Sin, An Unwelcome Guest

Do you know how many times this week I have cleaned the bathroom sink? I don’t want to say. It’s such a small area of space but it piles up filth in what usually feels like minutes after I’ve cleaned it. It’s the same with dusting in our apartment. I dust every surface within an inch of its life and by the next morning, a thin layer of film is back and threatening to grow thicker by the hour.

       Maybe you’re like me, fussy and persnickety about germs and dust and cleanliness. Or maybe you’re a normal human who cleans in a normal way a normal amount of time. But I’m not. And so as I pull out the all-purpose spray to clean the sink for the 3rd time this week, I am reminded of my sin.

       As I dust and re-dust all the things all the time, I start to feel convicted by the way I care for my home–because that process looks quite a bit different from the way that I care for my soul. I scour the shower because I can’t handle the thought of what’s growing on those walls, all the while my heart is buried deep in dirt that is feeding poisonous weeds.

       That’s what sin is. It’s poison. It’s a weed. It grows, and needs nurturing, just like plants or children or household surfaces. But sin is the sort of thing we need to starve. Rather than dusting it off and keeping it clean and unscathed, it needs to be killed. This is nurture of a very different kind.

       I wish that my hands moved as quickly to kill my sin as they do to grab the all-purpose spray for the sink. I am embarrassed to say that I am habitually more threatened by grimy shower-build-up than by the poisonous festering in my heart.

       Maybe for you it isn’t cleaning that calls to mind the distorted nature of your priorities. Maybe it is the attention you give to the tasks at your job, or the intense diligence that you devote to your grades; maybe it’s the constant concern over your appearance, or the strict way that you keep to your diet or exercise routines. None of these are bad things to be vigilant about, in moderation and with the appropriate mindset.

       But what is striking to me is that we, or at least I, rarely devote the same intensity of determination or concern or even time to identifying and fighting my own sin. I see the patterns arise all the time, and if I am honest, much of the time there is no impulse in me that arises like the one I feel when I see the dust on my bookshelves: my anger flares in my chest and harsh words fly through my mind and often out of my lips, with no remorse; I grumble about the duties I’ve been called to and I complain about things I once prayed to receive, with no alarm bells going off; I gossip about one friend to another friend, to “get it off my chest,” and I feel nothing but glee at sharing that dirt. I am intolerant of dust particles in my home, but I am complacent and even enthralled with the sin that has taken residence inside me. And he is quite a well-fed guest.

       The author of Hebrews convicts sinners like me in chapter 12 when he reminds us that “in your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (v. 4, ESV). All of us would likely say that we are facing and fighting sin on a regular basis, but clearly, we have not resisted as far as we can or likely even as hard as we ought.

       This is probably where the metaphor breaks down a bit. The next logical step is, “Well, why don’t I just start looking for my sin more, and begin killing it the way I neutralize germs with antibacterial soaps?” Sin may be continual like dust, but sin is not so easy a threat to mitigate. It’s not something that I am even able to kill on my own. Fighting sin is not like cleaning the sink or doing the laundry, though it needs to be done even in those mundane moments. It is not a “just try harder” sort of fight. Even my ability to wage this battle is completely dependent upon the sovereign grace of God in me.

       That is why this kind of fighting, that puts sin to death, is a battle that is principally begun on our knees. It is a humble, daily, constant submission in humility and repentance to the One who has fought and won the battle finally for us and who promises us His Spirit as we wage this war in confidence. We fight our sin in confidence because even though we are still fighting the sin that is present in us, we know that sin has no power over us. This is what it means to live “between the times.” Christ has declared “It is finished,” to your sin and to every threat of guilt, condemnation, and death that it spews. He protects you from sin’s lethal power even when you fail to fight it as you ought.

“That is why this kind of fighting, that puts sin to death, is a battle that is principally begun on our knees.”

       You are in the middle of a battle; you may fail here but you cannot lose in the end. It is with that knowledge and confidence that you fight. This phase called “sanctification” is where God has called you to live in these middle days, as He makes you more like His Son who lived and died and now reigns above (Revelation 19:6). Someday, you will see Him, and you will be like Him. You will be raised to new life and a new home, where righteousness dwells. He will carry you until that day. Today you see dimly in a mirror, but His view of you is not dim at all (1 Cor. 13:12).

       So, no matter how many mornings I wake up to the film of dust over my heart and the failures to resist sin that will accompany each day, sin can never truly win my soul. I have a new Master. And if you are united to Jesus by faith, so do you. Yes, the dust of sin may gather, and we will continue to wipe it away again and again by His power working in us. But one day we will wake in the kingdom, face to face with Him who will wipe away not only the tears from our eyes but the filth of our sin in the most permanent way. This process of sanctification will give way to complete holiness. And the end of the middle will only be the beginning.

Joy Woo lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband, where she is pursuing a MAR in Biblical Studies from Westminster Theological Seminary.

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