Why Am I Stuck In Sin?

“Why do I struggle with the same sins over and over?” “Why is it so much harder for me to be a faithful Christian than other people?” “Why do my good intentions and even sincerely made commitments end in failure?” These aren’t just the questions that others ask me, these are often my own questions. Sometimes I think that as a person who’s been a Christian for 27 years and a pastor for 16 years, I should be further along in my Christian life than I really am.

Enter the book Extravagant Grace in which the author, Barbara Duguid, shares what she’s learned from the letters of John Newton. Since so many people at church have been reading it, I thought that I’d join the fun and read it too. I can see why so many people are talking about it.

One thing I appreciate is that Duguid has made a lot of people aware of John Newton’s writings. In the past I’ve really enjoyed reading his letters for lots of reasons including that it reminds me that there was a time when people had the time to write letters. When is the last time you wrote a letter? Many have never done it. But Newton wrote hundreds of letters to all kinds of people in all kinds of circumstances. And those letters contain priceless spiritual truth and a lot of answers to questions about spiritual failure.

For those of you who don’t know the name John Newton (1725-1807), he’s the guy who wrote the song Amazing Grace. He’d experienced God’s grace when he became a Christian while a captain of an English slave ship and eventually ended up a pastor in Olney and then London. If you want to learn more about Newton, you might be interested in this biographical sermon I preached a few years ago or this book which the sermon was largely based on.

Newton combined a sharp theological mind with a compassionate heart that was in part due to his own horrible past that God had saved him from.

In February of 1772 Newton wrote a letter to address the question of “Why don’t I see more obedience to God in my life?” and then in the following month wrote another letter to answer the opposite question of “Why am I stuck doing the things I don’t want to do?” I find them both very helpful to me personally and in discussions I have with others.

Why don’t I live the life I want to live? Well the Bible tells us that because every Christian has a sin nature there is a great spiritual conflict in our soul.

Galatians 5:17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

If we didn’t have a sin nature waging war against us…

1. We would enjoy God in prayer. Sure we know the value of talking to the God of the universe. We tell others of the spiritual knowledge and comfort that comes from praying. But we find it incredibly difficult to pray.

“How often does he find this privilege a mere task, which he would be glad of a just excuse to omit! and the chief pleasure he derives from the performance, is to think that his task is finished.”

Translation: We often think of prayer as something we should do but would rather not do and what we enjoy the most about prayer is crossing it off our “To Do List”.

2. We would enjoy reading the Bible. We know that God has blessed us with his word and we believe it’s doctrines and promises. We know, at least in our head and maybe even in our heart, that the Bible is preferable to gold and silver and sweeter than honey. And yet it is difficult for us to take a few minutes to read it and the “privilege frequently dwindles into a task.”

3. We would often think about the greatness of Jesus. Jesus is our hope, our rock, and our shield. In him is life and satisfaction. He is full of grace and truth. He is our Lord and our Savior. And yet we hardly think about him because our mind is full of the trivialities of our day.

In the second letter dated March, 1772, Newton addresses the same issue from the opposite direction. If the first letter explained why we don’t do what we wish we would do, this letter explains why we do the very things we wish we wouldn’t do.

Romans 7:19  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.

If we didn’t have a sin nature waging war against us…

1. We would not have, much less give in to, “vain, foolish, and vile imaginations.” 

“I find something within me, which cherishes and cleaves to those evils, from which I ought to be horrified by, and flee from–as I would if a toad or a serpent was put in my food or in my bed.”

2. We would not be so influenced by a love of self.

 

3. We would not murmur against the providences of God. 

“I feel the workings of a presumptuous spirit, that would account for every thing–and venture to dispute whatever it cannot comprehend. What an evil is this, for a potsherd of the earth to contend with its Maker!”

Translation: Instead of being submissive to the will of God, I find that I want to argue with God about things that I don’t even understand. Who am I, a mere pot, to argue with the Potter!

Of course Newton says more than I can tell you about here and you can read it for yourself if you’re so inclined. But here’s at least one take-a-way for you: The normal Christian life is pretty messy. If you’re struggling, if you’re disappointed and think you should be further along than you are, if you’re wondering why you are stuck in sin or can’t “get with the program”, you aren’t alone. So am I. So is everyone else.

Why did God set it up this way? That’s more than we can answer here but here’s at least one big reason…so that we’ll never think that we are past needing Jesus. So that we will never think that we’ve arrived and no longer depend on God’s grace.

2 Comments

  1. The ESSENCE of belinging to Christ necessarily involves DYING, moment by moment. Dying a million deaths, day by day, so that the devotion unto the WILL of God Almighty is dominant in the Christian’s life over and above the mind that says it is still plagued by sin. JESUS took care of it ALL, having already wiped away all lies and entrapments of satan. It is up to each and every Christian to command the mind and retrain the brain, in order to live in communion with the Living Word of Jesus the Christ. This REQUIRES a firey and passionate dedication unto God’s Living Body. One will find that if one REALLY commits, day by day, in this way, the Holy Spirit makes it easier….and all the nagging voices of a dead personal past will be just that….PAST…In God’s Indomitable Love and Faith in His Healing Rays….***Elise R. Brion***

  2. Scott West said:

    In case you can’t find it, the John Newton sermon is #6

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