is that if you read statements of those whom we would call the great saints of history, you will find that the older and more experienced that they get as Christians, the more that they see themselves as great sinners. Paul called himself “the greatest of sinners.” Check out this article, a classic among believers at the bottom of this article.
But, let me give you some specifics that might help. You have a very active mind, which is a blessing, if you can keep it focused correctly.
1) Learn to distinguish between thinking and feeling. If you had a fever of 103 degrees, you would not feel like doing anything but staying in bed. And, you shouldn’t do anything else. You body has a sickness. You can think about what you can do, but you really can’t do it.
On the other hand, if you feel “bad” over sin, the feelings are triggered by your thoughts, not something physical inside you. So, you should not rest your mind or your body because there in nothing physically wrong. First, be sure that you have confessed your sin. This is not likely your problem, from what I know of you. Then, instead of dwelling on the sin, get busy with school work, bible memorization, or something else that is actively engages your mind. This is moving from your Phil. 4:6-7 to verse 8. “Think on… (right things.)
Once a sin is confessed, it is forgiven… always, always, always, Romans 8:1. So, any remorse that lingers is just a feeling — a guilt feeling, not true guilt. We want to feel forgiven!!! But, had you rather “be forgiven,” or “feel forgiven?” I feel good with a cup of coffee, first thing in the morning. The hardened sinner feels good about his life. (I intend the contrast here.) Something simple can make us feel good (or bad). Something that is a fist in God’s face, the sinner can feel good about. Feelings are deceptive and unreliable. They FOLLOW our thinking or our physical states. They are not to lead for the Christian.
2) The Christian life is always a put off/put on, Eph. 4:25-32. Note that we are not to just stop sinning, but to adopt the right way. We end our anger by action that same day. The thief just does not stop stealing, he gets a job and goes to work. The “put on” does not always have to be the opposite of what is put off, but it has to be something active.
Many Christians make a serious mistake when they try to just put off the sin. They say to themselves, “I am not going to do _____ (name the sin) any more.” But, they don’t substitute another activity. So, there is a vacuum there. You know what nature, especially our sin nature does to a vacuum. It is similar to the problem of demons (Matthew 12:43-45).
3) Remember that you can never do enough to satisfy God. Jesus Christ did that. We are to live in grace where we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling. A better verse is “come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Or, the 4th commandment… we labor 6 days, and rest one. We labor… we work hard “with fear and trembling,” but always there is rest.
I don’t particularly like the word “tension” to describe the Christian life because it can make one “tense.” I prefer work and rest. One who always works is wrong. One who always rests is wrong. Better, “work hard” and be sure that you get good rest. A daily schedule that has many hard hours of work, that ends in plenty of sleep (and not staying up late) is the right kind of day!