Grieve Over Sin So You Can Grow

The closer you get to Christ, the more you will hate sin; for nothing is more unlike Christ than sin. Because Jesus hates sin, the more like Him you grow the more you will grow to hate sin. And the more you hate sin, the more you will grieve whenever you have embraced that which killed your Savior. ...

But the fact that there is a struggle with sin, and a sense of grief because of sin, is good. Unbelievers have no such struggles or griefs. They may disappoint themselves for not living up to their own standards or to the standard of someone they respect. But they do not agonize over being unholy before God - a God who is holy and who calls them to holiness (see 1 Peter 1:15). As A.W. Pink explained, "It is not the absence of sin but the grieving over it which distinguishes the child of God from empty professors [of faith]."

Are you aware of sins in your life that you weren't cognizant of years ago, even though you were committing those sins back then as well? As discouraging as the fresh exposure is, and as grievous as it may be to have ever-deeper layers of sin laid bare, there's something positive here. Increased sensitivity to your sin is a mark of growth. You've made spiritual progress beyond where you were years ago because back then you didn't even realize that those were sins. The closer you come to the light of Christ, the more sins His holy light will expose in you. In the words of nineteenth century Bible scholar Thomas D. Bernard, "Our sense of sin is in proportion to our nearness to God." ...

What should I do if I do not grieve over sin?
John Owen ventured, "I do not understand how a man can be a true believer in whom sin is not the greatest burden, sorrow, and trouble." If you are not sure your experience resonates with Owen's statement, consider the following recommendations:

Make sure you understand the gospel of the New Testament. I'm always amazed at how many churchgoing people are unclear on the gospel. Write it out, as if you were putting it in a letter or e-mail. Think paragraph or page length, not a sentence or two. In this instance, give special attention to two parts of the gospel: that which made the death of Jesus necessary, and the relationship of repentance to faith.

Ask God to show you the reality of your sin. Ask Him to show you specifics of how you sin, when you sin, where you sin, why you sin, and against whom you sin.

Pray slowly through Psalm 51, making it your own heartfelt prayer. Remember that these words are more than just David's words. God Himself inspired them (see 2 Timothy 3:16), and He preserved them as an example of grief over sin. Pray through these words until they become a reflection of your own heart.

Meditate on the fact that it was your sin that nailed the holy, sinless One from heaven to the cross. Are you never sorrowful for causing the death of Jesus? Think of what your sin cost the most loving, pure, and gracious One who ever lived. Consider how others are now in hell for the same sins you’ve committed. Remember that it is the eternal and perfect law of God Himself that you have so willingly and repeatedly broken and disregarded. Realize that your every sin because every sin is also a failure to keep the greatest of all commandments – to love God with all your heart, mind, and strength (see Mark 12:28-30). “Behold the Man” (John 19:5) your sins have pierced. Then remember that the life and death of Jesus saves from sin all who repent and believe. Be driven closer to Christ by your sin. May your sin only serve to cause you to prize Christ even more.

Preach the gospel to yourself every day. I’ve borrowed this phrase from Jerry Bridges, who wrote:

To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means to continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you. … You can be sure of one thing, though: When you set yourself to seriously pursue holiness, you will begin to realize what an awful sinner you are. And if you are not firmly rooted in the gospel and have not learned to preach it to yourself every day, you will soon become discouraged and will slack off in your pursuit of holiness.

From this perspective of grieving for sin, there are two ways to evaluate your life — proximity to the ideal or progress toward it. You can look at what you ought to be – Christlike – and be discouraged because you are so far from it. Too much measuring yourself by the perfection of Jesus will dishearten you. Too little can breed spiritual pride. But you can also look at how far by God’s grace you’ve come, and be hopeful. In the life of the growing Christian, there are times for both.

Excerpted from Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, copyright 2001 by Donald S. Whitney. Used by permission of NavPress, Colorado Springs, Co., All rights reserved. For copies of the book, call 1-800-366-7788.

Donald S. Whitney is the associate professor of spiritual formation at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. He is the author several other books, and lives in Kansas City with his wife and daughter.

Do you think you’re aware of sin in your life? How does being in the presence of God’s holiness help you become more aware of your sin? How do you grieve over your sin, and how does the process of doing so draw you closer to God? Visit the Books Forum to discuss this topic. Just click on the link below.