Q: I just can't figure out how it is possible that my sins are forgiven if I keep repeating them — even though I hate repeating the same sins. If I trusted in Jesus 100% wouldn't I stop sinning?
This is an incredibly common question. There is a strong assumption among believers that salvation ought to bring about a sinless lifestyle. It does not. However, there's more that needs to be said. Coming to Jesus can bring victory over sin, and the last thing I want to do is to cause someone to become comfortable with their sinful habits. So, let's figure this thing out.
The reason we need to have a thoroughly biblical understanding of this issue is because Satan absolutely loves to get a hold of the hearts of those who struggle with sin. As "the accuser of the brethren" he is then free to accuse and condemn the tender-hearted believer, causing them to doubt their salvation and become tormented with thoughts that they can never be saved.
If this is something you've been struggling with I want you to pay close attention to the passage I'm going to share here.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8 (ESV)
This passage makes it clear that Jesus died for us while we were the most undeserving. When sin was our master, when we were immersed in darkness and enemies of God — that's when He laid down His life for us. There was absolutely nothing in our lives that was deserving of redemption, and yet that is when He paid the ultimate sacrifice for our sin. And when we come to Him with faith in His finished work on the cross He showers us with salvation and gives us His Holy Spirit. Praise God!
But this is where the trouble comes in. Now that you've accepted Jesus as your Savior, there ought to be some kind of change in your behavior, right? I mean...you hear all those amazing testimonies about people coming to Christ and being set free from all kinds of sinful practices. So why are you still struggling with sin?
These are the thoughts that believers become obsessed with, but instead of reaching biblical conclusions, the questions just spin round and round in their hearts and minds and they eventually fall to the satanic suggestion that all this evidence only proves that they were never saved in the first place — and probably never will be.
But what they fail to realize is that they've been suckered into believing that salvation is something we earn — though they would probably never use those words. Most of the people with whom I correspond about this question are able to confess all the right things. They believe with all their heart that Jesus died to pay the penalty of their sin, and most of them freely and passionately confess that salvation is a free gift that cannot be earned. The problem comes because they've added something to salvation at the end and it goes like this: Jesus saved me by dying on the cross, but I must keep myself saved by living a holy life and always walking in victory over sin.
I can't even begin to tell you how common this is. But the problem is that when you boil it all down you still end up with a salvation that is earned by works. Even if that salvation comes at no cost in the beginning, if you have to do anything along the way to keep yourself saved, it's still a works-based salvation. There's no getting around it.
In almost every case where I meet someone struggling with this question they almost universally say this to me: "Pastor, I absolutely hate my sin!" My response to that is: "So, where do you suppose that hatred of sin comes from? Did you think you came up with it on your own? And did you hate your sin before you came to Jesus?" New Christians simply don't realize that their hatred of sin is one of the most powerful indications that they've been saved. That hatred of sin comes from God's indwelling Holy Spirit living within you.
So here's the deal: All Christians struggle with sin. It's part of what it means to be a born-again Christian. And you will continue to struggle with sin until the day you are released from your body of flesh. But there is hope. You just need to realize that the power to overcome sin does not come from you. Instead it is found in Jesus Christ and it is activated BY FAITH. So stop giving in to the enemy and doubting your salvation, Put your complete and total trust in Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross. Don't be lured into looking at all your failures — keep your eyes on Jesus.
Next, you need to immerse yourself in a biblical understanding of all these things. I would strongly suggest that you listen or watch the teachings below, which all deal with the subject of sin in the life of the believer. They can be found on our CCO website in the study of Romans. The messages you need to focus on are these:
Romans 6 (Part 1) :1-14 - Baptized Into Christ's Death
Romans 6 (Part 2) :15-23 - Freedom From Sin
Romans 7 (Part 1) :1-13 - Sin and the Law
Romans 7 (Part 2) :14-25 - "Who Will Deliver Us?"
Romans 8 (Part 1) :1-17 - Life in the Spirit
God bless you as you grow in Christ.