When You Stumble
Course: Life is a Journey
Lecture: When You Stumble
When you Stumble
Living a changed life
When we became Christians, we were changed. We died with Christ to that old life and were raised to a new life -- a new life of discipleship; a life in which we submit our wills to the perfect and holy will of God. Our lives started to show the Fruits of the Spirit, and we began to have God's love where there was none before; we started to have God's joy and his peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In other words, our lives changed. Yet this new life of fruitful discipleship isn't automatic, is it?
God is at work in us. He is giving us his desires, and then he is giving us the ability to make those desires a reality. However, God will not force his desires upon us. He will not make us love. He will not make us be joyous. He will not make us feel peaceful. Rather, we must take the next step and pursue God's love, his joy, his peace, and his patience. We must take the next step and, empowered by God's Spirit, pursue the things of God. God gives us the desire, he gives us the ability, but we must do something about it; we must take the next step.
Amidst all the joy of our new spiritual lives, I do have some bad news. The bad news is that sometimes, we will fail to take that next step. We will act as if we were not changed in our conversion; instead of love, there will be anger, which might develop into hatred. Instead of joy, there might develop a critical and bitter spirit. Instead of peace, there can be anxiety and turmoil.
It took me a long time to decide when I was going to raise this topic, because I know that you are excited. There is so much joy when a person first becomes a child of God. We realize that we are not going to spend eternity in hell; we are going to go to heaven. We realize that we have a new Father and a new family. Yet you need to know that challenges are coming. In fact, those challenges may already have started. So the question is: "What are you going to do when you don't take that next step of obedience?" "What are you going to do when you stumble and fall in the Christian walk?" "What are you going to do when you sin? "
Defining three terms
Before I give an answer to these questions, I need to define three terms that I'm going to use throughout the rest of this talk: relativism, sin, and temptation.
"Relativism is not a biblical word, but it does describe the world in which most of us live, and it describes the culture out of which most of us came when we became a child of God.
Relativism is the denial of the existence of absolute truth; it's the philosophy that says there's nothing necessarily right and there's nothing necessarily wrong; it says that truth is relative. Relativism says, "What is true for me may not be true for you. What is true for me this morning may not be true for me this afternoon." The world has a word for this: its called "post-modern thinking," or "post-modernity." The Bible has a different word for it: it's called "rebellion" against God.
You and I, as children of God, believe that our Father is the Creator. As the Creator, we believe he has the right and the wisdom to determine truth. There is absolute truth and it's what God, our Creator, decrees to be truth. In fact, we believe that God himself is Truth. God is our all-wise Creator who decides what is true and what is not true.
We also believe that God is good all of the time; therefore, this all-wise, all-good Creator wants the best for his creation. This all-wise, all-good Creator gives us rules and guidelines in the Bible. In the Bible, he has told us what is true and false -- what is right and wrong. At times, we're going to disagree with his judgment, but that just means we're wrong; truth is what God has determined. Therefore, what the Bible says is what is best for you and me.
In Psalm 16, verse 11, the Psalmist (the writer) understands this and he says, speaking to God: "You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." Notice that the Psalmist doesn't write, "God, you gave me a bunch of rules that I have to follow, and in your presence I'm miserable because I have this new list of things to do and things not to do." That's the way some people look at Christians, and also the way some Christians look at themselves, but the Psalmist understands that God has made known to us truth -- the path of life. Only on that path is there real joy. Only in his presence do we find true pleasure.
We are not relativists; we believe there is absolute, moral, spiritual truth. We believe truth is determined not by the world, but by our Creator who is all wise and all good, and he wants the best for his creation. That's our starting point, and it's diametrically opposed to everything we've been taught in this world.
The second word I need to define is the word "sin." Sin is a word that most of us are familiar with, but let me make sure we have a proper definition of it. Sin, at its most basic level, is "missing the mark." Imagine an archer drawing his bow back and sighting down the arrow. He's aiming for the middle of the target, which is his mark. He lets the arrow fly, and the arrow misses the mark; that, at its most basic, fundamental level is what sin is -- sin is missing the mark.
Who establishes the mark? Who says this is the middle of the bull's eye? Who says this is where our lives are to aim? God does. Our all-wise, all-good Creator says, "That's the bull's eye." We draw back the bow of our lives and shoot the arrow, and sin is when the arrow doesn't hit the bull's eye -- it goes to the side.
For example, what is the bull's eye for our tongue? God tells us in Ephesians 4, verse 29. "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." In chapter 5, verse 4, he says, "Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving." God has shown us where the bull's eye is. He's saying, "As far as your tongue is concerned, it is to be so full of grace and thanksgiving, it is to be so busy building up one another, that there is no room or time to tear the other person down."
