Sometimes, I think that I’ve already written everything I can possibly write about living with pain. The Lord has always brought things to mind, as I’ve struggled with my condition, and then graciously given me the words to make my experience meaningful for you. But lately, I seem to be running out of things to say. Maybe it’s because I’ve achieved victory in the struggle, but I seriously doubt that, being human and all. Maybe it’s because, honestly, I’m just not thinking about it that much anymore. It’s become such a part of my life that my moments of self-pity or sadness over it are fewer farther between because I am so used to it. No amount of pain surprises me, and no return of pain that had subsided catches me off guard. These days, when I experience pain, my response is usually, “Oh, Lord I hurt. Please help me to do what I need to do today anyway.”
As I look over that first paragraph, I’m amazed that it was written by the same person who used to be paralyzed with fear whenever a new or unfamiliar pain cropped up. I am not exaggerating when I say paralyzed. I remember when I first injured my ankle while trying to rehab my twisted knee replacement. (Before I knew that the knee was misaligned, I had pushed hard to get it straight, and ended up tearing a tendon in my ankle.) As I experienced this new pain, I was terrified that my mobility would be further limited, I would need additional surgery, and I would suffer even more than I already was. I remember that initial pain plunging me into a deep depression, fueled by anxiety and self-pity, as I Googled my symptoms and panicked for days.
So, what changed? Did my condition become less painful? Did I develop a better tolerance for pain? Did the therapies and other modalities I’ve tried over the years for pain management make such a big difference that my pain is more manageable now? Well, to a degree, some of those things are true. But none of them made the difference in my response to pain that I’ve written about here. What has really changed is my heart. Our tagline at Reigning Grace Counseling Center is, “Heart Change for Life Change,” and my own experience reflects that perfectly. My life of anxiety, self-pity, and depression seemed hard wired until the grace of God changed my heart. When that happened, my life began to change.
I say the grace of God—not His mercy or faithfulness or love, though those have definitely played a part—because God’s grace was able to accomplish the two things that I needed before I could have true heart and life change. His grace provided the forgiveness I needed for my sinful attitude, and it also provided the power I needed to overcome that pattern of sin.
The first step in overcoming any sinful habit, whether it is an action or a thought, is confession. If we truly want to be rid of sin, we must confess it to God. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So, confession is the first and most important thing. God’s grace is what draws us near to Him when our sinful hearts want to run away. God’s grace assures us that our faithful and just God will forgive us when we humble ourselves to confess, and to ask for that forgiveness; and God’s grace is what brings us the heart peace of knowing for sure that our sins are forgiven.
As we walk away from that confession and restoration of peace, we walk into what can be the daunting task of heart change. Once we have assurance that we have been forgiven, we must draw on that same grace of God for the power to resist falling back into the same sin. Romans 5:20 says, “…where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” This shows us that sin and grace are inextricably bound, albeit in a mysterious way, to bring us to eternal life in Christ. So, when we confess our sin by God’s grace, that same grace empowers us to live a life that is pleasing to God. Without grace there is no forgiveness, and without grace, there is no power.
Here are just a few examples from Scripture that show us the connection between God’s grace and His power:
In the early church, the apostles spoke of Christ with great boldness, even in the face of persecution and the threat of death. How did they do this? They were empowered by God’s grace:
And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:33, NKJ)
The word of God spread, and God’s grace empowered Stephen:
And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8, ESV).
God’s grace empowered Paul, even in the face of a great trial:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV).
Paul received the power to minister the Gospel by God’s grace:
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power (Ephesians 3:7, ESV).
Have I made my case that our power to resist sin and live with godly heart attitudes comes from God’s grace? I sure hope so, because this is really our only hope of heart change! My hope that I am able to resist sin rests in the fact that I know that God’s grace is real because it was the agent of my forgiveness. If I know I am forgiven (because 1 John 1:9 assures me of that), then I know that I can call on that same grace to empower me to continue to think and live in a way that is pleasing to God.
So, in those moments when you are tempted to repeat that sin for which you have already received forgiveness, remember the grace that provided that forgiveness, and rely on it to empower you to overcome that temptation. There is no temptation that is more powerful than God’s grace, and no sin as satisfying as obedience to Christ and sweet, uninterrupted fellowship with Him. I know that pain brings great temptation, but remember: The power to resist that temptation is already yours. I’ll close with encouragement from Paul, shortly before his martyrdom, to Timothy.
For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day (2 Timothy 2:12).