On Sin and Joy and the Power of the Gospel

joy of the lord

“And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” ~Nehemiah 8:10b

The joy of the Lord.

The joy of the Lord.

When I am weak, the answer is joy.

When I am grieved over my sin, the answer is joy.

Joy of and in the Lord.

On that shower floor, nearly twenty years ago I confessed my sin before God and asked Him to save me.

By my confession and by the grace of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ, I became a new creation that night.

My sin is gone as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). My heart of stone is replaced by a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19). Though my sin weighs, sin has no power. Death has no sting.

Jesus has conquered it all.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ~John 3:16

In the Old Testament, I love to recount how many times the Israelites turned back from God. I am grateful to see a people who “should have known better” fail over and over again. Maybe it’s bad that it encourages me so much, but it does. Their failures remind me that if even the Israelites turned their back on God how much more do I need a Savior? The same gracious and forgiving God in the Old Testament is my God. The God who does not move from my presence and does not lift His hand of guidance even when I fail. And boy do I fail. Often.

Most days I’m overwhelmed.

Asking God to have His way in my life is scary and overwhelming. My life is wrecked, sold out for Jesus, ever since we left our church and shared communion with the homeless. I can’t go back to sleeping while the world around me wastes away on useless consumption of whatever suits its fancy at the moment. The monopoly of the mind, the pursuit of worldly passions that never fulfills though my flesh creeps its way back time and again into old habits and patterns of thinking.

It’s the daily battle of being of God and being in the world. Of tasting what it means to be in Christ, of knowing it deeply and yet missing the world and what it offered. That’s the plain truth. The truth I often do not want to admit.

When my eyes turn from Jesus, I romanticize the life of the world, of not caring about what Jesus is asking me to do and instead living for self and thinking how glorious that must be. But what I easily forget is that an unfulfilled heart weighs far heavier and is far more exhausting to pursue than God’s will. The way of the world always ends in death. What other choice do I have?

Lord, give me the grace to pursue you with joy.

I’m learning. I’m growing. I’m thankful that He never gives up on me.

Following God is hard.

It’s hard because no one dies to self easily. We are selfish, glory seeking people, and I don’t mean the glory of God. I mean glory of self, preoccupied entirely with building the kingdom of self on a daily basis apart from the grace of God and the work of the Spirit in our lives.

Confession of sin is hard.

It admits my failures. My lack of ability. My evilness. When I come face to face with who I really am, “living a good moral life” is no longer enough. I see the holes in it. I see my imperfections. My screw ups.

To see myself apart from Christ is horrifying. Praise God I’m no longer separated from Him because of the blood of Christ. Praise God I can look at myself the way God does and see Christ. Forgiven. Free. What grace I have received!

Matt. 9.12b-13

He came to call the sinners, those who are sick. Not the righteous.

By the way, no one is righteous, not one (Romans 3:10). We’re all on even playing field. To pretend otherwise, to hope otherwise, to believe otherwise, to put our standing before God in the words, “I’m a good person,” is not the Gospel. Being a good person will not save you.

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. ~Romans 5:6

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ~2 Corinthians 5:21

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. ~Ephesians 2:10a

For apart from [Christ] you can do nothing. ~John 15:5c

And yet every day, my feet hit the carpet beneath my bed. I slumber down the stairs to the coffee pot. I pour the steaming brew into my mug and believe that I am God of my life. That’s my temptation. I worship good works instead of God. I measure my worth by how many items I check off my list instead of Christ’s blood and His righteousness. I walk through life recognizing Him with my words but my heart is far from him. Far from him.

Oh Lord forgive my unbelieving heart.

To see my depravity. To see where I lack and yet hear the call from God to write and share my story. To hear the call to open my home to strangers, to the broken and friendless. To look at myself and see I’m the neediest of all? What about me? I can’t do this. I screw everything up that I touch. It’s scary. It’s overwhelming.

At the core, I love myself more than I love God.

I often see my sin and dwell there, rolling around in the mud house I’ve built for myself. I listen to the voice that says I don’t have what it takes. I listen to the voice that recounts my failures and screw ups. I walk around believing that everyone else must see how badly screwed up I am and want nothing to do with me.

I expect judgment because that’s what I dole out to myself every day. The ever ready critic ready to perfect the sinner in my own strength instead of looking wholly at Christ and believing He is enough, believing it is finished, believing I am free.

I hold myself in bondage. I keep my arms and legs shackled because that’s what I believe I deserve. I shove the sword of this world deeper into the wounds left in the wake of sin. I take the salt at my table and pour it over the open cuts and suffer the pain of my failures instead of using the salt to season my life and the world around me. I carry the weight of my sin, a burden I’m not meant to carry because Christ has already paid the price. To carry my sin around is false humility. It’s pride. Plain and simple.

Death where is your sting? Well it’s in my inability to believe Christ is enough. The sting is there when I forget who I am in Christ – when my identity is at stake and when I try again and again to earn my righteousness.

Yet this is the extraordinary grace of the gospelit is ALL of grace. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).

I fall away from Christ when I cling to the law of works. When I try to live a good life. A perfect life. A life I cannot live. I cannot do for myself what Christ has already done for me. It is by grace I have been saved through faith. This is not my own doing but a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Today, stop toiling. Stop striving. Be still and know that I am God. The joy of the Lord is your strength. Christ is risen! Death has no sting. We are free indeed.

Does your faith feel rocky right now? Share with me in the comments how I can pray for you! Or email me. I love hearing from my readers.

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  1. Amen! I asked Jesus into my heart almost exactly 15 years ago–thank you for reminding me of this precious anniversary. And thank you for all these truths. I often strive and toil in my own strength to please God–subconsciously trying to “atone” myself for past mistakes or whatever. But to what purpose? It is not necessary and just wears me out. He IS enough. It IS finished. And we are free. Loved this!