I stumble again. I'm alone, with my fleshing battling against me and I stumble. I turn towards vice and all worldliness, ignoring the clear command of God. Knowing better, I still have a moment of weakness and give in to myself, to the temptation.
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
After so long of struggling, so much work on my part, I finally decide that I'm done mortifying my desire and that the time has come to allow myself to be rebellious, disobedient.
And this brings with it such great sorrow. Almost too much to bear. For here I am, wallowing in the valley of my sin, and I look up to meet the gaze of my caring Father, who is perfect and Holy. He calls me to be perfect and holy.
This sorrow draws me to repentance. I turn and thank God for loving me despite my inability to please Him. The devil, to this point, has had many victories in this scenario. But all of his victories seem to have been for the purpose of The Father, who himself showcases his victory.
Because even in my depravity and my sin, the Lord still loves me. He still gazes tenderly upon me, calling me His own dear child. He picks me up out of my own filth, and washes me clean, restores me, and encourages me.
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ [...]1 Peter 3:21
Despite myself, and despite my best efforts to lose, I have still already been handed the victory. This confounds the devil, who seeks to get us to destroy ourselves, but only ever serves the Father's purpose - as all things do. Whatever he means for evil, it would seem that the Lord turns for my good, working contrition and repentance in my heart.
But it's this moment, when he knows he's lost, that the adversary attacks with a great lie, one which he's been telling since the beginning.
As I praise God for delivering me, even in the midst of my sin, the devil appears to me and says in such a soft coo, "Did God really say he would love you?"
I know the Lord does love me. After all, if I repent and turn to the Lord, then He will be faithful to forgive me.
"But did you repent?" The accuser says. I'm stopped in my tracks. "You always commit this same sin. How can you claim you've repented of it when you continue to do it? Not only have you repented before and just now fallen again, but you've repented now and surely you'll fail in the future. You know it, I know it, God knows it."
This is a true story, not a hypothetical. We all deal with sin, and many of us have vices and sins that we wish we could wash away, but they persist with an unyielding stubbornness.
It was in the midst of praying and confessing this sin to God that the devil approached me and, as is his wont, accused me of not repenting. I heard the voice clear as day, gripping my heart and choking it with cold, telling me about my failures. It attempted to tell me about my future sin, telling me I would give in again.
I knew I very well might, too. It is my nature, it seems. The insidious thing was when the thought ran through my mind: You'll fail again. You know, I know it, God knows it.
I was shaken to the core of my being, truly. I was overwhelmed with despair. The voice was right! I would probably give in to sin again, and the Lord did know this. And here I am repenting, 'turning away' from this sin, that I know I'll turn back to.
Like a dog to vomit.
"You see," the devil said to me, "God can't love you. And He can't save you. And He won't forgive you. He cannot and will not do these things because you haven't repented. If you really repented then you wouldn't sin again, and we all know you will."
I would like to tell you that I rebuked the devil with a shout, and quoted scripture. I didn't. Instead, I thought carefully about what I was being told about my faith.
I was nearly convinced until I realized something: Salvation belongs to the Lord (Ps. 3:8). It's a monergistic work, and something I have no part in. Even my repentance is a gift given to me by God (2 Tim 2:25).
There are only two religions in the world
My pastor, Joe, is fond of saying that there are only two religions in the world: Christianity and Works.
Devil has many plans and plots to attempt to move us from one and into the other. He often times will tell us that we have to do things in order to be saved, that we must rely on our own works.
He tells us this lie because he knows that it is precisely the lie that will keep us farthest from salvation. I'm sure among my Lutheran friends, the lie is often that they must be baptized, that they should agonize over those they know who have passed and were not. We agonize over baptism as though we could do such great things with water.
Perhaps among my Pentecostal friends, they think that they must abstain from this thing or that thing, not swear, not smoke, not chew, and not date girls that do.
Or maybe you're like me and you've heard the devil telling you that you aren't repenting good enough.
That is just a repackage of salvation by works.
I realized something that day: I'm not saved by my repentance. I'm saved by the finished work of Jesus Christ. I'm not saved by my lack of swearing or drinking (both of which I do more than I ought), and I'm not saved by my repentance.
I'm saved by the Lord, who delights in my salvation. The devil was attempting in this moment to get me to reject the clear teaching of the Lord, that if I turn to Him He will never cast me out, and in so doing cast myself out.
The devil will tell you, "You have to do this to be saved." And when you do it, he will often come back to you and say, "You didn't do it good enough." Perhaps you didn't mean that prayer, or perhaps you didn't really ask forgiveness enough, or you didn't list every sin in your confession.
Recognize that for what it is: Works based salvation. The devil is attempting to get you to trust in your own works, and doubt the work of Christ.
For the believer, the work of Salvation is always referred to in the Bible in the past tense. You have been saved, you were redeemed. That is to say: It has already been accomplished. So unless you happen to possess a time machine and can go back and unaccomplish it, you're saved.
When the devil attacks you with the Law, as he often does, respond by thanking God for the Gospel.
Remember: Your salvation is finished. It is done. Cling to it, trust in Christ, and be happy for you are at peace with God.
Grace and peace to you in the name of our God our Father, and Jesus Christ, His only Son. Amen.