We know the middle of the bull's eye, but what do we do? Where do we shoot the arrows of our lives? Despite the fact that we do believe that God is all wise and all good, there are times when we say things like, "No, God, I know better than you." "Your ways are not always best." "You're not always wise." "This is just not the time to build up, to edify, or to extend grace, to the other person." So, we gossip, we slander, we hurt the other person. We destroy their reputation. We sow seeds of distrust and discontent.
God has shown us the mark; he has given us the bull's eye. Sin is when we miss the mark -- when we fall short. Sin is when we don't do what God has asked us to do. Or to use another image, sin is when we stumble in our walk.
The third word that I need to define is the word "temptation." Temptation simply means "to entice to sin." Someone hurts us, and thoughts go through our head to respond in anger; that's temptation. Or a woman walks by, or a man, and something inside of us says to look her (or him) up and down, to lust; that's temptation, that's the enticement to sin. Let me share with you three things from the Bible about temptation.
1. Temptation is not sin
Evil thoughts fly through our heads whether we like it or not. Sometime we put ourselves in situations in which there are more evil thoughts, and that is our fault. But often evil thoughts come, and we have done nothing to encourage them. That's temptation; not sin. Temptation becomes sin when we yield to it. Temptation becomes sin when we yield and we do respond in anger or gossip and slander. Temptation becomes sin when we let our eyes dwell on that woman and undress her in our minds. Temptation becomes sin when we fall into a fantasy relationship with some man. Temptation becomes sin when we yield to it, but temptation itself is not sin.
2. You don't have to give in to temptation
I'm showing my age when I mention a famous comedian from years ago: Flip Wilson got a lot of laughs with one line. Do you remember his line? "The devil made me do it"? Flip Wilson got a lot of laughs out of that line, but his theology was absolutely wrong. The devil can't make anybody do anything. Sin can't make us do something wrong.
Understand that on the cross and in our conversion, the mastery of sin was completely broken in our lives. We no longer have to sin. Sin's still present, but its mastery, its domination, its control, was broken, and we don't have to give in to temptation.
There are promises all the way through the Bible along these lines. Jesus told the disciples in John 16, verse 33, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Jesus conquered the world; he destroyed the absolute power of sin. 1 John 4, verse 4, speaking of God, says, "he who is in you" -- Jesus -- "is greater than he who is in the world" -- Satan.
The God who is in us, through the Holy Spirit, is greater than Satan and anything else this world has. What is inside of you has conquered what is outside of you. Satan simply can't make you sin; we sin because we want to. We sin because we like to yield to temptation, but never are we made to sin.
The most important promise along these lines is in Paul's letter to the church in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 10, verse 13, Paul tells them, "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind." Here's what is going to happen, if you're like everybody else. Temptation is going to come and you're going to feel completely alone; you're going to feel as if no one has ever been tempted like this before. You're going to feel as if no one has endured a temptation that was this difficult to resist. If you are thinking this way, that's the voice of Satan and the voice of sin. The promise of God is that "no temptation has overtaken you that is not common." We are not alone. No matter how difficult it is, we're not alone. If we are being tempted a certain way, other people are being tempted in the same way; we are not alone.
Then Paul continues, "God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear" -- that is, your ability to resist temptation -- "But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." Notice that Paul doesn't say you have to endure temptation by some personal, inner strength. Rather, he reflects on the character of God. God is faithful. God has made certain promises to us, and our sovereign God is so in control of the circumstances of our lives that he has promised he will never allow a temptation to come into our lives that we have to yield to. We will never have a temptation that we cannot resist. In fact, our all-wise, all-good, all-loving, sovereign God says that in the midst of the temptation, there will always be a way for us to move out of it and not to yield.
God is not going to keep us away from temptation, but he is going to be with us in the midst of temptation. As we learn not to yield to temptation, by the power of his Spirit, we grow in our Christian walk. We never have to sin; we sin because we want to and we like it. I laughed a lot at Flip Wilson, but he wasn't right.
3. God is on your side
Thirdly, please understand that God is on your side. This joy and excitement you are feeling as a new Christian is real, and there is victory in your walk as a child of God. The reason there is victory is because God is for you, not against you. God wants you to be victorious in resisting sin -- to not yield to temptation.
I had a basketball coach once that needed to listen to this talk because he wanted me to fail. I've never had a basketball coach like that before. There was an odd, dysfunctional, relationship between free throws and the coach and me. Every time I got up to shoot a free throw, do you know what I heard? "Miss it!" or "Bet you five dollars you don't make it!" That was my coach! He used to bet me all kinds of things if I missed the free throw. He wasn't a very good coach, and I missed a lot of free throws.
