Dear Christian friend who wants to change,
I’m writing this letter to remind you of a certain kind of hope God offers His children through the work of His Son Jesus on the cross. First, I want to commend you for wanting to change! It’s a good and holy thing to feel the convicting influence of the Holy Spirit in your life and to know there’s something about your life that is sinful and needs change.
Most likely your sin has made you feel quite guilty before your God.
You may be trapped in the cycle of committing some kind of sin, feeling guilty, confessing it, and then finding yourself plunging right back into it. It’s a horrible cycle of voluntary slavery to the master of besetting sin. When you feel trapped like this it’s hard to think clearly. It’s difficult to meditate on the truth of God’s Word. Please allow me to remind you. Be humble, be teachable, and read carefully with an open heart.
Sometimes a person can practice a sin pattern for so long it almost seems to become the defining part of their identity. “It” becomes “them”. A Christian can lose his ability to perceive where sinful desire ends and new life begins.
We’re like a man who goes into a funhouse and looks at the crazy mirrors. The mirrors provide a perspective which distorts his perception of his own body. It’s his body, he’s quite familiar with it, but he has established such a long habit of viewing it from a strange perspective that he actually thinks his head is three times the size of his stomach. The funhouse mirrors distort the reality of the kind of body he has. (I find myself wanting to shout, “No, your head is not that big!”, and “No, you’re not twelve feet tall!”)
A wrong vantage point can produce a distorted reality, and a distorted reality usually produces a pack of not-so-subtle lies which become maxims for continuing on in a sinful pattern or habit. These lies become a replacement set of “Ten Commandments” we rehearse in order to excuse our behavior.
We have become so familiar with our new “Ten Commandments” that we can’t see past them to a Biblical perspective. We’re stuck in the horrible funhouse looking at the mirrors. We would like to change if we could. But alas (we think), we can not. This is just the way it is. My head must be that big, and I must be twelve feet tall. I’ll just have to continue to put up with it. (And then we wonder why our relationships are all falling apart!)
Let’s look at some of the distortions a person may have because they’re trapped this way. Let’s look at the distortions and identify the lies. I’ll respond to each lie and hopefully offer you a Biblical perspective to help you renew your mind.
Distortions about the sinful flesh
You may be thinking this lie, “The length of time I’ve been yielding to my besetting sin proves it can’t be broken.” You may think, “I’ve done this for so long, what’s the use? I’ve been this way for too long. God hasn’t helped me, and I doubt He ever will! I keep asking Him to change me and he never does!”
You must feel very worn down and hopeless to give up in this way. I’m sorry you feel so wiped out, but the question must be answered by looking outside the realm of your feelings. When someone tells me this I find they often don’t understand the nature of the spiritual struggle we face as Christians. God never said the struggle against our sinful flesh would end on this side of the grave.
There is a part of our nature which can not obey the Word of God. This part of you doesn’t possess the ability required for obedience. It is unable to obey. It’s not that it won’t obey, it’s that it can’t obey. We’re stuck with a life long battle! (But thanks be to God- Jesus is the victory!) God commands you to deny sinful “desires” of your flesh so that these desires do not become “works” of your sinful flesh. These desires will ebb and flow throughout all the seasons of your life. Are you assuming every sinful desire will disappear when you have victory in one area or another?
It’s not the absence of internal sinful desire that equals spiritual victory, it’s the correct response to that desire that produces victory. It’s in your ability to die to sin and live unto God through Christ Jesus.
The answer to this lie is for you to recommit for the long haul. Believe that God is at work in you whether you perceive it or not. I’ll admit that spiritual growth can be excruciatingly slow! But often the power of God is seen over the long haul, as you endure. You can defeat this lie by being confident of this statement: “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” And remember to believe this: “…it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Do you believe these promises from God’s Word?
Distortions about God
“God doesn’t really care about this or he would have helped me a long time ago!” “I’ve done it before, what’s the use? A little bit more won’t matter.”
This lie denies the clear teaching of Scripture about holiness and your sanctification. It’s the will of God for you to become more and more like Christ. Consider this Bible statement: “… whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Have you forgotten God’s purpose in your life?
You may be thinking something like this: “If God loves me, why hasn’t he helped me? I know God loves me but he must not care about this kind of sin very much.” Yet, to be logical, if God loves you it follows that he must care about your spiritual growth! God knows how your sins could destroy you and the ones you love! You have to accept by faith the clear statements of Scripture. God does care about your sin. It remains his unchanging will that you change! He’s also promised perfect transformation when we get to heaven. Go with Scripture, rather than your sinful human reasoning!
Our flesh desires to minimize the guilt of sin in any form. If we sin long enough in an area, and it becomes an important and pleasurable part of our lives, we’ll want to find reasons to minimize it. The Scriptures talk about the “deceitfulness of sin”. Not only do we sinfully deceive one another, we also sinfully deceive ourselves. We have motive. There is a part of us that wants to sin. We must deny our sinful selves and submit to the Spirit in order to be our spiritual selves.
