Last winter we were surrounded by ice and snow that shut our city down. And while the snow was pretty (for a few days), the extreme temperature fluctuations had lasting consequences on our infrastructure.
If you are from Portland, you know what the worst of those consequences were – potholes! The roads around town were already rough before the storms, but after. . .well, after was downright dangerous. That drop into the pothole sometimes felt like you were going to lose a tire or seriously damage the axle on your vehicle.
The city’s solution to the problem was patch jobs. Dump a few shovels full of asphalt into the hole, pack them down, and call it good.
While the shovels full of asphalt filled the holes, they left a large bump where the hole used to be. Some of them were so high that they were just as jarring as before! Now, instead of dropping down into a hole, I was going over a speed bump at high speed. The consequences of the snow were still brutally evident.
We are well into the new year, and maybe you started out making resolutions, or taking inventory of your life. “This will be the year,” you thought. The year I conquer the sins I failed to conquer before. But deep in your heart, you are already preparing to fail. Maybe you already have. You don’t truly feel like there is any newness about you. You feel like you are driving down the same old road, and you have just done a poor job of patching the potholes left by your sin. The guilt remains. You are afraid of falling right back into it again. The effects are just as jarring as ever. You may wonder, “Is there any hope of traveling down a smooth road ever again?”
The Gospel and Guilt
Friend, I want to encourage you to consider – how does the gospel impact your daily journey down a pot-holed road? We live in a world that bears the marks, scars, and potholes from sin – both from the first rebellion of Adam and Eve, to our own willful rebellion against God. Sometimes the consequences of our sin can be overwhelming. Recurring guilt and fear keep us focused on who we used to be.
So let’s first consider how the gospel speaks to our guilt. The gospel tells us that the great consequence of our sin is that we are unable to be in the presence of our Creator, our holy God. But, in his kindness, he sent his son, Jesus Christ, to live the perfectly sinless life we were unable to live. In our place, he suffered the punishment for our sin that we could not bear, so that those who repent and believe can have life in his name.
Christ’s death was and is sufficient payment for all your sin, past, present, and future. We are told in Paul’s letter to the Colossians that our debt has been canceled, that Christ set it aside, nailing it to the cross. (Col 2:14) He goes on to tell them that Christ has “disarmed the rulers and authorities”, meaning they can no longer accuse you or find you guilty because he has triumphed over them. You have been acquitted and are free in Christ. Why continue to take up guilt that isn’t yours anymore? Trust in the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross, and take up the freedom he offers you. Repent and believe. Your potholes are no longer poorly patched; your road has been freshly paved.
The Gospel and Fear
This leads us to consider how the gospel impacts our fear of continuing to sin. When we repent and believe, the transformation is radical and complete. Paul tells the Corinthian church “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) This means we are not better versions of our old selves, but we are made completely new. We have a new identity, a new way of viewing the world, a new way of viewing sin, and a new heart that can make new choices. You now drive down this freshly-paved road with joy and a zeal for the one who made you new.
Before, in your condemned state, you were obligated to choose sin, but now you have been set free to choose obedience. Romans 6:14 tells us that sin will no longer have dominion over us. Not only is our future secure from the dominion of sin, but we are secure now. This means we are no longer ruled by our sin, but Christ rules in our hearts when we repent and trust he is all sufficient. And even more, we are given the gift of the Spirit to walk with us, guide us, and empower us to choose obedience.
It sounds simple, doesn’t it? As I was considering this, it almost made me feel worse! You mean I have a choice, and I still choose sin? What is wrong with me?
What I need to remember is that being made new does not mean I will never choose sin again. It does mean a new freedom to choose, though. Let me explain.
Before Christ, I was a slave to my sin. I had no choice. But now, in Christ, I no longer need to continue choosing the same things because I am no longer the same creature. Though I will still choose sin sometimes, I am not a slave to it like before. I won’t be able to walk in it forever. Ultimately, my heart’s orientation is no longer towards me, but it is oriented toward Christ and my desire to serve my Savior well. That gives me hope for change, even on the days I have chosen sin again.
Yes, we still sin. There is still a war in our hearts between rebellion and obedience. But, by God’s grace, as we pursue knowing Christ better, we are transformed by his Spirit, and we will choose obedience more and more. And one day, because of our trust in Christ’s work, we will we will be completely free from sin and its consequences. That glorious day is the hope of our new identity.
The Gospel Going Forward
So, as you make your plans and resolutions for this next year, do so with hope, not with an assumption of failure. The completeness of Christ’s work on the cross doesn’t just give us a new identity, but a new orientation of how we live and a new source of power in the Spirit.
And remember, we have not been asked to drive this road alone! We have been given the body of Christ, brothers and sisters in our local churches, who are God’s good gift to us as we seek to serve him well.
Don’t drive along the road fearful of patched potholes and lingering consequences. If you have trusted in Christ’s work on your behalf, you are no longer a self-patched road. Your sins are truly forgiven. Your guilt is gone. You are a new creation in Christ. You, my friend, are a dug-up, freshly-paved road. Rely on the Spirit to help you drive that way.