I hate running. But I wake up every day and run. I run all day every day. It’s the theme of my life. Simply put, I’m a runner.
Now, before visions of Usain Bolt pop into your head, let me be honest. I don’t physically run very often, though I should. I prefer to work out in the pool or with a good long walk up a steep hill.
But I do run.
What I mean is that I run spiritually. I try, by the power of the Spirit and on a constant basis, to run away from my sin towards God. It’s hard work, but it’s a labor that puts me in the best possible spiritual shape. As I run away from sin and towards Jesus my spiritual lungs open up. I breath in the air of Jesus. My heartbeat speeds up as my affections are raised for the one who has created and redeemed me. And my muscles flex and grow as Jesus gives me life and strengthens my inner being. Running from sin and towards Christ is work that helps me shed the weight of sin and put on the “strength of his might” (Eph 6:10).
The Struggle with Remaining Sin
It’s been said that Christians are able not to sin (posse non peccare) while unregenerate persons are unable not to sin (non posse non peccare). Augustine talked like this. He made a distinction between the natural state of humanity and those who were born again through faith in Jesus. The former could do nothing but sin. The latter, though still in a fight with their sinful flesh, were able not to sin.
The struggle is real.
The gospel addresses this dilemma. Through Jesus believers are delivered from the power of sin. Paul writes, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Rom 6:6–7). Because of Jesus’ victory, we “consider [ourselves] dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11).
In Christ, by the grace of God, we’ve been set free from the power of sin. It is no longer the only thing we are able to do!
Yet, even though the power of sin is broken, the presence of sin remains. I think this is what Paul picks up on in Romans 7. Yes, we are no longer slaves to sin. However, sin often captures our attention, even our affections, and leads us into action that we do not understand. We “do not do what [we] want, but [we] do the very thing [we] hate” (Romans 7:15). Paul, though dead to sin and alive to Christ, continued to struggle with the presence of sin in this fallen world. If Paul continued this earthly war with sin, who are we to think we’d be free from the fight?
This, I think, is a reason Martin Luther spoke of the Christian life as one of continual repentance. Followers of Jesus walk through their days ever aware of their sinfulness. And by the grace of God, Christians have a heartfelt hatred of sin and run from it.
Until Christ returns or calls us home, we make war with our sin. Though sin draws us like a magnet, and pulls us like a tractor-beam, we fight to flee.
This is the fight of repentance. We beat our bodies and make them run. Away from evil and towards our God and King.
Running From Sin and Towards Jesus
But a so-called repentance that simply runs away from sin and doesn’t embrace Jesus as the ultimate treasure is a sort of repentance that is deficient and damning. A so-called repentance that is sorrowful over failures and wickedness but doesn’t lead us to God through Christ is a worldly grief that only “produces death” (2 Cor 7:10).
To be sure, repentance is turning from something. But salvation doesn’t come to those who turn from sin towards nothing. Nor does salvation come as we turn from sin towards self-help theories or moral improvement programs. My struggle with lust, or anger, or wrath, or gossip, or slander demands that I turn and run a different direction. But it also demands I turn and run to someone who can save and satisfy me.
This is the lesson we need to learn afresh. Yes, we must turn from sin. Those who love God hate that which dishonors and defames his holy name. But more importantly, we must run to the one who satisfies the deepest longings of our souls.
We turn our eyes away from that which holds out an empty promise of short-lived pleasure and fleeting satisfaction, and look upon something sweeter, more glorious, and eternally satisfying. Namely, we look and run to Jesus Christ. He quenches our thirst and makes us full. Only as we turn from sin and embrace Jesus are we justified in the sight of a holy God (cf. Rom 5:1).
We have biblically rich words that convey these ideas. Repentance is the term that highlights turning from sin. Faith is the term that highlights embracing Jesus as the superior treasure, indeed the greatest of all treasures. These things are two sides of the single coin of conversion. The converted man is the man who has both turned (and continues to turn) from sin and has placed (and continues to place) his faith in Jesus.
The proper response to the gospel is to repent (Acts 2:38). The question is, have you repented? If you haven’t repented in such a way that you’ve turned to Jesus by faith, your so-called repentance is deficient and damning.
Turn from sin. But make sure when you leave your sin, you close with Christ. That is, when you flee from these lesser and temporal pleasures and treasures, turn and embrace the all-satisfying Savior of your soul.
Turn and run from sin. Embrace the greatest of all treasures, Jesus Christ.