I FEEL Prone To Wander, But Am I Really?

original photo by PhillipC

[This is a guest post by Bob Mundorff, who is on staff at my church.]

A lot of great points were brought up in the comments of Mark’s blog post a few weeks ago about being “prone to wander”. It seemed that some folks were uncomfortable with Mark’s criticisms.

Understandably so. You can’t argue with the fact that we “feel” prone to wander, as the song says. That is so true. I “feel it” too! And that is the very reason I need to hear and consider what Mark was pointing out last week. See, I have this tendency to elevate my feelings and
experiences as a higher authority than God’s word. “I feel it” – yes, but that doesn’t make it true!

We’re often like a disoriented GPS. Our minds get disoriented from the truth of God’s word with our feelings and experiences. We need to recalibrate our minds, and the best method of doing so is not by singing or telling ourselves what we feel or have experienced, but by singing or preaching to ourselves the truths contained in God’s word and the power of the Gospel.

That’s what Paul meant when he said that you are “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true
righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Being renewed in the spirit of our minds means realizing who we have become because of our union with Christ. We realize who we have become and then we be who we have become! If we keep telling ourselves that we’re
prone to wander, we can actually hinder what God is calling us to in this verse and many others.

So when he says in Romans 6:11, “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus”, it doesn’t mean, “pretend” that you’re dead to sin and alive to God”. It doesn’t even mean, “just keep telling yourself” this. It’s more than the power of positive thinking
or mind over matter. God wants us to renew the way we think about ourselves and our new relationship to sin. The truth of this new thinking is grounded in the concrete reality of who we are in Christ because of the Gospel! For the Christian, the power of sin has been ‘brought to nothing’, not just ‘reduced dramatically’.

The Christian is a new creation. The old man who was enslaved to sin is dead! (2 Cor. 5:17; Romans 6). The implications of the Gospel are so much more than just a future declaration freeing us from the penalty of sin. They reach down into our present day life and deliver us now
from the desires of the flesh (Gal. 1:4, 5:16-17). Does this mean we will no longer sin after conversion? No. But for me, it’s a matter of emphasis.

Am I going to emphasize the power of sin in my life? When I do that, I shrink the Gospel’s power down, making sin’s power unbiblically big. When I do that, it’s easy to live a defeated life. That kills my faith! Rather, I am constantly trying to renew my thinking by emphasizing the power of the Gospel for righteousness and holiness! When you feel “prone to wander”, join me in fighting the good fight of faith with the truth of God’s word.

I’m tired of struggling the miserable struggle of unbelief. Aren’t you?

Comments

  1. says

    I think, though for me, the "prone to wander" is a reminder of God's power and that I have only to rely on Him who I am getting to know through the internalizing of God's truth found in His word. I do not think that line encourages me to emphasize my sin but to seek His truth as my focus and the solution to my emotional wandering ways. Feelings are deceptive and are not truth when they overwhelm me I need to cling to God replacing Satan's lies with His truth. I still think the line is valuable.

  2. Chuck says

    So…I’m not prone to sin? I just feel like I am? Is my battle with sin because I’m overemphasizing the doctrine of sin??? My miserable struggle is simple unbelief? Believe and victory is mine?

    Can you say ‘Joel Olsteen’?!

    Mr Altrogge’s post and comments were much more thoughtful, Bob. It’s a matter of balance. 1 John 1:8 comes to mind when I read your post: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

    The doctrine of sin includes progressive victory over sin. There isn’t a need to say’ Praise God! I have victory! I’m not prone to sin!’ This isn’t an emphasis…it’s an overstatement that is ultimately always discouraging when people inevitably learn though they are united to Christ they are not Christ. They are not sinless in this life. The good news isn’t no more sin in this life. It’s when we sin we have an advocate with the Father. When we confess our sins he forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

    The way to serve your friends who you think have the doctrine of sin wrong is not to do away with the believers battle with sin. We are prone to wander. The way to serve them is to teach the doctrine rightly.

    • says

      Chuck,

      I sin. I like sin. Sin smells, tastes, and feels good. That's why I sin. If sin tasted like mud, I wouldn't sin. Each of us likes sin, this side of Heaven. We are enticed by our desire for it, dragged away, and left for dead by it. No one makes us sin but ourselves. The devil, our bitter enemy, cannot make me sin, you sin, or even Jesus to sin. (Remember that whole desert encounter?)