God is not like my basketball coach. God doesn't want you to fail. He wants you to succeed and not yield to temptation. In fact, he wants you not to yield to temptation so badly that he's given you his Holy Spirit to live in you; that's how badly he wants you to win this battle. He's going to give you the desire to win the battle, and then he'll give you the ability to win the battle. Paul tells the Galatian church, "Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16). Listen to the Spirit; listen to what he says; listen to the direction that he gives you, and then let his power be the power that helps you not yield to temptation.
God is on your side. He's on my side. He's not against us; he's for us. Temptation is being enticed to sin; it's not sin, and we don't have to give into it. We have the power of God's Spirit to help us not yield to temptation.
What do you do
Having discussed those three words, let's get back to the original topic: "What are we going to do when we stumble and sin?" What are we going to do when we miss the mark? I cannot emphasize this enough: this is one of the defining moments in your spiritual walk. If you don't get this right -- if you don't learn what God has called us to do in the midst of sin -- you're going to be absolutely miserable for the rest of your life. I guarantee it.
The most miserable person in the world is the one who refuses to confess his or her sin. The most miserable person in the world is the one who has two feet in two worlds. One foot is in God's kingdom, and the other foot is firmly planted in this world, refusing to deal with his or her sin. It's so sad to see someone, who is a child of God, who possesses the power that raised Christ from the dead, hanging onto sin. What you decide to do about confession of sin is a defining moment for your spiritual life. What are you going to do when you stumble and fall?
Scripture's answer is clear: Confess; it's as simple as that. Confess your sin.
All that confession is, is simply agreeing with God that we missed the mark. We say, "God, you are 100% right, and I'm 100% wrong. I know the middle of the mark is to have my tongue so filled with grace and love that there is no room to be critical, but I blew it. I'm sorry." That's all that confession is -- admitting that you missed the mark, that God is right and you're wrong.
One of the best-known verses on this topic is 1 John 1, verse 8. John says, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." If anyone thinks they're free from sin, they're deceived. However, John continues to say, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." Notice that John goes to the character of God, and says that God is a faithful God -- he is a just God. God has committed to forgive our sin if we would simply confess our sin, and then we can know for sure that he will keep his word and forgive us. God is faithful and just, and he will do what he has promised to do.
If confession of sin is a new thing for you, I'd encourage you to go the book of Psalms and read chapter 51. Psalm 51 is the best model of confession there is in the Bible. Let me read some of the verses from the psalm, and you can get a feel for what real biblical confession looks like.
Verse 1. "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions." Notice that David, the writer, knows that he doesn't deserve to be forgiven, so he appeals to God's mercy.
Verse 2. "Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." David understands that forgiveness lies ultimately with God.
Verses 3 – 4. "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight." Although we sin against people, all sin ultimately is against God, and David knows that.
Verse 7. "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow." He knows that forgiveness is fully available.
Verses 10–12. "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."
Beautiful words! I'd encourage you, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to confess and the words just don't come, find a Bible, fall on your knees, and read Psalm 51. Say to God, "May this be my heart, and may these be my words to you."
If you continue reading through the Psalm, you will see even more principles of confession. You'll see that David makes absolutely no excuses; there are no excuses at all in Psalm 51. There is no idea that he is a victim, but rather it is a complete and total admission of sin by saying, "You're right, God, you're completely right, and I'm completely wrong." David is agreeing with God that sin is really bad; there is no desire in Psalm 51 to minimize sin or to say, "It's not really that bad." David agrees that sin is horrific; sin is a wretched thing. David doesn't think that he deserves forgiveness. Rather, he calls on God's character of mercy and grace and says, "Because of who you are God, I ask you to forgive me." And David knows that he will be forgiven. Psalm 51 is a model of true biblical confession. Compare your understanding of confession to it, and see if you're biblical or not.
Tendency to do the opposite
I need to tell you -- and it may not happen right now -- but as life continues, you will most likely develop a tendency to do the exact opposite of Psalm 51. Again, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but sin is sin; it's been sin for centuries, and it doesn't change much because it's so effective the way it is. I do know that in my life and in the lives of people I know, our human tendency is to do the exact opposite of what David does in Psalm 51. Sin knows the power of confession, and it does not want you to confess.
