Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Christian loses his burden

“So I saw in my dream, that just as CHRISTIAN came up to the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble; and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.” – John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress

This is the way I have always seen Christian living (apologies that it's a bit blurry! - if you click on the pciture I think it will enlarge so you can see it a bit better!):

My early years of the Christian walk, where the teaching focused on how our lives should be lived as a response to what God had done for us in Christ led to despair as the focus was on us most of the time. Over the last 3 years I have shifted my focus away from my response to Him and back onto Him, and I have been relieved of this despair. However, whenever I am encouraged by the Word to examine myself to test whether I am in the faith that sense of despair returns, especially when I read 1 John and see this verse: “No-one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No-one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6). People tell me this means living in persistent, deliberate, wilful sin. I then find myself trying to draw distinctions between different types of sin - is John saying that say, sleeping around is a worse sin than not giving God the love He deserves? This really doesn’t help – and I always come back to the fact that if I am continually sinning despite being saved by God, what does that say about me and my love for Him?

I am starting to consider an alternative possibility to Christian living:

“Love is the fulfilment of the law” (Romans 13:10). It just doesn’t sound when I read that whole section in Romans that Paul is saying “but by the way, there’s absolutely no way you can do this”. Is it just possible that the commandment to love is not after all an impossible target where I am condemned because my love is imperfect? Rather, as I am called to bear fruit (Romans 7:4) maybe I am not after all judged on the perfection of the fruit, but instead on whether the fruit is growing. I am starting to see this as being headed in the right direction, as opposed to meeting a pass/fail test. So I think I can start to say (albeit a bit hesitantly and not entirely 100% confidently) that yes, I DO love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength – not perfectly, but I do love Him, I want to please Him, I want my whole life to be devoted to Him, and the imperfection of that love is not a sin. After all, King David was commended by God for being “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22) – not condemned because that devotion may have been “imperfect”. Yes, I will sin, I will mess up, I will get it wrong – but not every second of every day.

A friend asked me the other day whether I believed I was pleasing to God. I was overcome by the sorrow I felt in my heart as I reflected on my inability to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. How can someone who is continually sinning be pleasing to God?

Just considering the possibility that my love for God is acceptable in His eyes fills me with a hope and assurance that I haven’t known before. I am not saying this is my work – my love for Him is only a response to the grace He has given, and is caused by His Spirit at work in me. But maybe, just maybe, my Heavenly Father does delight in the love I have for Him, which He caused in me, however weak and pitiful that may be at times. And as I think like this, it does seem as though that burden which was on Christian’s shoulders is falling off my back.

“This is love: not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins...We love because he first loved us ” (1 John 4:10; 19).

PS I would appreciate comments on this as I feel like I am writing heresy : )


  1. "Just considering the possibility that my love for God is acceptable in His eyes fills me with a hope and assurance that I haven’t known before. I am not saying this is my work – my love for Him is only a response to the grace He has given, and is caused by His Spirit at work in me."

    Ah...now you are seeing things more clearly!

    When the conclusion is no longer, "I am rotten to the core," but is "The basis upon which I have been judged was hung on a cross!," there is proof that Faith is having it's way.

    Diana, He is the perfecter of your faith, and I'm rejoicing that He has allowed you to struggle to this end!

    Some words to a song I once wrote:

    What is man that You are mindful of him?
    What is man that You are mindful of him?
    You carried the cross
    You carried the shame
    You carried the weight
    of my burden
    So I could be free
    Yes, perfectly free
    I am set free ...
    free from my burden.


  2. Dear Elizabeth - thank you so much for your encouragement. But I confess that now you've confused me a bit - I had thought I was going outside the realms of Reformed theology with what I've written! Had I read this a couple of weeks ago I would have thought "because you're sick of your sin you're now trying to redefine what sin is so that you think you're not sinning - instead you need to repent and trust in Christ's righteousness, not your own!"...yet as the words of your song so beautifully put it, "perfectly free, I am set free...free from my burden".

    I am suddenly discovering the Bible is opening up in new ways. Putting to death the notion that I am continually sinning, the idea that I have been washed clean by the blood of Jesus now starts to take on a whole new meaning...I am realising I have very little understanding of what it means to be a "new creation" in Christ. It's almost as if I've previously been baptised into the baptism that John proclaimed of repentance and forgiveness of sins - but haven't really understood the baptism of Jesus with the Holy Spirit.
    God bless you Elizabeth : )

  3. Diana - I can't remember if I have sent this article to you before or not. I have also struggled with my sinful nature after conversion, thinking that it meant I couldn't possibly be saved.


    I especially like point #2:

    "A true convert lives a life of obedience by keeping God's commandments more often than breaking them. A true convert is not a habitual sinner. There's a difference between stumbling into sin and jumping in with both feet. While true converts may continue to sin as part of the struggle with our sin nature, the life of a true convert is marked by a desire to pursue holiness and walk in obedience to God's Word. (1 John 2:3-6, 3:6, 5:2)"

    Or as Paul Washer has put it, the question to ask a professing Christian is not, Do you a have a new relationship with God (because even most pagans 'believe' they have some kind of relationship with God), BUT - Do you have a new relationship with sin? In other words, the sin you once loved, and did without thinking, drinking it down like it was water, do you now despise it, abhor it, long for the day of being completely free of it (glorification), and seek to put it to death? A newfound horror of and hatred of sin is most definitely a mark of salvation. I encourage you to read through that article and think on the marks of true conversion, asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate Scripture for you as you wrestle through this.