      Sin is a constant this side of Heaven. It runs rampant and with great impunity in The World. We see it daily. Heck, we walk in it ourselves, much to the chagrin of the more pious and holy folks who claim Christianity. I'm not excusing sin, no Heaven forbid!, but Jesus did take our penalties for sin once and for all. As Paul said, should we then sin more so more grace can abound? Of course not. But a little sober thinking and harsh realization of sin and our relationship to it is never a bad thing.

      I quite liked your comments. Nicely said, sir.

    • Bob says

      Thanks for your comment Chuck. I totally agree with you that we will not reach sinless perfection in this life. Sorry if I implied that. Regarding your citation of 1 John 1:8, I would encourage you to read it in the context of the whole book. It must be understood in conjunction with what John says in 3:6-10, for example.

      Many Christians underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit we have in fighting sin. I know I have in the past and it has helped me greatly to understand what the Bible says about this. These are the people I was desiring to help with this post.

      Thanks again for your comment Chuck. God bless you.

      • Chuck says

        I hope I wasn't taking 1 John 1:8 out of the context of John's letter. The author is the apostle John who also gave us our most theological gospel and the book of Revelation! Quite a guy. One of the purposes of this letter is to teach believers how they can 'know' they are true Christians. This is what he is doing in the verses you mention. The one who practices sin – who keeps on sinning – isn't a Christian. Whoever practices righteousness is a Christian.

        So, Bob, ar e you really equating feeling prone to wander with practicing sin? I hope not. In fact, 1 John would be a great book to study to get a balanced perspective of the doctrine of sin so we won't be overwhelmed or surprised when we do sin (which we are prone to do now aren't we?!) but we will expect victory over sin so that we don't practice sin. There is one who is/was never prone to sin (3:5) but that isn't us. But if we confess our sins (which we are prone to commit) he is faithful to forgive us (1:9) because Jesus is the propitiation for our sins (a sacridfice to reconcile us to God) (2:2).

        1 John isn't a book about perfection, Bob. It's about Christians who are forgiven and being progressively conformed to the image of Christ. They will sin and they do have an advocate. They don't practice sin because Jesus came to destroy sin. it's a matter of balance. This is wonderfully encouraging and releases us to sing 'prone to wander' without thinking that makes me mired in unbelief!

        Your friend, Chuck

        • Bob says

          Chuck,
          I think we agree more than you might think. I do not believe that 1 John is a book about perfection. Nor am I equating feeling prone to wander with practicing sin. I believe all Christians feel that way, hence the purpose of my post. The issue, I think comes down the distinction between feeling prone to wander (or sin, as you used interchangeably in your comment), and actually being prone to sin.

          As I said to Lisa below, one of my favorite verses is 1 Cor 1:12. I never rely on my own strength and think "I stand". I am prone to temptation. But I believe the Bible teaches that power of the Holy Spirit in the believer changes our nature from being prone to wander to being prone to obey (Rom. 6:1-14, Ezek 36:22-27 which was fulfilled in the New Covenant, and Rom 8:1-17 for example)

          This doesn't mean we will not sin. However, we can rest assured that as we walk in the Spirit, we will put to death the deeds of the flesh. And that God is faithful and will not let us be tempted beyond our ability. And the Bible goes on and on with these promises.

          I believe that the only way we could not sin would be to love the Lord our God with ALL our heart, soul and mind ALL the time. If we do that every second of our lives, we will not sin. I don't believe anybody does that.

          I just want to put my emphasis where I believe the Bible's is. Yes, I believe the Bible teaches a robust view of sin. But I believe it teaches a more robust view of the implications of the Gospel in the believers life. One example would be in Gal 5. There is a great picture of the believers struggle with sin. But the emphasis in power there is clearly given to the Holy Spirit over the desire of the flesh.

          Thanks Chuck, I enjoy talking to you about this.