Sin knows what confession unleashes in the merciful heart of God, and so it whispers into our ears things like: "Make excuses." "Don't accept all the blame for what you did." "Certainly you can find someone else to blame." "Certainly it's not all your fault." Sin whispers in our ears, "Don't fully confess; just confess enough so that you can avoid most of the consequences." If we listen to the voice of sin and fail to truly confess our sin, we will not experience full forgiveness, we will not experience true cleansing. Only a Psalm 51 kind of confession brings full cleansing.
Allow me to give you two practical suggestions when it comes to confession of sin.
1. Get it over with
The tendency most people have is to mull over confession -- spend some time trying to decide if the sin was really that bad, or perhaps whether we can blame someone else. Just get it over with. Confess it early. Confess it often. Confess it fully. Just get it over with! As you and I hold onto our sin, what we're doing is only hurting ourselves, we are only falling farther down the spiral of sin, and we are only damaging our relationship with God.
The thing about confession is that when you and I confess, we're not telling God something he doesn't already know. He knows what we did. He knows what we thought. So just get it over with. Confess early. Confess often. Confess fully. God sees what goes on at 1:00 in the morning. God hears what we whisper in private. He knows exactly what is going on in our lives and in our hearts; we're not keeping anything from him -- we're not telling him anything he doesn't already know.
2. Confess your sin to one another
A second piece of practical advice is to simply confess your sin to one another; this is not just a good idea, this is the Bible (James 5, verse 16). Part of the lie of sin is that while we're in the darkness of sin, sin's telling us things like: "Don't tell anybody." "It will only get worse if you tell anyone." "No, just keep this to yourself and work on it." "If you tell someone else, you're giving them power over you. You don't want that! They'll gossip about you and it'll only get worse." Have you heard that voice? That's the voice of Satan; it's the voice of sin; it's the voice of the lie.
The fact of the matter is that the power of sin is snapped when we bring it to the light. We can probably all tell stories of times when sin was pulling us down, taking us farther and farther down that spiral of sin and destruction. Then we start to get desperate, wondering how we're ever going to get out of this sin. Then, in obedience to Scripture and perhaps in desperation, we finally go to someone we trust and confess to them saying, "I need you to pray with me."
What happens when we do that? It's over. It's amazing how the power of sin is almost always broken when we bring it to the light. Get it over with and confess your sin to one another. Sin is always going to be here, sin never goes away until we die, but part of the Christian walk is learning to deal with it, and we often need help doing so.
And please, see that in the midst of our sin and our confession, we are being changed, as the Bible says, from one degree of glory to another so that we look more and more like Jesus Christ. Confession shapes us into being godly.
Receive his forgiveness
What happens when we confess? We receive his forgiveness. I John 1, verse 9 says, "If we confess our sins" -- because of his very character of being a faithful and a just God, he absolutely commits himself to -- "forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
Perhaps as you grow in your Christian walk, you may get caught in sin and ask, "How could God love a sinner like me?" The answer is that he loved you before conversion; why would he not love you now? He loved us when we weren't his children; why would he stop loving us now that we are his son or daughter?
The thought may go through your mind, "But how could God really love someone who keeps on doing the same sins over and over again? How can he really forgive me?" The answer is, because he's God, and that's what being God is about. I would struggle if you kept sinning against me, even though I know the Bible says I have to keep forgiving you seventy times seven; it's hard because I'm human. God isn't human; he's God, and he's a faithful God. God is committed, no matter how much we sin, or how many times we commit the same sin, or no matter how bad it gets, that if we confess our sin and say, "God, you're right, I'm wrong," he has committed himself, always, without exception, to forgive our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If you want to know what it's like to be cleansed, go to Psalm 103; this is another Psalm about confession. If you're caught in sin and want to be forgiven and can't find the words, read Psalm 103. Read it as your own words. I'm going to start at verse 8.
"The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust." That's how God cleanses us!
God has determined what is true and false, what is right and wrong, what is good and bad. He is our all-good, all-wise Creator, who wants his best for his creation. With all of the joy and all of the victory that there is in the Christian walk, there's also sin; there's stumbling and falling; there's yielding to temptation and missing the mark. Please, confess your sin. Confess early. Confess often. Confess fully. Tell God, "You are absolutely right and I am absolutely wrong. No one else is to blame. I messed up. I'm sorry. Please forgive me." God is committed to forgive, and you will enjoy, always, the freedom that comes from being forgiven and cleansed.
I want to leave you with one last Psalm. Psalm 32. Starting in verse 3 the Psalmist describes what it was like not to confess sin. He says, "When I kept silent" -- when I did not confess my sin to God -- "my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer." In another Psalm he talks about his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth.
However, what happens when he does confess his sin? Verse 5. "Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.' And you forgave the guilt of my sin." Then back to verse 1. "Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit."