2/1/11

Four Walls (Against 'Besetting' Sins)

"Oh man, I did it again." Ever say that? Ever pray it? "God, I can't believe it... I did it again." If it were not for the grace of God, we'd all be in big trouble.

Heb. 12:1-2 (KJV) speaks of a sin that so easily can "beset us." Most newer Bible translations use the words "entangle" or "ensnare." But the wider definition of "beset" is to be attacked from all sides (hemmed in and surrounded). To be "beset" also is to be troubled persistently and harassed. Certainly, all of these definitions are true of temptation.

Whether the besetting sins are those that arise from within our hearts (our own flesh), or are sins that come from choices we make as we deal with the world system or our enemy, Satan, Paul says we are to lay them aside - to throw them off. But even this strong apostle confessed that it is not easy (Romans 7:19).

Besetting sins differ from person to person, and they can seem like a huge typhoon sweeping over us, something we can't control. Sometimes that typhoon comes from outside us in the form of constant nagging temptation to do wrong in our area of weakness. Other times, it is a private sin, known only to us and God. In any case, we ignore the persistence of a besetting sin to our peril. While it may seem a little thing, or we rationalize away its power over us, a besetting sin can lead to great moral compromise or failure.

It is important to understand that everyone wrestles with something, even the most noble saints. We see glimpses of the struggle in the life of David (2 Samuel 11-12). Remember his struggle with roving eyes? His adultery with Bathsheba that led to murdering her husband? And how about Moses? (Exodus 2:11-14). His explosive temper got the best of him and he ended up murdering, too. In fact, I'm wondering if every besetting sin might lead to murder ... not the slaughter of a human, but the killing off of something good that God has for us.

A besetting sin might even come to us "looking good," but yielding to our desires can drive us away from God. When we live in a backslidden condition, we are in dangerous territory, easy prey for the enemy, and susceptible to wallowing in our besetting sin like a pig in mud.

Christians in leadership roles can become defeated cowards when they harbor a besetting sin. They may tend to excuse others sins, because they are living in defeat themselves. Ruled by a sin, they are more like victims than victors - even if no one else knows. Sin weakens the warrior and strips the saint of joy in ministry. When David's and Solomon's besetting sins took over, their enemies rose up in triumph (Various stories in 2 Samuel 10-15; 1 Kings 11).

So how do we deal with our besetting sin/s? I like to think of this strategy as Four Walls to guard our hearts. [Note: I do not believe there is a simple formula, but this framework helps me deal with besetting sins, and perhaps it will help you, too.]

The first wall is a powerful choice to obey God as our Master (Lord). While this principle is not addressed in Hebrews 12:1-2, clearly, no one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). We must understand that God must have the final say in all things. We do not have the right to choose our own way, but rather, we choose to live with God's ways and commands in mind. He is our Father, but He is also our King. Because we don't live in a government system with royalty, perhaps Americans don't understand that concept well. The truth is, God is our sovereign - the ruler over all things. That should be reflected in the Christian lifestyle.

Which leads us to the second wall. There must be a desire - a desperate hunger - to live in holiness. But before we "put on," we have to "put off" (Ephesians 4:22-24). We have to loathe our sin (hate it). We must see sin as God does. If someone offered you a beautiful cookie, laced with just a smidgen of manure, would you eat it? Heavens no! Yet we offer God our lives, laced with our pet sin or besetting sin, and expect Him to be pleased. Except for the mercy and grace of God through Christ, we cannot stand in His presence for a second. There are no exceptions. So we gladly embrace salvation. But why are we not as eager to deal with sin once we are His?

I'm not going to mention any particular sins, because I believe God speaks directly about the things that displease Him - the things that are unclean [or even "doubtful," because whatever is not done in faith is sin (Romans 14:23).].

We are to be holy, because He who called us is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Sometimes we say we want to make holy choices, yet we cherish a secret desire or fondness for our besetting sin because it brings us pleasure or some other perceived benefit. Or we rationalize our besetting sin away, making excuses for it - "That's just the way I am." We really don't want to give it up. We may fool ourselves, but not God. He sees our insincere petitions for change and deliverance.

Wouldn't a better prayer be that God will enable us to surrender wholeheartedly so that our inner desires are changed? Incomplete surrender usually results in a compromised heart.

All of us have sinned and fall short of God's glory and righteousness (Romans 3:23). When we receive Jesus' sacrifice for our sin, we are declared righteous. And then the sanctification process begins - God making us more like His son. From that point on, the Father uses His Word, and the Holy Spirit convicts, to make us sensitive to the "weights" (hindrances to our holiness that feed our bondage) and "besetting sins" (sins that have taken hold of our hearts).

We tend to overlook or patch up our sins, or perhaps explain them away as psychological weaknesses. When we do that - when we live in disobedience and spiritual compromise - is it any wonder we have a culture full of guilty, depressed people? But when we cooperate with the Spirit and confess our sins, we are forgiven and can move on to spiritual growth. But we have to get honest. We can't secretly cherish or rationalize our sins, blocking what God desires to do in us and through us. Until we bow to our King and desire to live in holiness before Him, we cannot run the race "marked out for us" (Heb. 12:1), at least, not to the glory of God.

Wall three in our strategy to overcome besetting sins is found in verse 2. We fix (focus) our eyes on Jesus. He is our model of holiness. He is the "pioneer and perfecter" of faith (NIV), showing us how to live to please the Father.

We have only to examine how Jesus dealt with the Tempter to see the power of the Word of God in overcoming temptation (Luke 4:1-13; Matthew 4:1-11), and we need to read, study, memorize, meditate on, and use the scriptures in our battle against besetting sins (Psalm 119:11). Deep, lingering prayer and fasting are two other disciplines Jesus used in the battle against temptation - tools we can use, as well.

As we focus on Jesus, we also see the love He has for us. Love motivated His entire life.
Jesus understands our struggles, tempted as we are, but He will never condone our sin. Love motivated Jesus to redeem us, reclaim us, and restore us to the Father. In light of that love, how can we continue to sin against God's grace (Romans 6). We must embrace His love, and follow in His steps.

Wall four? We consider Christ's death on the cross as the model for our own "death" to sin. Verse 2 says endured the cross with joy. He knew the ultimate result - glory with the Father at the right hand of His throne. So, too, when we die to self and sin (Romans 6, again), we not only receive eternal reward (Romans 12:21; James 1:12), we glorify our Father who is in heaven.

Can it be that simple?
Again, I'm not suggesting a "magic formula," but rather, a reminder that we need to examine our hearts and move into the victory God has designed for us. There are other things that help (Bible study, prayer, accountability, biblical counseling, etc.), but the Four Walls are a good starting point.

  • Do we surrender to God's claim on our lives - His Lordship?
  • Do we pursue holiness with no shadow of compromise?
  • Do we focus on and study the life of Jesus as our example?
  • Do we die to self and sin?
In any of these areas that we lack faith or commitment, we may see a breaking down of the walls that guard our hearts, so if we are wise, we will make choices with God's heart in mind.

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