Despite the fact that Christians are “no longer slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:6), that Jesus has made us “free indeed” from sin (John 8:36), that if we “resist the devil, he will flee” from us (James 4:6), that we have impenetrable spiritual armor from God (Eph. 6:11-17), and therefore never need to sin again, the fact of the matter is “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). Romans 7 makes it plain that we will be struggling with sin the rest of our lives—not just struggling and overcoming, but struggling with the shame of actually doing the very things we hate (Rom. 7:15). However, a mature Christian knows how to respond to sin, and does so quickly.
Confession of Sin
Having understood the law of God from Scripture, having been convicted of specific sin by the indwelling Holy Spirit, and having repented from that sin and grieved over it, a Christian begins acting against it by confessing sin to Almighty God. Confession involves agreeing with God over the sin, speaking back to God the names of the sins involved, dealing honestly with God over what has offended him. The Apostle John gives us the greatest encouragement to confess our sins to God when he writes, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
When confessing sin, a mature Christian seeks to root out everything his conscience has against him. Like digging a tick out of his thigh, he will not want to leave any part unconfessed, lest spiritual infection result from his laziness. So, with the light of the Holy Spirit, he will probe his soul and his actions honestly and confess what needs to be confessed: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). A mature Christian is also willing to confess sins to others as well, where needed: “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).
Fruit in Keeping with Repentance
Having dealt with God directly over the sin, having repented and confessed, having grieved and prayed, now the Christian is zealous to produce fruit in keeping with the repentance that the Holy Spirit has worked. As John the Baptist preached: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8). The life of genuine repentance is costly, and it involves drastic actions. Jesus commanded cutting off your right hand or gouging out your right eye if they cause you to sin (Matt. 5:29-30). If someone finds that using the Internet invariably causes lust, and if he does not make effective changes (either by canceling the Internet service or by putting filters and safeguards that effectively remove the danger), he has not really repented of that sin. If someone finds that using credit cards inevitably results in overspending, and if he does not make effective changes (either by cutting up the card or by making himself accountable in its use), he has not really repented of that sin. If a young woman dating a non-Christian hears a sermon about the danger of mixed marriages and is convicted that she must break off the relationship but fails to do it, she has not really repented of that sin.
Our sinfulness often puts us in a position where we need to humble ourselves and ask forgiveness of others, and seek to make restitution for our wrongs. Zacchaeus, the thieving tax collector, when he repented, pledged to repay four-fold anything he had taken by cheating (Luke 19:8-9). Genuine repentance produces many actions of humbling and of dealing painfully and properly with the effects of sin. Mature Christians do not shrink pridefully from this responsibility.
Paul said, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). After a Christian has sinned, he/she should study what happened, how they reacted, what temptations the devil used to deceive them, and what actions led to the sin. Then the Christian should be doubly vigilant about that particular sin in the future, knowing that a pattern of sin can be established quickly. Without this kind of vigilance after sin, we have learned nothing from the experience and may soon be repeating it regularly.