There are two sides to a Christian's life: a light side—and a dark one; an elevating side—and a depressing one. His experience is neither all joy—nor all grief; but a commingling of both. It was so with the apostle Paul: "As sorrowful—yet always rejoicing" (2 Corinthians 6:10). When a person is regenerated, he is not there and then taken to heaven—but he is given both a pledge and a foretaste of it. Nor is sin then eradicated from his being, though its dominion over him is broken. It is indwelling corruption which casts its dark shadow over his joy!
The varied experiences of the believer are occasioned by Christ's presence—and sin's presence. If, on the one hand, it be blessedly true that Christ is with him all the days, even unto the end; on the other hand, it is solemnly true that sin indwells him all his days, even unto the end of his earthly history! Said Paul, "evil is present with me"; and that, not only occasionally—but sin "dwells in me" (Romans 7:20-21). Thus, as God's people feed upon the Lamb, it is "with bitter herbs they shall eat it" (Exo 12:8).
The Christian's consciousness of indwelling sin, his mourning over its defiling influence, his sincere efforts to strive against its solicitations, his penitent confessions to God of his failure to master this inveterate foe—are among the unmistakable evidences that he is a regenerate person. For certain it is, that none who is dead in trespasses and sins realizes there is a sea of iniquity within his heart, defiling his very thoughts and imagination; still less does he make conscience of the same and lament it.
Let the believer recall his own case: in the days of his unregeneracy, he was not cast down by what now distresses! We are bidden to "remember" what we were "in time past," and then contrast the "But now" (Eph 2:11-13), that we may be shamed over the former—and rejoice and give thanks for the latter.
It is cause for fervent praise if your eyes have been opened to see "the sinfulness of sin," and your heart to feel its obnoxiousness. Since it was not always thus, a great change has taken place—you have been made the subject of a miracle of grace. But the continuance of indwelling sin presents a sore and perplexing problem to the Christian. That nothing is too hard for the Lord—he is full assured. Why then is evil allowed to remain present with him? Why is he not rid of this hideous thing—which he so much loathes and hates? Why should this horrible depravity be allowed to disturb his peace and mar his joy? Why does not the God of all grace rid him of this harassing tyrant?
It must ever be remembered that His thoughts and ways are often the very opposite of ours. Yet we must also remember they are infinitely wiser and better than ours. God then must have some valid reason why He leaves sin in His people; and since He loves them with a boundless and unchangeable love—it must be left in them for their benefit. Faith may be fully assured that evil continues to be present with the saint both for the glory of God and for his own good. Thus, there is a bright side to even this dark cloud.
We are apt to think it is a most deplorable thing that sin still indwells us and to imagine it would be far better if we were rid of it. But that is our ignorance. Yes, it is something worse: it is a spirit of opposition to God, a rebelling against His dealings with us, an impugning of His wisdom, a casting reflection upon His goodness. Since He has given such abundant proofs that He has our best interests at heart, it must be most reprehensible for any to call into question His ways with them.
Rather, may we be fully persuaded that our loving Father would have completely removed "the flesh" from the soul of His children at the moment of their regeneration—had that been for their highest welfare. Since He has not done so, we must confidently conclude that God has a benevolent purpose in allowing sin to indwell them, to the end of their pilgrim journey. But does His Word furnish any hints of His gracious designs therein? Yes—but we must now limit ourselves unto one of them.
God leaves sin in His people—to promote their humility.There is nothing which He abominates, so much as pride. In Proverbs 6:16-17, the Holy Spirit has listed seven things which the Lord hates, and they are headed with "A proud look"! God feeds the hungry—but the rich He sends empty away. He "gives grace unto the humble," but "resists the proud" (James 4:6). It is the egotistical and self-satisfied Laodiceans who are so loathsome in His sight—that He spues them out of His mouth (Rev 3:16-17).
Now Christian reader, is it really and truly the desire of your heart that God will "hide pride" from you (Job 33:17)? If by grace it is so, then are you willing for Him to use His own means and method in accomplishing your desire, even though it is an unpleasant process, yes, galling to your complacency? If you are willing for your natural religiousness to be blasted and to be stripped of your peacock feathers, then it will be by evil remaining in you and bestirring itself to your grief!
Second Timothy 3:2 shows (from its order) that pride springs from inordinate self-love. They who are undue lover of themselves—soon grow proud of themselves; which is odious to God, for it robs Him of His glory. Since God will be glorious unto His saints, as well as glorified by them—He subdues their pride by leaving that in them which humbles their hearts—but makes them admire Him the more for His longsuffering.
Divine light exposes filth within, of which they had no previous realization, causing them to cry with the leper, "Unclean, unclean!" (Lev 13:45). They have such painful discoveries of indwelling sin as often makes them lament, "O wretched man that I am!" (Romans 7:24). But how thankful we should be if God makes us "abhor" ourselves (Job 42:6), and thereby make way for prizing Christ all the more!
In this life, holiness, my reader, consists largely of pantings after it—and grievings because we feel ourselves to be so unholy. What would happen to a man still left in this world—if he were full of sin one day and then made absolutely sinless the next? Let our present experience supply the answer. Do we not find it very difficult to keep our proper humble place, both before God and our brethren, when the evil within us is subdued but a little? Is not that evidence we require something to deliver us from self-righteousness? Even the beloved Paul needed "a thorn in the flesh" lest he "be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations" given him (2 Corinthians 12:7).
The man after God's own heart prayed, "O Lord, open you my lips; and my mouth shall show forth your praise" (Psalm 51:15): as though he said, "If You, Lord, will help me to speak aright, I shall not proclaim my own worth nor boast of what I have done—but will give You all the glory." As God left some of the Canaanites in the land—to prove Israel (Judges 2:21-22), so He leaves sin in us—to humble us.
We shall be sinless in heaven, and the sight of the "Lamb, who was slain" (Rev 5:12) will forever prevent the re-entry of pride into our souls.
Our consciousness of sin's presence has, first, an emptying influence: it makes way for a pardoning and cleansing Christ, by convicting the soul of its deep need.
Second, it has a continual abasing influence, bringing us to realize more and more our utter insufficiency and complete dependence upon God.
Third, it has an evangelical influence, for it serves to make us more conscious of the perfect suitability of the great Physician for such lepers as we feel ourselves to be.
Fourth, it has a God-honoring influence, for it brings the renewed soul to marvel increasingly at His "longsuffering to us" (2 Peter 3:9).
Fifth, it should promote a spirit of forbearance to our fellows: we ought not to expect less failure in them—than we find in ourselves.