– We resolved to not overspend, but we did. So now our credit card debt is worse than before.
– We promised ourselves that this year our (mother-in-law / daughter-in-law / father / sister / brother / grandparent) would not tempt us to anger or escapism or despair. But there we sat at the family gathering—seething, responding with harsh words and a harsh tone, hiding out by the candy bowl in front of the television.
– Some of us sinned sexually. Maybe in ways that we never would have thought we would. Others of us overindulged in alcohol. Food. Drugs. Rather than facing our frustration, fears, anxiety, or boredom, and bringing them to the Lord, we tried to bury them with mood-altering substances. But then it was morning and we had to face the consequences of our actions.
January 1 sure can often feel like a big ol’ morning of facing the consequences of our actions. How will you respond?
If you are really going under the water of some big, huge, habitual sin with big, huge, daily consequences, you may be tempted to give up the fight. You might think to yourself, “Why try? Why care? I’m never going to change.” There really is nothing like looking back over a calendar year and seeing things get even worse to kick you in the teeth and knock you back and tempt you to give up before you even try again.
Please hear me if this describes you: you don’t have to listen to those voices of hopelessness and despair. You don’t! Really, you don’t.
Over the course of my 43 years (around 30 of which have been as a Christian), I know how hard sexual sins, financial burdens, relational strife, and addictive behaviors associated with food, drugs and alcohol can be. I know what it’s like to try and try and try again—only to fail and fail and fail again. When you’ve blown it purity-wise at this level, why not mess up at this next level? If you have $73,000 in debt, who cares if you spend another $20 at Applebees? If you’re 110 pounds overweight, what does it really matter if you drink that next Coke or eat that next dessert? I mean, seriously. What does it matter?
Please hear me again: it matters. It does. And there really is grace to help you in your hour of need.
But there are no quick fixes and no fast cure-alls. You’re not going to change if you keep faking being a “good Christian” while you sin in secret and dig yourself into deeper holes of consequences. You’re not going to change if you keep hiding your head in the sand and ignoring the reality of your situation. And you will never change if you don’t understand the nature of the battle: you have three real enemies (Satan, the World, and the Old Man) and you need to engage in faith’s fight against sin on ALL THREE LEVELS.
- Your battle is spiritual. Are you a faithful, prayerful, engaged member of a true church (faithfully preaching the whole of Scripture, administering the sacraments, and actively disciplining its members)? Do you read God’s Word before you look at any technology or social media each day? How are your other spiritual disciplines? What is your prayer life like? You will never overcome habitual sin or destructive habits if you do not go to the source of Life and Living Water and purposefully fight the fight at the spiritual level.
- How much does your life reflect your infatuation with and love for the world? Seriously. Don’t jump to some pat answer here. Look at how much time you spend in front of the mirror or focusing on any external, performance-oriented thing and then ask yourself how proud you are (or how depressed you are) when you compare your looks (or your car / home / marriage / children / job / degrees / “success”) to other people. Are your eyes on the Lord continually because you live and move and have your being for Him and for His eternal purposes? Or do you love the world? Be concrete. Read your credit card statement and look at your eCalender and make an objective analysis of what matters most to you because you will never push back against the current of worldliness until you first understand how much you love and live for the dirty water in broken cisterns of your culture.
- Do you take your sin seriously? Do you see sin for what it actually is? Do you remember that your fallen heart is deceitful? Every moment of your life, are you aware of just how ignorant and blind and desperately needy you are for God’s work in your life? Do you see your union with Christ as the only hope you have for heart change and behavioral change? Or are you still thinking that a great spreadsheet, weight-loss/addictions group, budget, or “plan” is going to “get you there.” This time. For SURE. Oh, friends. We really do think of sin too lightly. We never get to real solutions because we never admit the problem is what it really is: complex. Spiritual. Physical. More serious that we really ever want to admit–but we must. That is our only hope for lasting change.
So if you’re stuck. Frustrated. Despairing. If you’ve gone ’round the bend to not caring or feeling at all because it’s just too hard to face—please. Don’t Give up. Don’t be afraid to try again. Just be sure that you try in a new way if you’ve been focused too much on outward change rather than inner change; if you’ve underestimated the strength of your three enemies; if you’ve failed to bring your struggle out into the light and get help from wise and spiritually-mature men and women.
You’re really not alone! We all struggle with ongoing sin. (And the person who thinks they don’t is even worse off than we are!)
Christ’s blood really is the remedy for our sin-sick souls. One Day (for sure in Heaven! but hopefully also in this life!) you will “live to see thy lust dead at thy feet” (to quote Packer quoting Owen).
I hope for you a Happy New Year’s Eve and a happy (hessed/blessed) 2014!
My favorite books on this “battle” as it were are:
- The Mortification of Sin (Owen)
- Addictions – A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel (Welch)
- The Enemy Within (Lundgaard)
- How People Change (Lane & Tripp)
- Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Plantinga)
I put the photos at the beginning of this post because honestly? Just seven months ago when the first one was taken and I saw how HUGE I really was in that (ill-chosen) purple outfit, I SWORE I would never show anyone that photo. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin; I didn’t feel comfortable in my own body. My chronic knee and back pain was keeping me up at night and tempting me to never move (which only exacerbated the pain). I hated the way I looked but even more importantly, my misery physically was mirrored by my misery spiritually. I felt terrible and finally, in May 2012, I felt terrible enough to try again. Again again. Again for the zillionth time of trying again to be more spiritually awake and disciplined and more physically active and healthy. Again.
It was horribly hard to get started. I needed spiritual and physical helps. I needed accountability and prayer and friendship and a plan for fighting faith’s fight. But now I am in the battle and I am (slowly!) making some more progress in living in the Spirit and also getting some of my extra 110 lbs off of my knees and back. And I just wanted to particularly encourage those of you who are struggling with overeating and obesity (like me) that there is hope for change. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers (“You can’t lose weight after 40!” “You’ll never keep it off!”). Don’t listen to your own, condemning, internal voices (“Why even try? Why even care? You’ll just blow it again!”). No. Don’t be afraid to try again. Your Savior lived and died to set you free from Satan, the world, and your ruling lusts. He works in you by His Spirit. He has won and He will win. Believe it.