Sin has a long history, and much of it is recorded among God’s people in the Bible. While speaking about the Israelites’ rebelliousness, Paul informs us that “these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6). So, what can we learn from Israel’s example?
How Sin Affects God’s People
Consider several ways sin affects our relationship with God.
After recounting the Israelites’ sin in the wilderness, the author of Hebrews offers a sober warning about the effects of sin:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Hebrews 3:12–15)
Sin hardens us. To become “hardened” means we become more resolute in our resistance to God’s will. Our commitment to sinning increases. Similar to how repeating an action forms a habit, repeating sins without repentance makes those sins into habits.
As we continue down the road of sin without repenting, we also ignore the conviction of the Holy Spirit. We become numb and, consequently, more comfortable with defying God.
Sin is also deceptive. We pursue it because we wrongly believe that it will give us more joy and be more satisfying than God’s continual goodness. We overlook the fact that in God’s presence there is “fullness of joy, at [His] right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
Sin blinds us to the reality that obeying God’s commands brings joy and should never be burdensome (Psalm 19:8; 1 John 5:3).
How God Sees Our Sin
After seeing some of the effects of sin, the next question we should be asking is, “How does God view our sin?” As believers, our relationship with God is founded upon Christ’s righteousness, not our own. When Christians stumble and repent, they should not fear that God has disowned them (Psalm 103:10–12). Still, God does not simply overlook the sinful actions of those in covenant with him. He works all things together for the good of those who love Him, and sometimes that involves fatherly discipline (Proverbs 3:11–12).
Sometimes, the Lord brings hardships into believers’ lives to turn them from sin and from falling away from him. Paul tells the Corinthian church that many of them are weak and ill, and some even died, because God is disciplining them for their sinful divisions and misuse of the Lord’s Supper. The apostle writes, “But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:32). God is willing to bless His people abundantly, but He will discipline us for our good if we persist in sinful actions.
God also withholds some of our privileges as his children when we sin. Psalm 66:18 declares, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Similarly, James tells believers that God will resist their pride-driven sinfulness. He implores them to repent and understand that God will draw near to them again if they draw near to Him (James 4:8–10).
How Christ Has Dealt with Our Sin
Though our sins negatively impact our relationship with God, we should not ultimately dwell on the difficulty of fighting our innumerable sins. Jesus took the punishment for all of our past, present, and future sins on the cross. None of our sinful actions surprise God. And they cannot take us farther than his forgiveness can reach.
No matter how long we’ve been sinning, how heinous our sins are, or how often we’ve been sinning, God is always happy to receive us again. He doesn’t place us on some kind of probation until we prove our worthiness. He truly “forgets” our sins and welcomes us in joy.
Consider King David’s murder plot or Peter’s several denials of Christ. God forgave them both and continued to bless them (2 Samuel 12:13; John 21:15-17). Mourn over your sinful actions, but always rejoice after you repent. God has received you!
The Spirit’s Power against Sin
The Holy Spirit’s ongoing gift of perseverance in the faith is what keeps us walking with God and repenting. Although we are called to put forth the effort to put it to death (Colossians 3:5), God is not counting on us to keep ourselves in our own power. He is at work in us (Philippians 2:13).
This same work of God in saving believers is what should motivate us to obey him. Rather than only fearing sin’s consequences (a legitimate, biblical motivation), let’s also ask ourselves how we can enjoy God more today. Putting it to death by the Spirit should naturally follow when we pursue God as our goal.