Thanks for emailing. I appreciate you letting me know what’s going on. Well I’m glad you’re being honest with me, because I know what to pray for. Know that I do not look down on you in any manner, knowing full well that I am wretchedly sinful as well, prone to turn away from Christ, but I look at you just as I look at myself, a sinner, saved by God’s grace, in need of God’s grace in the cross to change. You absolutely must have God-sustaining faith that only comes from Him, not self-sustaining faith to overcome sin that rules in your heart. Self-sustaining faith is no faith at all really. God-wrought (or God-created) faith is faith that perseveres despite whatever temptations and trials are thrown at you. Satan desires to carry you as far away from Christ and His Gospel as possible by tempting you exactly where you are weak and then making you feel condemned when you do succumb to that sin. And the only solution to it all is falling every day at the feet of Jesus and asking for His power and strength to carry you in your weakness, giving up on your own will and power to fight it, and allowing the work of the cross to transform you from the inside out. So much of defeating sin is applying Gospel healing instead of trying to defeat sin on your own power. The American way is to roll up your sleeves, and get it done. But the Gospel says the opposite: give up trying to fix your broken heart by yourself and trust in the work of Christ alone to do that.
Just by way of example, prayers of mine kind of look like this (not in any way boasting or trying to show what a pious person I’m actually not, just giving you something that you might consider): “Father, I am spent and worthless before You. I am famished and parched and dehydrated in my soul because of my sin. I am weak and shakey. I have no nourishment in my being, as if I have not eaten in days. I am prideful, arrogant, boastful, murderous, wicked in my heart. I am bitter and angry. I have disregarded your Scriptures. I have forsaken fellowship with you. I have trampled on your glory, spit on your grace, taken advantage of your mercy, trying to make a name for myself, instead of making your name great in the world. I am a grave Sinner without hope, apart from Christ and His work on the cross. I have nothing to offer you, no works, no strength or might. I give up! All I have to offer you is a black, hardened, broken heart that spurns your grace. What a sinner I am! Soften my heart by your grace Lord Jesus. Have mercy on me and cleanse me Lord with your infinitely precious blood shed on the cross! It’s all I can do. I have a sinful, broken heart that is in total need of your healing by the work of the cross, applied to me by your Holy Spirit. All my righteous deeds are like filthy rags before you, and all my deeds are deserving of eternal wrath forever! I ask in the name of Christ and His work, Father, for the power of the Holy Spirit to enter in and rule in my heart, cleanse me from sin, and forgive me for how I’ve angered, wronged and offended you. I have nothing good apart from You. I praise you for the cross Lord Jesus, for your willingness to take up my infinite, bitter load on the cross. May you change my heart progressively and permanently with this reality that I would follow you with my all!”
Another thing I have to say to my sinful heart everyday is this: “Christ alone, not my works, makes me acceptable before God.” (Dansby) I recommend memorizing this, and drill it in your head until it hurts everyday. With this reality at the forefront of our minds, it keeps us from thinking we maintain our justification before God by what we do or don’t do, but it also frees us so that can obey Christ and His commands.
As long as you attempt to defeat sin without the power of the Holy Spirit through prayer and His Word, you will never do it, and in fact the sin at your core will become more deceitful. John Owen talks a lot about this, that if you in your own strength and power attempt to mortify or suppress sin in your heart, it will re-emerge in a different form, though you make think you have truly mortified it. And so the solution to sin that reigns in you is to totally give up on your power, will, and strength to fight, and instead trust in the work of someone else that has the power, will, and strength to defeat it, namely Christ, and His work. And on the cross He defeated sin, our sin has in fact been nailed to the cross. And the image Paul paints for us with this is that when something is nailed to the cross, it is slowly dying. In the same way, sin is slowly dying, but it occasionally will come up to breathe, and to mortify it we must return to the cross (the Gospel) everyday, and beat it down with this truth, where we see its ultimate defeat. And in this, we obtain the power and strength to carry on in obedience. Otherwise, sin will reign in our lives and kill us off. John Owen has an amazing quote in The Mortification of Sin in Believers, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” And we kill it by the reality of the cross. The Holy Spirit alone can mortify your willful sinning that is indeed offensive to God. You cannot do anything about it with your strength or will power. In speaking to the disciples about who can be saved, he said in Mark 10:27, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” The same is true of changing into His likeness and forsaking sin. Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Apart from a total reliance upon the mercy of Christ and fellowship with Him, you will not change your ways. Try as hard as you may, you will fail. But in Christ alone we have the final victory over these things.