          • Chuck says

            I think we completely agree, Bob! I found that to be true with Mr. Altrogge. I guess the only thing we disagree on is the reason for the appearance of disagreement! I think it's because you guys are overstating your case when you go after this poor song / phrase (and, I think, confusing the issue in general). Let's let Jerry Bridges say it in his balanced '82 year old' way and then let's all move on:

            'Romans 6 is about more than theology. Paul is not content to leave us with theory. He wants us to act on this radical change in our identity (new identity in Christ / brand new relationship w/ God through Christ / not in Adam in Christ) by applying the truth of it to our everyday lives. So he says in verse 11 (Romans 6), 'So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.' The word consider that Paul uses here is best understood as meaning 'think about carefully, especially with regard to taking action.' Paul wants us to see that through our union with Christ Jesus, we not only have been delivered from the dominion and bondage of sin, we also have been united to Jesus in his life – we are both dead to sin and alive to God. We are branches on the vine that is Christ, and because of this we partake of the spiritual life and vitality that is in him…In Romans 6, Paul is saying all this 'newness' is settled, established, and unchangeable fact, but at the same time something we must continually think about and act on. That is why, in Romans 6:12, he immediately adds an action step: 'Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions' After all, one might reasonably ask: 'If we have truly been delivered from the dominion of sin, if it no longer rules us, why must we be diligent not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies? What difference does it really make?' The NT is very clear. It makes a huge difference. You and I are now engaged in a spiritual guerilla warfare against remaining corruption within us, and that warfare has real consequences – for ourselves, others, and the glory of God – depending on how we engage it. This warfare is described by Paul in Galatians 5:17, "For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do." Though we have been delivered from absolute bondage to sin, we have not been freed from its presence or influence. And as long as sin is present within us, it will seek to regain its dominion over us. While sin can never fully succeed at this, it can make life far more difficult, far more painful, and far less fruitful…We have an enemy that does not stop opposing us. To live as if this were not true is simply foolish. We are freed from sin's dominion, but it still desires to destroy us. So we must be vigilant against its assualts, and take steps by God's Spirit to put to death the expressions of sin that we see daily in our bodies and minds (see Romans 8:13). Paul wants us to remember that, since we are freed from bondage to sin, we can say No to temptations. Only in eternity will it be impossible for us to sin, but for now it is always possible for us not to sin in response to specific temptations. We may choose to sin, and we often do choose to sin, but we do not have to sin. When we were in Adam, and thus under sin's dominion, we had no choice but to sin at every temptation (in some way)…But once we are in Christ, we are able to say No to sin, and that is an ability we simply did not have prior to our conversion, because we were in Adam. The fact that we have died to the dominion of sin is not a truth to be put on a shelf and admired. It is a truth we must put to use every day."

            From 'Who Am I? Identity in Christ' – I recommend the whole book, Bob!

            Your friend,

            Chuck

  3. Shannon Ayers says

    Bob,
    Thank you so much for your post. I believe the underlying issue here is the question of identity: what is a Christian? As a new creation, I don't want to sin. But my flesh (the unredeemed part of me that Scripture describes—not the old man that is done away with at conversion) still desires sin. That is where the battle is.

    That is why we can say, at the deepest level, we do NOT want to sin or wander…that is the new creation that God has made us in Christ. I can personally relate to living for years believing that "I'm just a wretch, sin is all I can do, woe is me." And My actions flowed from that and I lived accordingly. Thank God that a man shared with me these truths you posted! As I began to see what Scripture taught about the Believer's identity in Christ, my behaviors/actions slowly began to line up with that reality…which was actually true since my conversion.

    I really hope more pastors will begin addressing God's people as the new creation they are in Christ, instead of lumping everyone together and just saying "You are all a bunch of sinners, your heart is wretched, etc…" One who has been given a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone by God is no longer wretched. Struggling against the flesh? Yes. Sometimes failing? Absolutely. But loving and craving sin, with no sorrow afterwards? That was my life for many years, until God gave me a new heart, with new desires. If that is the case, one should seriously examine themselves and ask the Lord to show them the true condition of their soul.

    Blessings to you in Christ.

    • Bob says

      Thank you Shannon! Isn't it great to understand our true identity in Christ? I too have experienced living for years feeling defeated by my sin. Thank Jesus for showing us the truth! "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free!"

