Jesus saves us both from our inner tendency to sin, and the guilt and shame we carry with us when we do sin. When we choose to follow Christ, we find a new center to our lives and a change in our inner desire. It is not that temptation completely vanishes from our lives, but we find a new, stronger impulse pulling us towards the right path. We find our hearts transformed, little by little. As our inner nature is being changed, our thoughts, words, and deeds change, and we find ourselves more often and intentionally walking the good path.
The more we seek to grow in him, follow him, love him, and serve him, the more we recognize the tempter and his fast-talking ways.
Paul spoke of our struggle with sin in terms of a battle or a wrestling match. He wrote, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11). James 4:7 tells us, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Some Christians see the devil as a metaphor or personification of temptation and evil; in some ways, a name for the innate tendency in every person to disobey God. It is the inner and outer pull towards leaving God’s good path. For many other Christians, the devil is a literal spiritual being who plays the role of tester, tempter, and accuser in scripture.
However you perceive the devil, faith in Jesus gives us strength to resist the tempter. Asking for Christ’s help gives us power to “stand against the wiles of the devil.”
My experience, after forty-two years of being a Christian and attempting to walk with Christ daily, is that I am still tempted to think, say, or do things God does not intend. But when I turn to Christ, I sense his strength, his help, and his deliverance. He has transformed, and is transforming, my inner desires. We call this sanctification—the process by which the Holy Spirit changes our hearts and minds so that we become the people God intended us to be.
Martin Luther captured this ongoing battle well in “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” his famous hymn:
A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper, he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right Man on our side,
the Man of God’s own choosing.
You ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth his name,
from age to age the same;
and he must win the battle.
When the angel announced that Mary’s child would “save his people from their sins,” we usually read that as pertaining to forgiveness. It certainly includes that. But even more important is Christ’s transforming work in our lives, drawing us to God’s path, strengthening us and delivering us from our inner compulsion to sin. When Jesus speaks of being born again, and Paul speaks about being a “new creation” in Christ, they are speaking of this work of transformation, this saving us from our sins.
I can say this with confidence: I’m not the person I hope to be yet nor am I the person Christ wants me to be, but I’m also not the person I would have been were it not for his rescuing grace in my life. I am a better husband, father, and human being because of Christ. I am more generous, compassionate, and kind than I would have been without his influence in my life. I’m less of a jerk than I would have been had he not begun rescuing me. He has saved me from my sin and he is saving me from my sin. And that is true of all who call upon him as Savior.
Much of the goodness, kindness, and compassion in the world today happens as a result of the way that Christ has saved his people from their sins. This ongoing work of deliverance or salvation is what we ask when we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “deliver us from evil,” or in some modern translations, “rescue us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). It is in his witness, his love, his impact upon our soul, and his Spirit’s work that he is saving us from our tendency to sin.