We receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing the moment we cry out to him in repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus. We receive them afresh when we participate in the corporate confession of sins during the worship service; and we have them confirmed and sealed to us by means of the sacraments. The proper use, therefore, of the means of grace—prayer, worship and sacrament—is how we get rid of our sin and also how we find the strength to get back up on our feet and keep running.
One of the most anticipated races of the 1984 summer Olympics was the women’s 3000m, featuring the American Mary Decker and the South African Zola Budd. Decker—who had won a 3000m at the World Championships the preceding year—was favored to win the gold medal, and Budd knew she could not beat the champion if it came to finish line sprint. She began to pick up her pace, and by the middle of the race she was able to move ahead of Decker. Yet as Budd cut to the inside lane, the two collided. Decker fell and injured her hip. She was unable to finish the race.
In a similar fashion, sin will trip us up as we run to glory. This means we need to do our utmost to avoid it. Even more, it means that when we fall into it, we must get back up quickly and keep running.
Hebrews 12:1 says that we are to lay aside “sin which clings so closely.” The idea seems to be that sin clings so closely that it entangles you, impeding your progress, tripping you up, and perhaps even keeping you from moving forward altogether. We see this in numerous biblical examples. The love of money pushed Judas down; the love of this world threw Demas to the side; covetousness tripped up Achan; adultery and murder entangled David.
The problem with sin is manifold. Discreetly and deceptively, it will harden our hearts, weaken our faith, and damage our relationship with God. The more we sin, the more we become acclimated to it, and before long we begin to call evil good. Throughout the whole process, our relationship with God will be rattled. God will become displeased with us, and we will find it increasingly hard to walk closely with him.
A Christian is sleeping with his girlfriend, and knows that God hates this. How will this influence the way that he relates to God? Assuming that his conscience is not already seared, he will find it difficult to talk to God in prayer, and even attend church. He may pray and worship, but it will not be sincere, and it will quickly become lifeless. Religious acts of worship will become perfunctory because he knows in his heart that he is actively offending his heavenly Father. Like David when he was in the grip of his sins, the sinning Christian will lose the joy of his salvation, and his spiritual vitality will be turned into the drought of summer.