Finally, the wall in Jerusalem was rebuilt. It had been in ruins for many generations, but Nehemiah’s tenacious leadership saw it rebuilt and thwarted many strong attempts to undermine the effort. Israel could not deny seeing God at work; after all, the wall had been rebuilt in an astounding 52 days. Jews everywhere responded by rededicating themselves to serving God. And on the day the rebuilt wall was dedicated, the priests purified themselves, purified the people, and then purified the gates and the walls. And then the singing and praising began!

We can’t stand before God unless we’re pure. The priests knew that; it was their job to purify the people of their nation. Jewish history to that time showed that the priests had their work cut out for them because the Jews just couldn’t manage to stay pure. Even after the renewal the rebuilt wall brought, the Jews couldn’t stay pure. Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem several years later and found them having returned to all sorts of damaging practices that they had promised to stay away from. Boy, was Nehemiah ticked.

It’s just as impossible for us to stay pure as it was for the Jews. This is why Jesus was needed, of course. The lamb of God kept the Law perfectly and bore the weight of all our sins on the cross, et cetera, you know the rest.

I once heard a preacher giving a congregation a stern finger wagging about sin. He wrote this on a whiteboard:

S  olution
T  o
O  ur
P  roblems

and, with his eyebrows raised in that way eyebrows get when the person wearing them thinks they know better, said simply that the solution to sin was to stop doing it.  Just stop!  Stop!  Yet I had sins I did not know how to stop, and they were crushing me. I wanted to stop them! But I kept returning to them and couldn’t help it. I felt enough shame over it. The preacher’s words only shamed me more.

What I – and, I wager, that preacher – didn’t realize is that when Jesus cried “it is finished” from the cross, the whole mechanism of purity changed, and everybody benefits from it. Jesus has permanently purified us. If you’ve put on Jesus, no matter what you do God sees you as squeaky clean as a white dish washed in Ajax.

Yet we still sin, and sin is what makes us impure in the first place. Romans chapter 6 makes plain that the purity Jesus gave us doesn’t give us license to sin. We’re to work at getting rid of the sin in our lives.

But what about that sin we can’t get rid of no matter how hard we try?

One powerful way to look at sin is that it is the damaging behaviors, reactions, and attitudes that come from us trying to fill with things other than God our unmet need to have God near us. I wager that the sins we can’t stop have, at their root, a core and maybe unconscious belief that our needs will not be met. So we keep trying to meet them ourselves. Usually, the ways we try to meet these needs aren’t effective for long. Sometimes they end up hurting us.

The more we learn to depend on God, the more he will meet our needs. This is hard to accept if you believe deep down that nobody will meet your needs so you’d better do it. If you’re like I was, you worry considerably about what you’re doing and have tried hard, perhaps desperately, to stop. So I encourage you to do something that seems counterintuitive:

Take the energy you put into stopping your sin and, instead, put it into drawing near to God.

Yes, this means your sin will continue. That’s okay for now. It’s not that your actions are unimportant – it’s that depending on God is so much more important.

This is a winding journey on a bumpy road, to be sure, and I can’t draw you a map. But the farther you go on this journey, the more God will meet your needs. One day you will start feeling his presence and seeing him working in your life. You will begin to trust him. As your trust grows, your sin will diminish. In time, it will vanish.

Follow-up 17 Aug 08: It occurs to me that this may be misinterpreted, for example, “I’m abusing my children, but Jim Grey said to keep doing it until I learn to lean on God.” If your sin directly harms others, take immediate action to protect those you harm, such as removing yourself from the situation and getting help.


Everything you need

Most of my life I thought I had to make myself right before I could approach God.

I had to stop swearing, stop having sex with my girlfriend, stop lying to cover up things I didn’t want to admit, and stop eating entire large pizzas for comfort when I was feeling blue. I needed to meet my wife’s needs better, pay more attention to my stepson, give my employer 8 hours of solid work every day, and control my temper.

I thought I had to change before God would accept me, but I had it backwards. What I didn’t know was that I needed only come to God as I was. Then to the extent I kept trying to get closer to him, the more the things that needed to stop would go away, and the things I needed to do would happen. In other words, God took me as I was, but was not content to leave me that way.

So I spent many years with my sins and shortcomings. Some of them I overcame by force of will, although I found that they tended to leak out under stress. Some of my sins I justified or minimized, telling myself they were no big deal. Some of my sins I could not stop no matter what I did. They were strongholds over me, keeping me in shame.

When those strongholds finally damaged my life enough that I had no recourse but turn to God for help, he took me in. In time, he cut those strongholds out as if they were a cancer in deep tissue. Although I can see he did it as gently as he could, it triggered consequences that hurt like hell. I don’t know how it could have been otherwise; nor do I regret that suffering for the peace of mind it has brought. God has also used life challenges to bring certain changes in me. Finally, some changes just seemed to happen, and I didn’t realize it until I looked back. I notice how calm I usually am now. I notice how much more easily I find happiness and joy. I notice how I increasingly can handle problems that used to baffle me.

You see, when you turn to God, he begins working to renew your mind, rework you in the image of Jesus Christ, and grow the fruits of the Holy Spirit in you. You actually start becoming the person God meant you to be! As I keep turning to God, he will keep working on me. I expect my serenity and joy to increase, even in the face of difficult times that surely will come. God will keep giving me everything I need to serve him and enjoy this life he has given me.