Repentance sometimes feels impossible. Often, I treat my sin like it’s some kind of illness, similar to a common cold or allergies. I stop fighting and let it overwhelm me. I know that something is wrong, but instead of seeking solutions, I self-medicate. And as if this numbness to sin isn’t frightening enough, I begin to ask myself, “Will God tell me I am a monster for letting my sin win?” Lacking trust in God and forgetting how faithful He has always been, I forego repentance and fall susceptible to a cycle of sin and shame. I start instructing myself to straighten up, to try harder, to do better. I want to pull myself up by my bootstraps.
But a bootstraps gospel is a false gospel. I’m not drifting into antinomianism here, but simply reminding you that our salvation depends on Christ’s obedience, not ours. Below are three ways to remember that sin has ultimately lost its power in the life of the believer. They help me eliminate the shame I feel after disobedience and push me to repent of my sin even when I’m tempted to wallow in it. They are "gospelisms"—truths about the gospel that are easy to preach to one another when we begin to forget the gospel—and I hope that they help you as they have helped me:
1. Our sin cannot rule us.
“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
1 John 1:6-8 (ESV)
If we confess our sins to God, He is faithful and just to forgive us of them, cleansing us from our unrighteousness! Think about the weight of the God of the Universe being justified in His forgiving and washing of sinners. God’s forgiveness is no scandal—Christ was unjustly punished so we could justly be forgiven. This should compel us to confess sin regularly before the Father and before each other, for the gospel lets us live freely to Christ instead of under bondage to sin.
This is sin's Achilles' heel. Though we may find ourselves falling into sin for a moment, it can never rule us if we are adopted sons and daughters of Christ.
2. Our sin cannot overcome us.
“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
Hebrews 10:12-14 (ESV)
Christ didn't just merely enable liberation from sin for us—he decided to claim our hearts and minds as his for the rest of our lives. He was actually able to bear our sins. His blood never runs dry, and it always runs deep. Christ’s merits never have and never will fail on their promises.
If you are being sanctified by the renewal of your mind, your perfection has already been accomplished. Though you must work out your salvation with fear and trembling, you are no longer at enmity with God. Rejoice in this freedom! Sin cannot overcome us because we've been overcome with Christ's righteous faithfulness. He completed all the work necessary to not just save you, but to keep you. Rest and rejoice in the faithfulness of King Jesus.
3. Our sin cannot kill us.
For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:17 (ESV)
Because of the accomplished work of Christ, death will never touch the believer. Christ’s resurrection broke death so that we might be united with him to eternal life. When the Spirit is nagging you towards repentance—and trust me, dying to self will sometimes feel like a nag until we are no longer in these sin-tainted bodies—do not be ashamed to bring your sin to God. He offers life! You may find yourself trying to cover your sin out of shame, but in your brokenness, remember Christ’s brokenness on the cross, endured for you so that you might find this life. You are granted a freedom that is uniquely from God—freedom to truly live.
If you’re anything like me, these truths will stir your affections. You are not longer subjected to the very things you hate most about yourself when you surrender to the freedom the gospel has to offer. Remember, God is ever near you, for this is where Christ posited you once you were united with him. Repentance is not far away if you have been made new by the Spirit. He will never turn you away, for you are his beloved child, and he’s come to fix you for eternity.
Cody Glen Barnhart
Cody Glen Barnhart (@codygbarnhart) lives in Kansas City, Missouri, and is a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Canon & Culture, Gospel Centered Discipleship, and is a contributor at servantsofgrace.org.