Recently during family worship time one of our kids asked, visibly troubled, “is it normal that ever since I became a Christian, I feel like I’m sinning more?” It was a really good question. One that I myself had as a newer believer years ago, and one that I presume many people have wondered.
We know from Scripture that every person is born with a conscience and have God’s Law written on their hearts (Romans 2:15). So, simply feeling convicted or guilty about doing wrong is not just for believers. Scripture also teaches that one of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of sin (John 16:7-11). Specifically, the sin of unbelief. The Holy Spirit works in the hearts of unbelievers to convict them that they are in need of a Savior.
So, what happens after a person is saved? Well, in addition to convicting the world of sin, the Holy Spirit also convicts the world of righteousness (John 16:8). Once a person comes to faith and belief in Christ, they are indwelt with the Holy Spirit, forever (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 12:13). The Spirit enables believers to understand God’s Word, where we find instruction on Godly living, what sin is, what righteousness is, who God is, and who we are. In short, the indwelling Spirit opens the believers eyes to the truth.
What does this all mean in relation to our opening question? A believer already recognizes that they are sinners, who desperately need a Savior. Because they have been regenerated, they believe God’s Word and agree with Him on what sin is, and what righteousness is. A regenerated heart responds in obedience to this truth. As believers grow in the knowledge of the truth, they will naturally become increasingly aware of areas of sin in their lives. The Holy Spirit will still be acting in His capacity of conviction of sin, but the difference is that with a believer, that conviction leads to repentance.
Jesus spoke of this in His sermon on the mount: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4). This mourning is not speaking of people simply experiencing sadness. It is speaking of mourning over one’s sin. From the MacArthur New Testament Commentary book of Matthew:
Jesus is speaking of godly sorrow, godly mourning, mourning that only those who sincerely desire to belong to Him or who already belong to Him can experience. Paul speaks of this sorrow in his second letter to Corinth. “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produces in you” (2 Cor. 7:10-11). The only sorrow that brings spiritual life and growth is godly sorrow, sorrow over sin that leads to repentance. Godly sorrow is linked to repentance, and repentance is linked to sin. (pp.156-157)
So yes, believers will have increasing awareness of their sin or increasing sensitivity to their sin, but it will lead to repentance. Do you see the difference? It is an important one. Feeling guilty about sin is not exclusive to the believer. Repentance, produced by godly sorrow over that sin, is. More from MacArthur:
The mark of the mature life is not sinlessness, which is reserved for heaven, but growing awareness of sinfulness. “If we say that we have no sin,” John warns, “we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ ( 1 John 1:8-9). The subjects of God’s kingdom–the forgiven ones, the children of God and joint heirs with the Son–are characterized by continual confession of sin. (p. 160, emphasis my own)
Believer, if you feel like you are growing more and more aware of your sin, it is not all discouraging. Confess your sin, and repent of it. Then rejoice over the Spirit’s work in your life and the fact that you have been forgiven.
Soli Deo Gloria!