The fact that you have not achieved victory in one area or another of your life doesn’t mean God has changed his desire for you to gain that victory. The Scriptures have not changed. God does love you and he wants you to change.
Here’s a horrible lie: “God doesn’t have the power to help me. If he did, he would have helped me to change by now!”
Everyone who looks into a telescope or watches a sunset knows God must have a whole lot of astronomical power! Even so, this lie may lurk just below your conscience thoughts. Ask yourself about what you think about the power of God while you’re participating in your particular besetting sin. What is your estimation of God’s power as it compares to the power of the feelings and urges that seem to relentlessness drive you to your sin.
Which is more powerful: God’s ability to enable you to resist temptation, or the way you feel right before you yield? Do you believe God’s Spirit is more powerful than the sin that seems to casually overpower you?The answer is for you to constantly affirm your belief in the power of God. You need to tell yourself the truth! Look at the world God has created and worship Him. Look at the power of Christ’s resurrection, humble yourself and believe.
Frequently our sins come in clusters. The big ones in the cluster tend to get our immediate attention because they often have really awful consequences. Don’t forget the reality of how one sin may lead to others in the cluster. The sin that precedes your besetting sin may be the sin of unbelief. You don’t actually believe God has the power to enable you to resist. It’s time to believe again, and again, and again. Repent of your unbelief and move forward. Live a lifestyle of faith!
Distortions about the nature of sin.
“As long as I keep confessing my sin, it doesn’t really matter if I can’t seem to change it for the long haul. Confession is more important than change.”
Biblically speaking confession is simply agreeing with God’s perspective about your actions. Confession is good and necessary. You’re saying you agree with God about how such and so an act or attitude is sin. You’re saying, “Yes Lord, that was sin. Please forgive me and cleanse me.” All of this is good, but let me tell you how I’ve observed confession being misused in the life of someone ensnared by a sin habit. (Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying to stop confessing your sins!) But, test yourself, in order to see if this is happening in your life.
Let’s say your besetting sin is saying acid angry things that you should not say. You find yourself frequently yelling at your husband or wife or children. After each incident a cooling off period takes place. Gradually time goes by and eventually you realize you have sinned. You confess your explosive words as sin to God and ask him to forgive you. Confession is the focus of what you do after each angry explosion, you develop the habit of faithfully confessing every incident.
But what if there has been no decrease in the number of times you have been yelling at everyone? What if you are actually yelling at people more, not less? What if your sin pattern has grown worse? You may be walking around feeling good about your sin, because you’ve confessed each and every one to God. But you may in fact have completely lost perspective! You may be excusing your sin because you’re so good at confessing your sin!
Confession is like a door leading to repentance, and repentance is a door leading to faith. Agree with God about your sin, change your mind about your sin, and then put your faith in the promises of God— AND MAKE CHANGES! You should go on to change because you agree with God about your sin and love his ways. Confession doesn’t equal change, it’s kind of “on the way” to understanding what it is you need to change. Confession is a recognition of what sin is and of what God doesn’t like. A man or woman who has truly confessed and repented wants to make changes! Consider this Proverb from the Bible: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” Confession is “on the way” to forsaking.
“I can’t see the harm in my sin, therefore it can’t be too bad in God’s sight. I don’t think it’s that bad.”
This lie is a clear example of an attempt to minimize your sin. Do you think God grades you on a scale and compares your sin habits to those of Christians all over the world? Do you look at your best friend’s bad habits and think to yourself: “I’m better off than that guy! He’s in a real mess. His sin is out of control. At least I don’t do what that guy does!”
It’s strange how we mortals measure the evil quota of sins by looking at outward appearances and personal experiences. Years ago few people had air conditioning. Air conditioning was rarely in cars or houses. When it was first invented it was kind of a luxury. But one generation’s luxury became the next generation’s necessity.
Today AC is everywhere, and no one would even consider buying a car unless it had AC. What a difference a few years can make. It’s the same way with our ability to correctly measure the harm of sin. Our values change so quickly and are so easily influenced by our culture and people that it’s impossible for us to locate a perfect standard or rule of behavior. We need God’s word on it.
An old puritan author rightly summarized the Biblical teaching on sin when he wrote, “There’s more harm in a drop of sin than in an ocean full of affliction.”
Stop using your distorted natural mind to measure the true harm of your sin to God, to yourself and to your family. Take on the spirit of this text: “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”
We’ve considered some of the lies you may believe which will keep you from moving forward with growth in righteousness. Next week I’ll write to you about how you can make enduring changes in your life.
I know I’ve written some strong words, but it’s only because I love you and I’m burdened for you. I’m writing this to encourage you to stop making excuses for any lack of change. Be honest before God. He can and will help you if you let him! It may not be easy but there is a way forward for every Christian! God loves you, and he has made a way through Christ!