“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens – Jesus the Son of God – let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Confession time. Okay, we’ll just make it introspection time. That’s a little easier to do while you’re reading a blog by yourself. Have you ever struggled with a pattern of sin? I’m not talking about a sin you committed once and moved on. I’m talking about something you did once, then a second time, then a third time, and suddenly found yourself locked in a pattern where you kept coming back to it in spite of your best efforts and desires to quit it entirely. I suspect you have. That is, unfortunately, a trait humans of all shapes and sizes share. Even if you don’t accept a generically Christian definition of sin, you have some standard of right and wrong to which you’ve subscribed and which you violate on a consistent basis. How do you manage to break out of that? With grit, grace, no small amount of determination, and the reminder that you’re not alone in your efforts. Let’s talk about it.
One of the great temptations of mind our enemy uses to keep us locked into sin is the lie that we are alone in our struggles. But maybe the idea of an “enemy” seems silly to you. That’s okay. If I were in your shoes, I’d probably think it sounds pretty silly too. So, let’s take that kind of thinking off the table. One of the great struggles people have when they are engaged in some kind of a pattern of wrongdoing – regardless of the particular standard by which they define and identify that wrongdoing – is feeling like they are all alone in whatever it is they are doing.
I probably don’t have to work very hard to convince you this is true. You’ve felt it before. You got yourself caught in a pattern of behavior you knew wasn’t right. When you finally got your mind around a decision to leave it, though, you discovered that you couldn’t do it on your own. You also found that once you finished making the list of people you couldn’t tell about it for one reason or another, you didn’t know anybody else who was struggling with it. Suddenly you felt very alone. You were trying to shoulder a burden that was too much for you to carry by yourself, but you didn’t have anyone around who could help you with it.
Picking back up the talk of an enemy we put down just a second ago, Satan, the Accuser, works very hard to put us in a place of loneliness and isolation like this. His work isn’t loud or obvious. It is subtle and careful. It is a quiet whisper in our heart that no one else struggles with this in the same way we do. It is the guilt-ridden belief that if we tell any of the people closest to us in our life about our struggle they’ll reject us and we’ll lose those relationships. It is the defeated feeling that we are going to be stuck in this pattern for the rest of our lives because there isn’t anyone who really understands and can help us. The truth here, though, is that isolation like this kills righteousness. Following Jesus faithfully and growing in sanctification is a team sport. Trying to manage it on our own at any point in the journey is a losing proposition. Yet if growing in a relationship with Jesus is something that is at all of importance to us, we can’t stay here. How do we battle back against this tide? Here are three thoughts.
First, find a friend. We live in an era when friendship is vanishing from the culture. Honestly, I blame a great deal of this on social media. Other factors have certainly played a role in our current mess such as the hypersexualization of everything, but social media has exacerbated the problems. Because of social media we don’t know how to have friends or be friends any longer. The whole idea of “Facebook friends” needs to go away forever. Whatever Zuckerberg’s original vision was, Facebook has not improved the sociability of our society at all. No social media has accomplished that. Facebook’s own internal research has revealed a general sharpening of divisions between people on every conceivable issue. It would perhaps be better to call it “antisocial media.”
If you want to stand firm against sin in your own life, you need to find a friend. A real friend. Another person with whom you can build a personal relationship. That is going to involve having conversations. It will involve opening your life to him. You’ll need to be able to share with her your secrets and struggles. This kind of thing takes time and intentionality to develop and won’t happen through simply liking or following each other’s posts. This person needs to have access to your life and you to his so that you have someone you know without question knows you and what you are going through such that you are never alone in anything. With a friend like this, even if only one, the lie of isolation will be revealed as such as soon as it enters your mind and heart.
Second, confess your sin. Let’s just acknowledge here at the start that this is a truly terrifying concept. Having a friend is one thing. Having a friend who can be an accountability partner with you is a whole other deal. But if we want to win against sin, this is absolutely vital. Accountability shines light on darkness. It is one thing to put up strict guardrails to keep ourselves from leaving the straight and narrow path, but if that leaves the darkness in place, eventually we’ll cave, ignore them, and swerve off the road. I know this. You know this. We’ve all experienced it. Instead of trying to cover up or ignore the darkness of sin, we need to shine light on it and make the darkness go away. Confession does this.
Now, where, with whom, and how you confess is worth some thought. Simply spilling your guts to a stranger off the street isn’t going to do you any good. Where you are struggling with a sin whose revelation could needlessly hurt another person who is otherwise blissfully unaware of what is happening, confession to that person at the start of a journey out of sin probably isn’t wise either. Eventually you’ll likely need to go there, but you don’t necessarily start there. Confessing to a person who can’t help hold you accountable isn’t going to accomplish very much for you. Also, confessing to sin generally without specifying the particular sin you have in mind won’t help much either.
What you need is an accountability partner. This is a trusted friend who is spiritually mature and as committed to your personal growth in Christ as you are to his or hers. If you are a guy, this should be a guy. If you are a girl, this should be a girl. This is twice as true if you are married. When you confess, you need specify exactly what the sin was. As you own it, talk through the reason you committed the sin in the first place. Think deeply on this and work together to get to the real heart of the brokenness inside of you. You need this person to not only listen and offer grace, but the two of you need to make a plan for how you will leave behind this sin pattern and walk a path of righteousness. The plan should be specific and measurable. It should be realistic, but also challenging. All of this takes work and can be pretty scary to tackle, but walking the path of righteousness will be worth the effort you give to it.
Number three: Turn to Jesus. I know, I know, that’s what the preacher is supposed to say, but hear me out. Jesus understands what you are going through. The thought that He doesn’t is actually another lie of the enemy. The line of reasoning he uses is fairly easy to follow. Jesus didn’t commit any sins during His earthly life. How could someone who never sinned realistically be able to help me overcome sin in my own life. He doesn’t understand the challenge of walking the path of righteousness. He doesn’t know what it’s like to struggle with temptation. He can’t really help me. I’m all on my own for this one.
The reality, though, is this is exactly the opposite of the truth. C.S. Lewis actually addressed this point rather well. It comes down to a misunderstanding of the nature of temptation and sin. We often talk about struggling with sin. But what do we really mean by that? Are we struggling not to sin? Well, perhaps we are, but if we give in to sin, we’re not really struggling anymore, are we? When we give in to temptation and commit a sin, we are just sinning, not struggling. The person who consistently gives in to temptation has never known a real struggle with sin. The one who struggles and wrestles doesn’t give in. As long as you are struggling, you’re staying free of sin. Well, Jesus never gave in to sin. Ever. But being fully human, this wasn’t because He wasn’t tempted. As the writer of Hebrews here notes, Jesus faced every temptation we face. And He didn’t just face them once. He faced them over and over and over again over the course of His life. The truth is that Jesus understands struggling against sin better than anyone who ever lived. That means there is no one more qualified and able to not just sympathize, but empathize with our struggle than Jesus. He can lend us His strength to resist and stay on the path of righteousness. We simply have to decide that walking that path is what we prefer instead of walking the path of sin.
Now, none of this is easy. It takes time and energy and effort. It will mean not doing what we want. It will mean denying ourselves over and over and over again. Sometimes that denial will be agonizing. We’ll have to open ourselves up to scrutiny that will sometimes be painful and momentarily embarrassing. But in the end, the results will be life and freedom from sin. I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty worthwhile to me.