Last week I shared some rather intimate details with you all to try and demonstrate a very important aspect of sin often overlooked in the modern church. Because we are Western, we tend to categorize things in order to teach them. That’s not bad, it has given us a highly developed and robust theology. But, in the case of sin it has caused us to miss some important connections between the kinds of sin. Things that used to be understood by the Church when she had more spiritual fathers within her. 1 John 2:15-17 describes “the World” or the mystery of sin unleashed in the human heart by the Fall of Man as, “the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Instead of thinking of these three descriptions of sin as categories, think of them as a tree.
The desires of the flesh are the fruit of the tree. Often these are the things that bring us to Christ. Our lives and bodies are raging and out of control. We cannot hide these sins very well or for very long generally speaking. They are the first sins the Holy Spirit reveals to us and grants us repentance from. We are not talking about perfection here. We are talking about growth in grace and repentance.
The desire of the eyes, or what Paul calls “the passions” lead us into the more physical sins of the flesh. So anger grows into wrath. Sexual lust grows into sexual immorality. Desire for entertainment grows into sloth. Desire for food grows into gluttony. None of these things are bad. In fact, most of them are natural to the image of God within us. Anger is often due to a sense of justice placed in us by God. Sex is a natural passion and the most intimate action that a man and woman can share. Ease gives us time to meditate on God or enjoy His creation. Food is necessary for the body. The fruit of the desires of the flesh grow on the limbs of the passions.
I spent about five years in and out of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) before I became a Christian. It is to the shame of American Christians today that often AA understands the human soul better than the church. AA understands that a) a spiritual change has to take place and b) that a fearless moral inventory has to be taken. So every alcoholic that ever succeeds in their program has to deal with him/herself. They have to tunnel down to the “why they drink?” Funny, when I became a Christian in the mid-1990’s I was told two things that have served me very well. First, spend time with God every day. Second, keep a short sin list. I spent most of the first year I was a believer having God reveal to me almost daily some sin I had committed against someone else. I made a lot of phone calls. I went to a lot of peoples houses to ask forgiveness. I made a lot of embarrassing phone calls to other Christians that I had met since I had become a believer to tell them that I had lied to them or sinned against them in some way. It was humiliating. I had gotten two DUI’s before I became a believer. I spent the first two years I was a Christian begging for rides to Bible Studies and church services. Every time I met someone new I had to explain why I didn’t have a car. It was humiliating. Or should I say, humbling.
During those first two years I unburdened my soul from sin like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress. Look folks I’m going to tell you something almost no one will tell you anymore. Jesus Christ has purchased your pardon. You are completely forgiven of all sin past, present, and future. It is a finished work. But you, by grace and the power of the Holy Spirit must apply that finished work. There is spiritual work to be done. Which brings me to the very roots of sin, the pride of life.
Let’s go back to my own story. I was mess inside when I became a Christian. I had been angry for so long that I didn’t know I was angry. When the Holy Spirit revealed to me my anger I had to start down that rabbit hole to find out where it led. Where it led me was to my father’s living room. Not to confront him for being relatively absent from my life, but to ask him to forgive me for being a bad son. I had been a terrible son. I had been in trouble for a decade. I’m sure I had caused him a great deal of embarrassment. So I went to his house and asked his forgiveness. And he forgave me. I had envisioned a Hollywood ending where he asked for my forgiveness and we embraced. That did not happen. My father died a few years later having never sought my forgiveness for anything. I left his house that day upset with God. Why did you make me go there? Why was that so necessary? But in the quiet of my heart I heard God clearly say, “because you have to die son.”
The root, the very root of my reckless addictions had been an insidious pride. My father had sinned against me. He owed me an apology. I was angry because what others had done to me. ME! At the bottom of my sin I didn’t find others, I found only me, always me. This is why many people are unsuccessful in the spiritual life. They are always picking fruit off their tree, or sawing limbs away. But if you know anything about fruit trees you know that these actions cause fruit trees to be more productive not less. These things have to be dealt with at the roots. You have to “take up your cross and follow Christ.” A person on their way to their execution doesn’t care what people think of them. Things become crystal clear to the dying. It is those that want to live that are always confused. “Any man that will save his life will lose it” eternally. Any man that wants to keep it eternally has to lose it in the here and now. In the clearest terms, you and I have to put ourselves to death. But how do we do that. Well it is easy and hard.
First, you have to spend time with God in His Word frequently. Second, you have to keep a short sin list. Here’s what that means. You have to stop fitting God into your life. He has to become your life. You must bend yourself, by His grace and Spirit, to Him and His Word. Anything else is not discipleship and will not put you to death. How do you do that? Find a group of believers and give your life to them. Secondly, within that group of believers find a mature believer that you can trust absolutely, and spill your guts to them. Tell them everything you struggle with. Everything. Even the most embarrassing and hidden things. Hold nothing back. There is a reason why Christians are instructed to “confess your sins one to another and pray one for another”. There is a reason the Scriptures tell you that “he that covers his sin will not prosper.” Any sin that you leave hidden is a sin that generally is a deep idol, with deep roots, that you alone are not strong enough to pull up yourself. You hide that sin because of pride. That sin inhabits your passions and continues to erupt above the surface like a semi-dormant volcano occasionally spews lava through the cracks in the earth. Be careful, there was once a man after God’s own heart who did that and it ruined his family and his kingdom. Years later and in an intensified form it ruined his son and divided Israel for centuries. You must die. God has given you His Son, His Holy Spirit, His grace, and His Word to deal with you. He’s given you everything for life and faith.