Why do we fight the evil within us and around us? Why do we fight sin? Why not just give up and give in?
(This is the second installment of a series of posts called “Why We Fight”, which begins here.)
We fight because sin is slavery.
Jesus said, “The one who sins is a slave to sin.”
The Apostle Paul (somewhat cryptically) personifies sin as a tyrant that “reigns” over us. How so? Sin reigns in the form of desires that control–i.e., enslave–us: we simply can’t stop wanting what we want.
“…do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires.”
This is what makes the slavery of sin so deceptive: when you desire something (or someone), you don’t feel enslaved, precisely because you are desiring it–whatever the “it” may be. Hold out doggy treats to a dog, and it will follow you (almost) anywhere, completely oblivious to the power of its own desires. We fight sin, because it is slavery, a very deceptive slavery.
In fact, sin’s greatest deception is precisely its illusion of control:
“I can stop wanting fame or food, security or sex anytime I choose.”
After all, I am the one doing the desiring here. What’s more is that the object of my desire will always and ever be good: fame, food, security and sex are all good things per se.
Even cocaine is good for you, when used in the right amount and in the right way. And being the intelligent, streetsmart grownups that we are, we all know how to use all good things at the right time, in the right amount and in the right way. Right?
The Corinthians knew for certain that everything they desired was good (after all, God had made it)–so much so that they made up (or adopted) a slogan: “All things are permissible for me.” Why? Because they were grownups. They could play on the ice and not fall in. They could go near the fire and not get burned.
In response to Corinthians’ adolescent self-assertion–what we might call a counterfeit Christian maturity, Paul first repeats this slogan of the Corinthians and then responds as follows:
“‘All things are permissible for me’ but I will not be mastered by anything.”
Paul responds to Corinthian counterfeit maturity with a genuine Christian maturity that is marked by humility and wisdom: a humility that says, “Maybe I’m only a child who doesn’t (yet) know how to handle the many good things God has made” (after all, who has life figured out?); and a wisdom that says, “I want to be keenly aware of what is controlling me” (who wouldn’t?).
This is a maturity that discerns its own immaturity.
Earlier Paul insulted the Corinthians by calling them “mere infants in Christ.” Far from being “mature” believers, many of the Corinthians, he says, are like 18-month-olds who crawl around putting anything and everything in their mouths, thinking it will satisfy them. Or like many a 3-4 year-old, they insist that they can do a given task or action “on my own” or “by myself.”
But this childish–or adolescent, or human–insistence is in fact a desire, a desire that always ends up controlling a person by leading them where they ultimately do not want to go: they do fall in into the ice; they do get burned by the fire. It does master them. And the result is always the same: alienation from God and from others, regret, shame, despair.
So why do we fight against sin? Because it enslaves ever so deceptively. It imperceptibly leads us where we don’t, in fact, want to go. But we don’t know it until it’s too late (indeed, we still may not know it even then).
But how do we fight the enslaving power of sin? In at least the following two ways:
1. We ask: What (or who) is presently mastering me? What is it that I am wanting most and why?
In counseling, I often get to this by asking the counselee, “If I gave you a magic wand, what would you change about your present situation?” The responses I get are almost always very good “goods”–a better marriage, a spouse, a better/easier job, a second chance, justice to be done, etc. From there I usually begin by pointing out how controlling these desires are in the counselee’s life: “As long as you want X, X functionally owns you; you have given it great power. Why? Do you want it to have that much control?”
I then attempt to “deconstruct” the very good “goods” by showing their limitations, by showing that they were never designed to meet the expectations that the counselee has placed upon them, that in truth the counselee is seeking the ever-illusive pot of gold at the end of the very “good” rainbow: “You think X holds out to the promise of Y. But does it? Who says it does, and why do you trust them?”
This first question is a negative question–i.e., one that seeks to deconstruct and expose. The second question is positive and seeks to replace and supplant old, deceptive desires with new, worthwhile desires:
2. We ask: Who (or what) is worthy of being my master?
That is, who is worthy of my allegiance?
For me, the answer to this question is found at the intersection of two related questions. First, who has the most power? And, second, who is the most loving?
In the Old Testament, King David maintains that the answer to both of these is Israel’s God. He first warns against letting riches master you and then declares his confidence in the power and love of Yahweh:
“…if your resources increase, do not give your heart to them [i.e., do not let them master you].
One thing God has spoken; two things I have heard:
that to God belongs power,
and that to you, O Lord, belongs unfailing love.” (Ps. 62)
Similarly, in the New Testament, the Roman centurion recognized in a Jesus both a power (“authority”), a power that He wields as an instrument of love, so that he humbly but confidently asks Jesus to heal his ailing servant. Agreeing to this, Jesus sets out for the centurion’s house. But he is met by servants who convey a message that reveals the centurion’s humility and confidence in Jesus’ love and power:
“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
This “unclean” agent of foreign domination grasped that he was unclean, that Jesus’ entrance into his home would make him unclean, but he had complete confidence in Jesus’ power and love: “Just say the word.”
The centurion’s faith made an impact on Jesus: he was amazed. (I love that.)
Who is worthy of our allegiance more than Jesus?