  4. Jenn Grover says

    Thanks for keeping the discussion alive on this topic, Bob. I would suspect the heart of this problem lies a neglect of the proper view if the resurrection and its power in the believer’s life and an isolation of mortification of sin without its parallel companion in sanctification, vivification.

  5. Nathan Rutman says

    Stephen and Mark (and everyone else who has commented),

    Thanks so much for trying to draw a distinction between the new life lived in Christ and that Christianity has more life and power than defeated moralism that can exist out of overemphasizing sin.

    I'm wondering if this would be a fair assessment of the situation…tell me what you think: I think you're absolutely right in saying that we shouldn't go around thinking, praying and identifying with being "prone to wander" from God…that we have a new nature, and the clock on the old nature is being defeated. Every day living under sanctification is living under grace's triumph through the death and resurrection of Christ. Looking at where we come from, there is no doubt that a new trajectory has been set—praise God!!

    However, I wonder if in trying to formulate a critique of two lines in Come Thou Fount, we're oversimplifying the reality that we live between two worlds. The same guy who wrote Ephesians 4:22-24 also wrote Romans 7:21-23. And (for me, at least), I think I can argue that there are days when I'm "prone to wander" from God—where the temptation is so constant and so fierce, perhaps even with repetitive failure, that we're aware that I'm swimming upstream…I want to obey God, but the old nature is still kicking, like Paul describes in Romans 7. In other words, looking forward (to what we should and one day will be), I think "prone to wander" can be fair game.

    John Piper once said something like, "the longer I live, the more I realize that we make so little headway toward what we should be…we've got to make headway, but in the end it's not very impressive" (I believe it was in a sermon on the "glory of the Children of God" from Romans 8).

    I'm not trying to put a damper on anyone…I'm just saying I think both are fair descriptors. Yes, we are victors in Christ and experience new life. And yes, the old nature is still there and sin is still after us (which is why Paul has to command us to "put off the old nature" and why we need to be encouraged to "by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh"). It's not so cut and dry…we still wander. Sometimes we're prone to it, although hopefully that isn't the only way we'd describe our experience.

    • Bob says

      Hey Nathan,

      I appreciate the kindness and humility in your comments.

      I agree that we are in the between two worlds, already not yet state. But I wouldn't say prone is the right word. Tempted is better. Maybe seeing my comments to lisa and Chuck would explain.

      Regarding Romans 7, I would lean toward the view that Stephen wrote on those verses in his posts a couple weeks ago.

      I definitely agree that it's not so cut and dry. Just thinking prone might not be the right word. (Check out the definition in the dictionary when you get a chance). Hey, I still sing the verse with thankfulness though, remembering that apart from the work of God in my life, that is me.

      Thanks Nathan!

  6. lisa says

    Thanks for the post. Bob — you are a good writer! Looking forward to more thoughts from you. :-) I see where you're coming from, and I think you make some good points, but just some food for thought: After we heard next to nothing for many years about "mortifying sin" or the doctrine of sanctification, one of the things that drew Don and me to where we are now was what was called "a robust view of sin." We still very much appreciate that robustness and have grown much, by God's grace, as a result of sound teaching on the subject (sound teaching that always included the cross and the hope of the gospel).
    It does seem that we can err by emphasizing EITHER "side" too much.

    • Bob says

      Thanks Lisa. And I absolutely agree with you! We Christians are always tempted (but I wouldn't say "prone") to stray to extremes or sides in many doctrinal issues. One of my favorite verses is 1 Cor. 10:12, Therefore let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. Sin and temptation are always there and we should always be on guard and respect them immensely. However we should never respect them more than the power of the Gospel, including regeneration with the power of the Holy Spirit. That is where I believe the New Testament leans in the way of emphasis… and that is the way I want to lean as well. Sin is robust, but the Gospel is much more!

  7. lisa says

    Thanks, Bob. I appreciate your thoughtful response. Two questions I would ask regarding the use of words:
    1. Does "prone to wander" mean "guaranteed to wander"? (I don't think so, which is why I have no trouble singing that line.)
    2. I think Mark did a post recently about avoiding "drifting." Isn't drifting the same as wandering?

    Just musing over these things…. I appreciate the discussion! :-)

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