I still remember how horrible I felt that night when I was a young Christian, as the preacher related his stories at the close of the sermon. He had been talking about the Lord’s ability to instantly free the believer from sin’s hold on their life. He told us story after story of people who had been in bondage to all sorts of sinful behaviors who, upon coming to the Lord Jesus Christ, were immediately freed from even the faintest yearning for what they had recently been so passionate toward. “That man had smoked for over 30 years”, this preacher proclaimed, “And when he came to Christ, he NEVER had the desire for a cigarette again!” The boisterous “Amens!” and “Hallelujahs!” that filled the sanctuary after these words were spoken led me to believe that maybe I was the only person in the entire congregation who still struggled with sinful desires!
Many of us have heard accounts of people getting saved and being instantaneously delivered from an addiction or sinful desire that they have had most of their lives. I have no doubt that this does sometimes happen (I must confess that I personally have never met such an individual, but I take the stories told to me in good faith), but it seems to me that this is not the normal way that the Spirit of God operates in the lives of His people. The record of Scripture as well as the everyday experiences of those Christians who have confided in me enough to be completely candid about such matters testify to the fact that true holy living is usually something that takes place over time. When we come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the guilt of our sin is immediately wiped away and our position with God is changed in a single instant. But the ability to break some of our stubborn sinful habits is something that only just begins at that point.
I believe that the preacher who talked about those people instantaneously freed from their sinful desires that night was intending to do nothing but glorify the mighty ability of our precious Savior to free those who will put their trust in Him. But it made me seriously wonder why God would do that for some folks while others of us continued to struggle and flounder with the same sins over and over. Many students of God’s Word have been puzzled by the 20th Chapter of Genesis; asking why in the world is it even in the Bible? It looks so much like the events recorded back in Chapter 12, when Abraham and Sarah were in Egypt, and is so similar to what is later described in Genesis 26:6-16, that some scholars have suggested that the three accounts are all based on a single event and that a scribal error explains the redundancy. But when we truly understand mankind’s fleshly nature, there really is no puzzle at all. Honestly, I am glad that this chapter is in the Book of Genesis because it tells us that even Abraham was not beyond repeating the same sin more than once. We may not all have been instantly freed from our sinful desires when we received Salvation, but we are certainly in very distinguished company.
Abraham’s deception of Abimilech in Gerar is recorded right before the conception of Isaac (Genesis 21:2). It was necessary for Abraham to deal with this sin and get it out of his life before he could receive all that God planned for him to have. We may take comfort in the fact that Abraham apparently did not learn from his sin the first time in Egypt; in fact, we see that this ruse was a common practice that he and Sarah engaged in as they traveled about (v.13). But we must also realize that the time came for them to deal with this sin and get it out of their lives before God’s plan for them could go forward. So it is with us. We may struggle with the same sins again and again, and God is merciful to forgive us when we confess them to Him. But until we deal with them and trust in Him to free us from those sins, we will never receive all that He has intended for us.