I Can't Stop Sinning

Will God forgive me a second or a twentieth time?
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Q. I know that when you sin you are supposed to repent and ask God for forgiveness, but what if you really mean to stop and don't? What if you just can't stop committing that sin? Will God forgive me a second or a twentieth time?

A. Guess what? If people could stop sinning by just deciding to stop, we'd all know a lot of perfect people. But no one stops sinning. No one. I sure don't, despite my best efforts. Even Paul confesses that he continues to do what he doesn't want to do. When the Bible tells us to repent, it doesn't mean we're able to stop the sinful behavior by just deciding to (Romans 7).

Instead, repentance means "to turn." We turn our minds back to Christ—confessing where we are and where we long to be. We admit we've sinned and ask Jesus to cleanse us. We can't do that ourselves. It's God who changes us. This process is called sanctification—and it's a result of continued prayer, confession, admitting our dependence on God, and seeking strength.

Through sanctification, sin does lose its power over us and we can become stronger. But we never stop sinning because we are human. Therefore, all of us have to keep turning back to Jesus time after time. It's only when we stop returning to God after sinning and start pretending like our sins are OK that we begin doing very serious damage to our relationship with God.

If we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us (1 John 1:9). Jesus taught the disciples that they needed to forgive people who sinned against them "7 times 70 times" (or 490 times). If he expected his impatient and flawed disciples to forgive that many times, we can be sure that God is willing to forgive us as often as we come humbly and confess our shortcomings to him with a desire for him to change our lives.

Marshall, a former pastor, is now editor of Leadership Journal, a magazine for pastors.

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