    I would also encourage you to do some research on the doctrine of sanctification, especially the distinctions between "Positional Sanctification" and "Progressive Sanctification." Here's a brief sketch of that doctrine:

    POSITIONAL SANCTIFICATION: When we are "hidden" in Christ (Colossians 3:3), God sees Christ and HIS perfection when He looks at us, and NOT us and our sinful wretchedness - praise God! ("Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee!") This is our "Positional Sanctification". We are 100% declared holy and perfect and cleansed at the moment of salvation. But we have ongoing

    PROGRESSIVE SANCTIFICATION that will continue for the rest of our lives. Our "Progressive Sanctification" has no bearing on our "Positional Sanctification" - but, we do use Scripture to measure or mark where we are. That's why God gives it to us - so we know what the mark is. We can't hit it, we'll never hit it perfectly - but it is our guide for what perfection in all areas looks like.


  4. Hi Dianna,
    Just taking a few minutes out before another lesson. Interesting thoughts. This was very much a theme in Bunyan's day. Should we sin that grace may the more abound. He and Baxter battled with many who took that view of Christian liberty and justification/sanctification. Bunyan's complete works are in the study at the chapel, borrow if you wish. Also Berkhof has something to say on this in his Systematic Theology. 'What would God find in a world to love it so much?' he asks. You're far from alone in this struggle. It is part of our ongoing battle with sin and self. I'm just glad there is that piece in 1 John that reminds me that if I sin I have an advocate with the father. On of your other contributers has it right in pointing out that only a Christian would bother with the problem...Evidence of light and life perhaps!

    See you Sunday,
    In Him,

  5. Diana - Found a sermon by John MacArthur that is very good on this issue of sanctification, and what that looks like in a believer's life:

    "Positional sanctification...This feature of sanctification, this component or element is past...it's a past aspect. You say, "What do you mean by that?" Well, when you were saved you sanctified. At the moment of your salvation you were set apart from Satan unto God. You were set apart from darkness unto light. You were set apart from death unto life. You were set apart from hell unto heaven. You were set apart from the dominion and from the destruction of sin to the dominion and the glory of God. You were set apart. There is an element of sanctification that occurred at your salvation......Furthermore for the remaining unrighteousness in your life, not to offend God, He covers you with the robe of Christ's righteousness so that when He sees you He sees you as righteous in Christ. As Isaiah said, "You have the robe of righteousness." You are now in Christ. "He was made sin on the cross, that you might become the righteousness of God in Him." So you bear the very righteousness of Christ. You are therefore declared righteous."

    Entire sermon here http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/52-35

  6. Christine - thank you so much for the link to the article and the John MacArthur sermon. Point 2 in the article is exactly where I would normally have slipped up and started to doubt my salvation. As I believed that I was constantly sinning by my inability to love God perfectly, I would have been breaking God's law more often than keeping it. Now I can see that actually, I do after all keep God's commandments more often than breaking them. Blessed relief :)

    I am certainly going to be looking into what the Bible has to say about sanctification. I have to confess I have struggled to really take to heart the teaching on sanctification, having always (wrongly) even felt exhortations to godly/holy living to be unattainable and so to avoid condemnation avoided thinking too much about it!

    I look forward to studying with clear eyes, and to wholeheartedly serving my God and Saviour.

    Bless you Christine.

  7. George - thanks for the comments. I have a feeling I shall be taking you up on the offer to borrow Bunyan's works!

    That verse about the advocate in heaven, yes, so reassuring. Interesting that John says "I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one whoe speaks to the Father in our defence - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One" (1 John 2:1). Again, it just hits me that there is an expectation that SIN IS EXCEPTIONAL, not the normal everyday/every moment experience of the Christian. This can only be possible if love fulfils the law.

  8. Good morning Diana!

    You have touched on a subject that has caused no shortage of confusion for the Evangelical church in the last 150 or so years. A faulty view of the doctrine of sanctification has been running amuck in the church ever since the early Keswick Convention meetings in the late 1800's.

    J.C. Ryle addressed those heretical teachings in his day which culminated in his work. "Holiness". To date it is probably still the best book written on the subject.

    In the beginning of the book he starts with:

    "He who wishes to attain right views about Christian holiness must begin by examining the vast and solemn subject of sin. He must dig down very low if he would build high. A mistake here is most mischievous. Wrong views about holiness are generally traceable to wrong views about human corruption."

    If you don't have this book it's available free online:


    The Sola Sisters made some excellent comments here too.

    Many of us have bee victims of some really bad theology but I am thanking God that He is beginning to turn that ship around for many people today!

    Soli Deo Gloria!
    Blessings my friend!

  9. Hi Diane

    Thanks for stopping by and adding your comments, I really appreciate it. Yes, I do have Holiness by JC Ryle – I was recommended it very soon after becoming a Christian. That chapter on sin I have read and reread goodness knows how many times.

    And that’s probably my problem! An overemphasis on seeing sin in my life as a believer has taken away the joy of being a child of my Heavenly Father. I’ve completely overlooked/misunderstood/felt condemned by those passages in the Bible which talk about us being “dead to sin” and a “new creation” in Christ. If after all my love for Him, whilst imperfect, is not tainted by sin every minute of every day but is rather fulfilling the law, then I feel I can at least start to dig into those passages of the Bible which talk about living a holy life without feeling like a complete hypocrite!

    God bless you.

  10. Hi Diana! Just stopping by to say hello - We are celebrating Thanksgiving over here this week.

    The Lord bless you sister.