Do My Sins Ruin God’s Plan for My Life?
Interview with John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org
Do my sins sabotage God’s best plan for my life? Do I lose God’s best plan for me by living in sin? This is such an important question, and it was sent to us in an email from a regretful middle-aged woman named Valerie. “Hello, Pastor John. Can my grievous sins, even committed as a Christian, thwart God’s plan for my life? If I live in sin, will I get his plan B for me? Will I miss out on his plan A? I recognize that I am forgiven but must live with the consequences of my foolishness. But I also wish I hadn’t sinned in ways that probably changed the course of God’s blessing my life and the lives of my adult children. Have I forfeited God’s best plan for me because of my sinning?”
Let me lay some groundwork from the Bible, and then, on the basis of the groundwork, try to give a biblically faithful answer to the question of whether we are living in plan A or B for our lives.
Daily Reward, Daily Loss
Let’s start with the biblical teaching that all of us Christians will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ and be rewarded or not for the good and evil we have done. Second Corinthians 5:10 says this: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
Then Ephesians 6:8 says, “Whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord.” That’s an amazing statement. Wow. Any little good thing you do that nobody else sees, God wrote it down, and you will receive an appropriate reward.
Then 1 Corinthians 3:15 says, “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” There is a kind of loss, a being burned up, that believers endure through sinful actions, and there is a gain that believers receive for the good that they do. Of course, none of this — even though somebody might balk — calls into question the doctrine of justification by faith alone. That truth stands alongside the truth that there are varying rewards for justified believers in the age to come.
Keep in mind that all Christians sin every day. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. . . . If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8, 10). Who of us comes to the end of any day and says, “I loved God perfectly today with my whole soul, my whole heart, my whole strength, my whole mind”? Not many people are that daring. We sin every day, and we do works of faith every day. The sinful actions result in our suffering loss, and the righteous actions result in our being rewarded at that last day.
Your Best Life Changes
Now, what does that imply? I’ve just built my biblical foundation that I wanted to put in place. Now, what does that imply for our best life? Plan A? Or is it plan B or plan C or Q or X? Try to imagine just you. Consider yourself without reference to anybody else in the body of Christ — just you. From the strictly individual standpoint, the best life would be a life with the fewest sins and the most loving deeds. Individually, then, the best life — our best future — just from an individual standpoint, is changing every hour. Sins are detracting from our reward and deeds are being burned up, so to speak, in advance, and good deeds are being recorded every hour of your life, and those are going to be rewarded.
So, your best life is changing at every moment because of all the sins that you perform, not just some biggies in the background of your life, but all of them, and all your good deeds are being recorded. I often said at Bethlehem that we never made a decision at the church far beyond B-. I never considered any decision we made to be an A+ decision. Everything was as good as you could do as a sinful, fallen human being. God, in his mercy, records those, and he’ll deal with them appropriately.
But from the standpoint of how all of God’s saints comprise one great, innumerable body of Christ, displaying the panorama of God’s grace as a body, as a coherent, organic unity — the way each person fits into that glorious body will be just the way God planned it when all is said and done, for the greatest glory of his name and the greatest good for his body as a whole, with nobody, no single individual in that body, feeling any envy or any pride. The new world will be a perfect world. There will be no sinful defect there, no unhappiness there. Christ will be the focus of our joy, and we will be granted eyes to see how the differences among us serve his glory and our joy.
Stir this in. In the parable of the laborers of the vineyard, where some worked all day and some worked for one hour, and the master paid all of them the same thing, the point is this: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” (Matthew 20:15). In other words, God is absolutely free with his grace to do with it what he pleases, which probably means we are in for some surprises, and they’re going to be good.
Then stir this in. When I said that for all the differences in reward in heaven, there will be no envy and no pride there. I won’t envy your superior reward, and you won’t feel any pride over me in your superior reward. That’s because there will be no sin there. There will be only perfect satisfaction in God in every heart. Every cup — no matter how it’s shaped, no matter how big or little it is — will be full and overflowing with love and joy in God. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Press On Toward Heaven
Here are a couple of closing implications for life: All of us have regrets. If we are honest, if we’re clear-sighted, we have regrets at the end of every day, not at the end of a season of parenting only — every day, not just for a few big regrets in the past, but for hundreds of things that accumulate over days and weeks and months. What shall we do with these future-altering regrets since they’re all going to be burned up someday? Paul said two really helpful things.
Even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it. . . . I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:8–10)
In other words, there is a kind of looking back with remorse that leads graciously to repentance and takes the future-ruining sting out of the remorse. To be sure, the scars and damage of our sins sometimes cannot be reversed. I heard in her question concern about that. They cannot be reversed. Broken health. Maybe you smoked too long. You just broke your health. Shattered marriage. The divorce, remarriage — it’s not going to be fixable. Alienated relationships. Psychological scars from who knows what. Paul’s point is that godly repentance and godly remorse is full of hope that these things will not destroy our future or our joy.
Paul knew this from his own horrific past. He knew the pain that he was talking about when he referred to the past because he had been, as he says, the chief of sinners, because he actually had a hand in murdering Christians (1 Timothy 1:15). Imagine how that hung over Paul the rest of his life. He took the life of Christians, which is probably why he said this final word. I can just hear him battling here:
One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind [oh, that must have been a battle] and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13–14)
My conclusion is that it is futile and pointless to try to figure out whether we are living in plan A or plan B or plan X or plan Y. We are living in the rest of our lives. Today is the beginning of the rest of your life. If you’re a Christian, it is leading to perfect happiness forever — perfect happiness forever in the presence of God. Throw yourself into this life with great expectation that God is going to increase your eternal capacities to enjoy him as you rejoice to do his will now.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ.