Sometimes, Christians are flooded with doubts about what we do and how they connect to what we experience. Do you ever feel this? Do you wonder if your sin and your sufferings are connected? Read the following insights and meditate on what Jesus has done for you, and what He will do in you.
Most of the time, we are right to separate sufferings from sins. What you do is different from what happens to you. Your sins are bad things about you as a moral agent. Your sufferings are bad things that happen to you. Agent and victim are opposite in principle. As a new creation in Christ, you live in an essentially different relationship to your sufferings.
But it is worth noting that you, as a new creation in Christ, also live in an essentially different relationship to your own sinfulness. Your sin now afflicts you. The dross of your blind spots and besetting sins no longer defines or delights you. The sin that indwells becomes a form of significant suffering. What you once instinctively loved now torments you.
What sins do you still wrestle with? Forgetting God and proceeding as if life centers on you? Obsessive religious scrupulosity that starves your humanity? Defensive and self-assertive pride? Laziness or drivenness, or an oscillation between both? Irritability, judgmentalism, and complaining? Immoral impulses and fantasies? Obsessive concern with money, food, or entertainment? Fear of what others think about you? Envy of good things that someone else enjoys? Shading truth into half-truths to manufacture your image? Speaking empty or even destructive words, rather than nourishing, constructive, and graceful wisdom?
These sins are endemic to everyday life. Perhaps you recognize the “seven deadly sins” (and a few extras) within that list of the mundane madness of our hearts! I can identify with each one, and I suspect you can too. Our Father loves us with mercies new every morning and more numerous than the hairs on our heads. He is good and he does good. He has chosen to love us. And we really do love him—as street children he has rescued and adopted. But our love is far from perfected. C. S. Lewis vividly captured our ongoing, widening, deepening struggle with all that needs God’s redeeming mercies:
Man’s love for God, from the very nature of the case, must always be very largely, and must often be entirely, a Need-love. This is obvious when we implore forgiveness for our sins or support in our tribulations. But in the long run it is perhaps even more apparent in our growing—for it ought to be growing—awareness that our whole being by its very nature is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for Him who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose.
Whether we find ourselves tied in knots or dangling at loose ends, God hears our cry. He says, “You are mine. So take heart. I will complete what I have begun.”
Our Indestructible Hope
The essential change in your relationship with God radically changes your relationship to remaining sinfulness. In Christ, in order to sin, you must lapse into temporary insanity, into forgetfulness. It is your worst cancer, your most crippling disability, your most treacherous enemy, your deepest distress. It is the single most destructive force impacting your life. Like nothing else in all creation, this threatens your life and well-being.
Saying that our sins afflict us like a madness is not to justify or excuse our derangement. Your sin is your sin. When you get your back up in an argument, when you vegetate in front of the TV, when you spin a fantasy world of romance or eroticism, when you grumble about the weather, when you obsess about your performance in the eyes of significant others, when you worry, nag, or gossip, you do these things. No evil twin, no hormone, no satanic agency, and no aspect of your upbringing can take credit or blame for the works of your flesh. You do it. You want to do it—but you don’t really want to, when you come to your senses. And you do come to your senses. The conflicted dual consciousness of the Christian always lands on its feet, sooner or later. Yes, you drift off and commit sin. But you turn back to the Lord because you are more committed to him. And you are more committed to him because he is absolutely committed to you, and the new creation is already at work in you. Many psalms capture this tension between our proclivity to sin and our fidelity to our Redeemer from sin. They confess the dark vitality of indwelling sin while confessing love for the triumphant mercies and goodness of the Lord.
In moments of sane self-knowledge, you view your dark tendencies as an affliction: “I am what I do not want to be. I do what I do not want to do. I feel what I do not want to feel. I think what I do not want to think. I want what I do not want to want.” You know the inner contradiction: “I want to love God joyously, but meander in self-preoccupation. I want to love others freely, but lapse into lovelessness. I want to forgive, but brood in bitterness. I want to give to others, but find that I take from them or ignore them. I want to listen and learn, but find I am opinionated and narrow-minded. My biggest problem looks at me from the mirror.”
But indwelling sin does not define you. It opposes you. It is an aberration, not an identity. Self-will is a living contradiction within you. So you look far beyond the mirror: “Lord Jesus, your love for me will get last say. You are merciful to me for your name’s sake, for the sake of your own goodness, for the sake of your steadfast love and compassion (Psalm 25). When you think about me, you remember what you are like, and that is my exceeding joy. My indestructible hope is that you have turned your face toward me, and you will never turn away.”
He will consume your dross in the fire of his love for you.
 C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (London: Harcourt Brace, 1991), 3.
 Most people associate psalms of confession (e.g., Psalms 32, 38, 51) with this theme. But Psalm 119 most vividly captures the dual consciousness that lands on its feet. See “Suffering and Psalm 119,” in David Powlison, Speaking Truth in Love (Greensboro, NC: New Growth, 2005), 11–31. Psalm 25 and Romans 6–8 are also filled with this holy ambivalence which lands on God’s side of the struggle.