Here are some practical things (more just reminders than anything, because I know it is easy to forget) that are necessary to walking with Christ in obedience:
1) You must be in His Word every day (as it sounds you’re doing more). This is how God primarily speaks to us, though we experience Him in prayer as well. Apart from this ultimate authority, everything is speculation and vain thought. The knowledge of God is in the Scriptures. (This is the food and daily nourishment of our souls)
2) You must be in prayer with Him. In prayer, the object is to be conformed to His will, submitting to Him in everything, being cleansed of sin, and walking in fellowship with Christ. Just as we need fellowship with each other, we need daily fellowship more importantly with Christ, the life-blood of our lives, the very One who created us, sustains us, and gives us existence. (This is the water we need continually to wash us from sin, that we need to pursue righteousness and obedience to Christ.)
3) You must be in fellowship with other believers, wherever they are, encouraging one another to pursue Christ and forsake the pagan culture around you (the culture opposed to Christ and His gospel) that is sucking you in and forcing you away from obedience to Christ, the ultimate call for the Christian. In addition, you must cut off close ties with those pulling you into sin.
4) The life of a Christian is one of obedience to Christ. If you love Christ, you will do what He says. And it is a difficult, narrow path, and many fall away from it and are snuffed out from it by sin, by the deceits of the world, because they try to sustain themselves by their own power (which really just amounts to religious working and toiling and not trusting Christ for anything). Jesus says to His followers in one of the Gospels, “Why do you call me Lord, but do not do what I say?” Paul says at the end of Romans 3, “Do we then nullify the Law by this grace [given in the Gospel]? No rather we uphold the Law.” So we are saved from the wrath of God not by works but by His call to salvation, but are also saved unto obedience to God and His commands, restored to follow Him in obedience. We obey because we love Him. If we do not obey Him, it exposes the lack of true love we have for Him, which amounts to unbelief in Christ in some form. May we all repent of our sin and unbelief, and turn to Him for mercy! However we still cannot of ourselves accomplish this transformation in our hearts to obey Him rightly apart from His sustaining work and power by the Holy Spirit. All of salvation, from beginning to end, is dependent upon the work of Christ in our hearts. We are in utter, total reliance upon Him to not only save us, but to progressively change us into His likeness. And so this is why we must return absolutely everyday to the cross and receive the divine grace, power, strength and might to do what He asks of us, to follow Him when it is most difficult, when it may cost us everything, including popularity and friends, when it may leave us with no one. But in this we find the greatest delight of all, that in this obedience, we have the fellowship of Christ Himself multiplying, greater than anything the world can throw at you, including loneliness or abandonment. Our hope in every respect is in Christ alone, from beginning to end.
5) So when you pray, pray for God to change you by His Holy Spirit in your heart so that you obey His commands. Acknowledge your inability to change or reform yourself to follow Him. Apart from Him working mightily within you, and constantly returning to Him at every moment of every day in prayer, you will remain unchanged and ineffective in ministering the Gospel to a dying world who needs salvation and witnesses to stand up for Him and His cause, even if it causes us harm.
I hope these things encourage you. I love you and really desire to see you give up on your strength and trust rather in Christ’s strength exhibited in the cross, confirmed in the resurrection, so that you follow Him with your life and actions. This is the power we need to live lives pleasing to Him. That is our ultimate desire and hope, to be pleasing to Christ with our lives, actions, and our words, to be conformed to His likeness, not the worlds’. The world is running headlong straight into hell, but we who believe have been called out of this and called into a life of obedience and the glory of Christ, where we can be filled with joy inexpressible at the sight of Him. But we obtain this power to obey Him by emptying ourselves of ourselves and refilling ourselves with Christ alone, in Scripture, prayer, and fellowship. I will continue to pray for you that God may grant this divine strength by the Spirit and the repentance necessary to turn from your disobedience in sin.
In Christ Alone, Our Hope is Found, He is Our Light, Our Strength, Our Song,