This past week I was really sick, I mean really sick. Fever, headache, chills, you name it. For days I took pain relievers and the turmoil in my body would ease for a while.. but inevitably, the gut wrenching symptoms returned. Although treating the symptoms of my sickness provided a temporary solution to what I was experiencing, it did not cure it. And that goes for all types of sicknesses. We can treat our symptoms all we want, day in and day out, but until our immune system (the real weapon) kills the virus/bacteria, we are waging a battle that won’t end.
How similar is this to our struggle with sin in our lives, as believers in Christ? Off the top of my head, the major external sins that I wage war against are pornography and smoking. (FYI I’m not trying to label smoking as a sin universally, but for me, it is). For months and months I have been doing everything that I can think of to cease these behaviors… but nothing seems to work. I’ll try not to be on my computer when I don’t need to be, or I’ll make myself not go buy cigarettes, or I’ll try to occupy myself with some other activity to distract my mind from the things I really want to do… the sins I really want to commit. I’ve been trying (and admittedly not as hard I could) to modify my behavior, but is that even the solution? If I impart enough restrictions into my life, to the degree that I’m not externally sinning…am I really any better off? Your first inclination may be to say, “Well yes, Matt, of course you’re better off. You’re not sinning.”… and to a degree, I’d agree. But is begrudging, joy-less, obedience really what the Lord wants from His children? Does living our lives in constant paranoia, fearfully attempting to dictate our surroundings at all times to avoid possible temptation, invoke in us any sort of praise to our Father? If you say yes, you’re lying. That kind of life is miserable. I don’t want that kind of life, and I don’t want anyone else to live that kind of life.
So should we neglect this whole battle with sin? Should we just stop trying? Should we not set filters on our computers? Should we just live in complete license and presume upon the grace of God, doing whatever we want to do, whenever we want to?
Paul Washer has put this thought into words very clearly, and the Spirit has engrained it into my mind: “Your Christian life should not consist of doing all the righteous things you hate, while refraining from all the wicked things you love.”
Do you see what Washer is getting at here? He’s attempting to plunge past the external behaviors, whether good or bad, and reach into the heart of a person. The heart, the broken, destitute and sin-ravaged heart of the person, is the root of the problem. This heart is the dark spring from which all our sinful thoughts, desires, and eventually behaviors arise. The external sins we see in our lives, the behaviors we hopefully detest, are not the root of the problem…they are merely symptoms of the unseen disease waging war inside of us. Indwelling sin, or our sin nature, is the universal disease that plagues every fiber of every human being, physically and spiritually. This nature causes us to turn from God, bow down in reverence to ourselves…desiring things that we ought naught and committing shameful acts, day in and day out. But when we are made new in Christ and given the gift of the Spirit, we are aware of this innate sickness and embark on a life long journey to battle the ever-present evil inside of us. But how are we to wage this battle? We’ve been told “Don’t lie, God hates liars!” and “Don’t have sex, or God’ll getcha!”, but those of us who have tried to just not do these things using our own will power know we fail every time we try.
So what’s the solution? I mean, this sounds pretty hopeless right? Right. The truth is, you are utterly hopeless to defeat the sin in your life… in and of yourself, as am I. There’s not any amount of self control or discipline that you can muster up from within yourself to crush this thing. The only thing, and I mean the only thing, that can change you is the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit…. specifically, the love of God being poured into your heart to such a degree that your desires actually start to change. And by change, I do not mean completely disappear… my same-sex feelings have not totally disappeared. But what I’m saying is that the love of Christ that’s poured into our hearts by the Spirit swallows up all of our other carnal desires, drowning them out and putting them at bay. They may still be present, but the love of Christ is the overwhelming presence inside of our hearts…. the love of Christ controls us, not our sinful natures.
You may be thinking, “Well that’s already happened to me, I was saved so and so years ago”. We live in a reality of tension at this present time… the “already taken care of” but “not fully here yet” age. Does that make sense? Christ has purchased our salvation, the Spirit has been given as a seal to those who believe… but we see clearly that things are not yet all put into subjection to the Kingdom of God on earth. Darkness is still present, evil still waging, and sin still active. We’re at an in-between. We were saved when we first believed… but you must realize we are still being saved. This process, Sanctification, will continue until we are glorified in Christ… which means your need for the presence of God and the work of the Holy Spirit is continual.
We should fight our sin, even on the external level… but that can not be the extent of the battle. We must ask God to shine His light into our hearts to expose what’s really wrong with us, so we can ask Him to fix it.
- Has our heart slowly drifted away from the Lord because of the distractions of this life?
- Has a recent season of sin in our lives partially hardened our hearts to God?
- Has our indifference to the things of God set forth a chasm of separation between us and Him?
These things deep down inside of us need to be recognized, confessed and repented in a state of humility before the Lord. We know we can approach the throne of Grace, no matter how dark our spiritual state, because our good behavior never got us into God’s good graces to begin with… it was the blood of Christ. He earned our entry in to the Holy of Holies, and He eternally sustains our path of entry, through Himself.
I urge you all, as I urge myself, not to be spiritually lax and only fight the war of moralistic behavior modification. Really get alone with the Lord, search your soul, and ask God to incinerate whatever kind of blackened wall there may be around your heart. Don’t let it continue to build up like plaque. Don’t continue another day in defeat, defiance or indifference. See Christ as worthy of your submission, your love and your joyful obedience…. go to Him. The saturation of our hearts in His love, presence and grace is what we need. That is where life is…. in Him.
Real love for Jesus Christ will produce joyful obedience to Him. Pursue that love.