An Open Letter to a Sinner

My dear friend,

I’m grateful for the opportunity we had to talk a few days ago. As I’ve prayerfully reflected on our time, I realize that there are things that would have been helpful for me to say. I can tend to be a conflict avoider so please know that writing to you now is reflective of my deep concern for you. I’m not trying to pick a fight or to suggest that somehow I’ve got it all together and you don’t. I come as a person most certainly in process also, “tempted, tried, and sometimes failing” as a familiar hymn reminds us.

I see that you are at a true crossroads. You’re getting weary and discouraged, fighting against desires that threaten to take you far afield of God’s design for your life. But it’s more than that. I heard notes of cynicism as you spoke. You’re entertaining voices that say, “God wants me to be happy, not miserable” or “It shouldn’t be this hard” or “What’s the point of these oppressive rules?” Increasingly, obedience seems pointless to you. You’re thinking, “Why not give in and give up, once and for all?”

Here’s why. Actually, the apostle Paul says it better than I ever could: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). You want freedom? True freedom—living and flourishing as God designed you to live—means keeping in step with the Spirit. Paradoxically, your pursuit of “freedom” will send you headlong into the jaws of slavery. Not living in keeping with your identity in Christ is the real oppression.

I know it doesn’t seem like that right now. But can I humbly suggest that your imagination needs to be super-sized? You fantasize about living without the constraints of hard-fought obedience, visualizing an oasis of fulfilled desires and comfort. My mind sometimes drifts there too, like the Israelites in the wilderness. They craved the leeks and meat of Egypt instead of God’s daily provision of manna (boring!) and the difficult step-by-step journey of faith as those who had been redeemed from slavery (grueling monotony!). But what about, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him—but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (1 Cor 2:9–10).

Let these eternal realities shape your desires today. Let them grow your fear of the Lord. Let them motivate your obedience. If your destination is glory, it makes sense to put to death anything in you that is anti-glory (Col 3:4–5). If you will one day be fully transformed into the likeness of Christ, let that hope promote purity now (1 John 3:2–3). If you now are part of God’s family—“ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven” (another hymn phrase)—live true to your identity! Who you are in Christ is the North Star to navigate this life. Losing sight of that means eventually ending up in a blind alley surrounded a gang of thugs—false lovers who will turn on you in the end.

I’ll close with a portion of a prayer I sometimes pray for myself in the midst of temptation:[1]

Given the choice of shame or glory,
let me choose glory.

Given the choice of this moment or eternity,
let me choose in this moment what is eternal.

Given the choice of this easy pleasure,
or the harder road of the cross,
give me grace to choose to follow you,
knowing that there is nowhere apart from your
presence where I might find the peace I long for,
no lasting satisfaction apart from your reclamation of my heart.

Let me build, then, my King,
a beautiful thing by long obedience,
by the steady progression of small choices
that laid end to end will become like the stones
of a pleasing path stretching to eternity and
unto your welcoming arms
and unto the sound of your voice pronouncing judgment:

Well done.

Please don’t lose sight of the finish line. Don’t throw away the reward of your earlier confidence (Heb 10:35). Don’t squander your love upon the bed of false and fickle mistresses. You have a passionate and jealous Lover who won’t stop until he woos your heart back to him, for your good and his glory.

I look forward to talking next week as we had planned with the hope that what I’ve said here will spark honest and fruitful conversation.

Your brother and fellow sinner, saved and sustained by the grace of Jesus,

Mike


[1] Douglas Kaine McKelvey, Every Moment Holy, Vol. 1 “A Liturgy for One Battling a Destructive Desire” (Nashville, TN: Rabbit Room Press 2019), 166.


Used with permission. This blog post is a publication of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). All content is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in any manner without written permission from CCEF. For more information on classes, materials, speaking events, distance education and other services, please visit www.ccef.org.

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Mike Emlet

Mike Emlet is a faculty member at CCEF. He holds an MD from the University of Pennsylvania and an MDiv degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He worked as a family physician for over ten years before joining CCEF. Mike has counseled for many years and is the author of CrossTalk: Where Life and Scripture Meet, which explores the use of Scripture in counseling, as well as Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses and Medications. Mike is married to Jody, and they have two children. He is active in his urban church and enjoys gardening, camping, and creating wheel-thrown pottery.

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