The Frustration of Sin

By JCR Goode

Are you having trouble with addiction? You try and try to change, but you always seem to come back to the same old sin? Therapy, consequences, trying harder — nothing seems to work. You wonder if you'll always be this way — and if Jesus can ever forgive you.

As someone with a similar addictive personality (ex. lying, video games, food), I fully understand where you're coming from. That said, conquering addictions is not about trying the "next best thing" to keep you motivated. Specifically, there are three layers toward life-change.

Inspiration: You're struggling with compulsive lying or sloth or gluttony or lust and you hear this really great sermon, or the perfect quote at the perfect time. Everything starts to make sense for a time! You see your struggle in a whole new way, and you're so thankful for it. Your perception has shifted to understand your sin in an appropriate context. Buuuuut...a few days/weeks later, the novelty of the idea wears off and you're back in your old rut.

Motivation: You're sick and tired of the same old rut. Even these inspiring things you're hearing and seeing aren't doing the trick. So, eventually you take those words to heart and finally say, "I'm going to do it — for real this time!" And you do. You continue filling your head with these inspiring thoughts and images and messages of all kinds. They're great! And you feel like you're finally making progress. The struggle is still there, but through perseverance and endurance, you're starting to build your character to a degree that Paul references in Romans 5. Or at least that's what you thought. Then you get burned out. One relapse and you feel like you're right back where you started. The addiction never went away.

Transformation: You've tried everything and you just can't do it. Nothing works! Accountability groups, putting a lock on your fridge, setting alarms to tell you to get off the games, inspiring/motivating quotes all over your wall and monitor that you don't even notice anymore. You may even have thought about getting a tattoo on your "special hand" that would sanctify it with a holy symbol so that the immense guilt of degrading that symbol with such villainy could hopefully be a deterrent. But then you realize that it's silly to assume that guilt could save you from...becoming guilty.

But aren't these all good things? Of course they are! Why should I stop trying? And then you remember Proverbs 14:12: "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." All of your religious practices, high moral values, and good, practical ideas to guide you toward godly living aren't going to conquer your sin. If only there were something that could help! It sounds like the Gospel all over again! But I'm already a Christian...I've accepted the Gospel, so I'm done with that part now. Right?

And as you continue pursuing Christ, you come across 1 Corinthians 6:12. You realize, "I'm always going to be a sinner. Nothing can stop me from that but God alone. And yet I'm under grace and not the law — so I don't need to worry about being condemned for my sin." And you decide to accept who you are before God. You don't stop trying to rid yourself of sin, but you acknowledge that you can't quit unless God stops you. So, you confess it to Christ and don't let it bother you anymore.

And then you keep studying and come across 2 Corinthians 3:17-18: "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." There it is.

You realize that you fail in your sin because no amount of inspiration or motivation will ever solve your problem. Every other religion out there uses inspiration and motivation to try to conquer our sin problem — to make us better people. But that's why they fail. Because we can never make ourselves better. You — at your core — are always going to be a filthy wretch. So, you think, "If my core being is always going to be this sinful mess that can't stop the addiction...maybe the problem isn't trying to improve myself, but to get a new self altogether." And so, as the verse says, you ask the Spirit to transform you.

But nothing happens at first. You cling onto the hope of Luke 11:13: "How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" And yet you find nothing. There's no transformation. These verses have inspired and motivated you yet again, but nothing has really changed. You're not really sure what to expect — or if you ever expected anything at all. Can this "Gospel" thing really work to save me from a particular sin and not just general sin?

The sin is so deeply ingrained that you think, "There's no way it's just going to be gone overnight!" And then you finally run across James 1:6-7 in your quiet times: "But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord."

You call your faith into question. "If God hasn't saved me from this sin, have I really been saved from any sin? Doesn't it just take one sin to warrant God's wrath? And if I continue in sin, have I really been set free from it? Have I really risen with Christ and been made perfect with Him?" You know you're right to question these things — not for instability sake, but because the questioning leads you back to the Gospel.

You read 1 Corinthians 3:11: "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ." You finally understand that you were never truly building a solid foundation with all those wasted efforts. Jesus had been preparing you for this moment all along. All of those foolish attempts at stopping your sin — the accountability partners, the quiet times and motivating messages and meditation on the scriptures and prayer sessions, the anti-porn blockers — they were merely digging yourself into a hole. But you needed that hole, because without a hole there is nothing to pour The Foundation into. And the deeper the hole is dug, the more concrete can be poured into it so that the foundation that is Christ is...well...concrete.

So, you don't get rid of all those human-effort things you've been trying — after all, you're not in the business of filling in the hole of your heart with dirt. Instead, you leave the hole in place and fill it with Jesus. What does this mean? It means that, for once, you finally understand that although you were soil at one time (Matthew 13:1-23), that soil was dug away and replaced with the concrete foundation of Jesus. You are not yourself anymore; rather, you abide with Christ. And just as Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30), and even as you are the bride of Christ and have a wonderful Father-in-law who has adopted you as one of His own — to make your relationship more than simply a legal one — you tell yourself, "I can do nothing on my own. I can only do what I see my Father doing, because whatever the Father does, I do also" (John 5:19). And therein you ask for transformation of the Holy Spirit and it is given to you — and so you become something you never were. This does not mean your flesh doesn't take over from time to time; but you realize that even when you do stumble, the impulse isn't a master over you; rather, it is something you have enjoyed (wrongfully) at your discretion, and which can be stopped freely — because you no longer exercise your own discretion, but the freedom that comes from the Father. In this way, the sinful flesh remains, but the addiction is gone.

I mean...this isn't my story or anything. [Sarcasm.]

Published 3-14-16