Why do you try not to sin? In the evangelical world, a popular response to that question is, “I don’t want to hurt my witness.” If you grew up in youth group like I did, no doubt this principle was drilled into you week after week. My general understanding was that I needed to avoid sin because my walk needed to match my talk. Nobody wants to be a pharisee. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. If I claimed Jesus had changed my life, my walk needed to match.
I get it. But is that it? Is that the only reason we shouldn’t sin–so that we won’t look like a hypocrite? The “hurting your witness” approach assumes that you don’t want to give someone ammo to shoot down your message of the Gospel: “Well, I saw you drunk at the party last night.” To me, this seems like an amazing opportunity to admit you also still sin, to explain that you still desperately need the blood of Jesus to cleanse you from that sin, and to pray on the spot for forgiveness. [Note: I’m not advocating sin, but only pointing out that it doesn’t necessarily “hurt your witness”,only embarrass you.]
People don’t accept Jesus because you are holy. They do it because they, like you, realize they are a sinner in need of a Savior. So, next time you are tempted to sin, here are four better reasons to resist temptation.
A life of sin denies the power of the Gospel.
The Gospel calls us to new life. The apostles exhort us to live lives “worthy of the Gospel” (Col. 1:10; Phil. 1:27). In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul makes a distinction between the identities we once wore–idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, revilers–and the title we now bear: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
According to Paul, the Gospel means we “have put on the New Man, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of His Creator” (Col. 3:10). People are looking for escape from the brokenness of the world. We proclaim to a world in dark despair, “He breaks the power of cancelled sin, he sets the prisoners free, His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood avails for me.” However, if we live as though still shackled to sin, it appears that the Gospel does not keep its promises. When the Gospel promises freedom and victory, but our life is full of slavery and defeat we deny the Gospel’s power.
It is not the example of Christ.
As Christians, our desire is to be like Christ. Jesus is perfectly upright, righteous, and sinless. That reason alone should motivate us toward righteousness and away from sin. Paul points this out to the Colossians: “Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him…” (Col. 2:6). Paul discourages the Ephesians from behaving like the nations in sensuality, greed and impurity because “that is not the way you learned Christ!–assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self…and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:20-22).
The Gospels tell us what Jesus has done, but they also tell us how he lived as an example to us. We choose righteousness over sin because Jesus did. Jesus’ invitation is simple: “Follow me.” This is a command to walk in his ways, to follow in his footsteps, and to imitate his example. Following Jesus means resisting temptation and choosing righteousness.
It hurts your Church.
I think this is the reason we think about the absolute least. We like to pretend that our personal sin remains just that–personal. However, the story of Joshua 7 would persuade us otherwise. Thirty-six Israelite men lost their lives in the Battle of Ai because one man chose to disobey God. Achan disobeyed God’s clear command, taking and hiding some of the spoils from Jericho. His sin polluted the whole camp. His sin brought dire consequences on the lives of others.
Paul writes about the Church body in 1 Corinthians 12: “As it is, there are many parts, yet one body… If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor. 12:20,26a). Your personal sin always affects your church body. It bears consequences in camp. When the eye is foggy, the body walks off the path. When the leg is broken, the body is in a wheelchair. When a member is in unrepentant sin, the Church is crippled.
It takes from God’s Glory.
The greatest reason to resist sin is that sin takes from God’s glory. When God puts His name on a people, and they disobey Him, it dishonors Him before the world: “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you'” (Romans 2:23-24). We who bear the name “Christ” must desire His glory. Who cares whether men revile us? Who cares whether men speak harshly or falsely against us? What should concern God’s people is God getting all the glory He deserves.
Peter urges his readers to realize that sin in their lives affects the glory God receives: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). Paul admonishes, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Sin does not bring God glory. Therefore, brothers and sisters, choose righteousness!