One of the most dangerous myths that we have bought into - and one that is probably the most debilitating to our growth as Christians - is the myth that we, who have been baptized in Christ, remain constrained to sin. Not only is this view far from correct, it is also heretical, because it implies that Jesus's death and subsequent resurrection was not enough to save us, and Christian salvation is consequently little more than a fairy tale.
To fully understand why we are not constrained to sin, however, we need to take a couple of journeys. Let us first go briefly to the days of creation, when God, in his infinite wisdom, made man.
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Sinless and holy, the first man Adam possessed wisdom, a heart of love and the will to do right, resulting in a harmonious relationship between God and himself. It was a perfect relationship that would last for eternity if Adam understood that the oneness he shared with God was bound to one major factor - a belief in God's word and, more importantly, obedience to it.
The devil, that wicked enemy of God and man, came to Adam and tempted him to do the one thing that God had forbidden him to do. Now, along with wisdom, Adam also had self-consciousness and a power of choice, which he was required to exercise here. Unfortunately, Adam exercised his power of choice wrongly. He gave in to temptation and by disobeying God, he became separated from his creator, inheriting in the process a sinful nature that would pass on to all humankind.
In one short step, Adam sold us into slavery to the devil and turned all of us into slaves to sin.
Now let us fast forward to approximately 2000 years ago, when God sent his only son Jesus down to earth to save us. By his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection, Jesus freed us from the bondage of sin and the yoke of slavery to the devil!
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:3-7)
Now please listen carefully.
Those who are baptized in Christ - that is, those who identify with Christ in his death and burial in order that they may live in union with his resurrected life - are back to where Adam was before the fall, no longer separated from God but once again in union with him. Our perfect relationship with God is restored!
When temptation comes our way, we are once again in the same position that Adam was when the devil came to tempt him. We have the same choice that he had: obey God and remain with him, or disobey God and separate from him all over again.
We can obey! Because we are no longer slaves to sin!
And that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:18)
This is a fundamental truth of the religion that we believe in. So why do we persist in believing that we cannot help sinning? Let's go to the movies for an answer.
The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of a man who is sentenced to life imprisonment for a crime he did not commit and his subsequent struggle for survival within the dank walls of his new home. One of the sub plots in the movie involves a man who has been in prison for over forty years before being finally released. Used as he was to life behind bars and a sadistic jailor who regulated his every movement, he cannot come to terms with his freedom, and lives his life as though he is still in captivity and still feels answerable to a jailer who no longer has any control over him. Unable to cope, he eventually hangs himself.
Many of us are like this man. We have been in captivity for so long, we persist in thinking we are still in bondage, still subject to the rule of a jailor who held us prisoner, even though the bars have been broken and the jailor relinquished of his authority.
Let us come to terms with the fact that we are no longer prisoners. We are free!
Does this mean we can all stop sinning? The answer is, "Yes!" True, some of us have become so institutionalized with years spent in bondage that it will take some effort to break free of the mental chains that bind us. Others have become so comfortable with the pleasures of sin, there will be an inertial reluctance to give it up. Others, still, don't even realize that a lot of what they do is offensive to God. Not making any of it easier is the fact that the world we live in is full of temptation, which can be very difficult to resist. But living a life without sin is possible. In order to do so, however, we need to stop thinking that sin has a hold on us.
There were several instances, early in my journey on the Christian road, when I fell. On a few occasions I was so shattered by my falls, I felt like I had been thrown off a cliff. But not even in my lowest moments, when I lay broken and weeping in frustration at my failure to overcome a particular weakness, did I ever buy the lie that sin was an intrinsic part of my nature. Supporting me in my belief was the Holy Spirit who continually assured me that it indeed wasn't. "God insists that you don't sin," he would say. "Do you think God would tell you to do something that was impossible to do?"
It was this assurance fuelled by my own conviction that sin had no real hold over me that has made the kind of life I now lead possible. It isn't perfect by any means, but it is light years away from the type of life that I used to lead, and if a man like me can get this far, there is no reason why you can't.
It isn't going to be easy, but then nobody ever said it would be. There are times when you will fall, not because of deliberation, but by accident or out of genuine weakness. At such times, know that God is a loving and merciful God who will forgive you if you repent. If your repentance is genuine, not the farcical exercise many of us engage in at the confessional, you are once again restored to your pristine relationship with God. Resolve, even as you repent, that you won't fall again. You still might, but don't give up trying, no matter how many times you fall, or how hard the falls are. If you persist in your efforts to conquer sin, I promise you that at some point God himself will take his stand by your side and give you complete victory over the demons that haunt you.
In closing I would like to leave you with a couple of verses from the first letter of John. I leave it to you to interpret it as you see fit.
Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:9-10)
May the Spirit be with you.