Monday, October 24, 2005

On habitual sin

Brad at Broken Messenger has been blogging about habitual sin recently here and here.

Habitual sin as it relates to both salvation and spiritual maturity is a difficult issue for me because not only have I counseled people who struggled with habitual sin, I had my own struggles with it for years. It took a lot of work from God in me to overcome my sin, and I confess that it has remained a constant temptation for me.

First, I feel much more comfortable blogging about this with Brad, with whom I've developed a friendship that transcends normal blogging relationships. There is an implied grace there because we have a history of it between each other. This relationship is one of the reasons I continue blogging. It contradicts any arguments of negative spiritual value people might make of the practice of blogging. I have never met Brad in person, yet he continually lifts me up and encourages me in the spirit Colossians 2:1-3.

My habitual sin is not unusual for a man in this era of technology. I have struggled with pornography since I first signed onto the Internet over 11 years ago. I would struggle, fall, and seek redemption. At no time did I ever justify my sin, but after several years there was a notion of helplessness. At one point I unplugged from all of my responsibilities at church and ministry because I felt condemned by my sin -- even though my spirit was contrite ... and even self-condemning.

God's work in me was three-fold:

  • Continued transformation
  • Gentle, consistent conviction
  • Continued blessing of Godly people stragetically placed in my life

    I am married now, but I can tell you marriage is not a solution to this problem, because it is not an issue of lust -- although that is the result. It is an issue of powerlessness and a need to feel in control of one's world. When God showed me this, that was the beginning of some great healing in my life, and I began to slowly abandon this world of internet pornography. I began to put my trust in God to be in control, and let go of my shame and lack of self-worth. I began to put more and more of my personal value in the hands of God.

    If at any time someone had told me to question my salvation, I probably would have given up, stopped pursuing God in the matter. Why? I didn't want to fall into this sin, but it definitely wasn't something so easily shaken. Like Paul, I did the things I did not want to do. My spirit craved one thing and my flesh another, and it was a consistently fierce battle. The evidence of faith was there, but if I was asked to question the evidence of my sinful nature in spite of the good work of God in me, my faith might have been deflated.

    I know I'm not alone, either, because I've counseled many who struggle with this -- and not just men. This is a human problem, and has led me to conclude the primary battle for our souls has to do with us fighting our own delusions of control and finally confessing that God is in control whether we acknowledge that our not. More so, we are not to place our own personal value in the world. What we are told to crave in this world -- success, power, independence -- is spiritually damaging to us. When the world ultimately denies us of our cravings, it can lead to a fantasy world where we do not submit to God and we live out our sin in our hearts, if not our flesh.

    This is important to note, because although I was not sexually pure as a teenager, I remained celibate by choice throughout my walk with God as an adult. I fled that kind of real fleshly temptation many times, being in full aware of both God's commandments and His spirit's guidance in my life. Frankly, that was the easy part. I would never allow the darkness of my heart bring down someone else, nor did I want to further complicate what was already a major issue in my life. You can call this what you want, but I remain convinced this was the work of God in my life.

    It is with this experiential understanding of sin that I asked Brad to further diversify his definition of "habitual sin that condemns" to habitual sin that is willful and unrepentant. Any "Christian" who is caught up in habitual sin and neither recognizes this sin nor sees the need to repent of it should surely question God's presence in his life. Furthermore, I would ask them why they even bother with faith.

    On the other hand, there are Christians who struggle with a particular sin all their lives. While we are being transformed, we will never be fully rid of our offensive flesh until God returns. As the snake was condemned to the dirt in the garden, we are continually sifted in this life of flesh and bones, and our nature of greed and depravity is only trumped by the blood of Christ. Even Christians struggling with habitual sin understand this. There is a difference between fighting compulsion ingrained by years of habit and taking license to sin.

    For Christians who struggle and struggle and struggle, the last thing they need to hear is of their own condemnation, because many of them are already condemning themselves. I hear this a lot: "God cannot save me because I am not worthy." I can't name a theological school who would consider this a truthful statement. Furthermore, I would hope a true servant of God would point out that holiness is not something we achieve, it is something we are given freely because we could never earn in on our own. Holiness is something God cloaks us in because we would not be fit to fellowship with him, otherwise.

    This is not to excuse sin of any kind. We are never justified to engage in sin, nor is there ever any moment when we can rest easy and assume sanctification is not without a heart that abhors our sinful nature. I am just more careful to where I place the burden of sin and how I do it. Yes, some need correction. To say your are a Christian and then willfully violate God's nature is blasphemy. Then there are some who are forever weakened because they do those things they wish they do not do, and to them I want to remind them of God's forgiveness, and it is not their job to carry His Cross. That is not their burden. They are simply to submit, seek the work of the cross, get up, and go on confidently that they are children born of God's spirit.
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