Some issues in our lives are more resolvable than we think. Part of the problem is that we focus on the wrong thing, thinking it is the cause of our struggle. Over-complicating our temptations does happen. And though what I’m suggesting sounds simple on the face of it, you will learn that there may be a deeper and more sinister entanglement that is happening to you, which hinders your transformation.
You may want to read:
- Idol Swapping: I Stopped One Sin and Gained 30 Pounds
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- Why You Can’t Serve Two Masters
Keep It Simple
Jesus said that the Law could be summed up by two things: loving God and loving others (Luke 10:27). That’s literally it, as far as conformity to Christ goes, because the moral Law of God is the reflection of His character and nature, and He is love (1 John 4:8). To love God and others more than yourself is the essence of Christlikeness.
All of us disciple-makers can go home now; clearly, we’ve been overcomplicating this thing. But when you think about the vast array of reasons people come for counseling, it hardly seems like this could be the case. What I said seems simplistic at best. How are we to understand the Lord’s words?
For example, imagine each of these scenarios. As you read through these, see if you can identify the actual problem. Is the primary issue with “that person” who is irritating you or is the problem primarily in you?
- A couple of your coworkers are annoyed with you, even though you’ve been trying hard to get along with them. You’re discouraged. You pray that God will transfer them to another department or company; if He doesn’t, you may consider getting a different job.
- You stop at the crowded grocery store—your least favorite chore—after a long, chaotic day. When you turn down the aisle that has the things you need, someone is standing there, blocking the whole aisle, utterly oblivious to you and everyone else. You sigh under your breath.
- An elderly relative is in a nursing home. Their health has been bad for a long time, and it isn’t getting any better. Still, they linger on, and their care costs a lot of money. It’s hard to understand why God doesn’t take them.
- On your way to church, you stop at a red light behind a teenager who is looking at her phone and doesn’t notice when the light turns green. Your frustration grows until you finally growl and honk your horn.
- Your husband comes home every day and parks himself on the couch, without any regard for the spiritual well-being of his family. Since God hasn’t seen fit to change him or remove him from the home, you know your kids are going to be a mess when they grow up.
- Your wife is a self-centered complainer. If you had known she would turn out like this, you would never have married her.
Real Problems, Wrong Solutions
Each of these people is under stress, and they will find a way to relieve their frustrations. The question for you is, in what ways might they seek relief? I’m sure you can think of more, but here are a few ideas for your consideration.
- Pornography and masturbation
- Alcohol or drug use
- Binge-watching TV
- Excessive video gaming
Any item on this list may cause a person to seek counseling. If you ask them why they do what they do, you may be interested and perplexed to hear them say they don’t know. Overeating makes you miserable, as does each of the other actions. Yet they feel driven by something they can’t explain and feel powerless to stop their behavior.
They may make the connection that they have an idol of comfort, but in some ways, this explanation falls flat, again, because of the misery that can ultimately be associated with each of these patterns. If they’re coming for counseling, they probably have sought and not been granted repentance, to their great dismay (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
When You Befriend Sin
Each person in those stressful scenarios is angry, and they feel justified in their anger, but there’s just one problem with that (James 3:9-10). The Lord is the judge of right and wrong. Further, He has given each one of us a built-in warning system that testifies to His truth: the conscience (Romans 2:15). The word conscience means “with knowledge.”
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit (Proverbs 16:2).
Unless a person’s conscience is wholly hardened (Hebrews 3:12-13, Romans 1:21), it will persist in accusing them when they sin. Even though these folks feel justified, the truth is that they are calling evil good (Isaiah 5:20), and God is not fooled. The Word says they’re murderers at heart (Matthew 5:21-22, James 4:1-6).
In their heart of hearts, these folks want another person out of the way for the “high offense” of inconveniencing them, although they may be offended at the suggestion because they don’t think they feel any actual malice. The fact that they have made friends with their sin and brought it inside, giving it a comfy seat by the fire and something warm to drink, changes nothing about the heinousness of it.
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).
If you are a child of God, you are no longer a child of Satan (Ephesians 2:1-10), although you may live as if you were at times. And because the Lord loves you, He will intervene (Hebrews 12:7), sometimes by withholding rest.
There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked” (Isaiah 57:21).
The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion (Proverbs 28:1).
The Telltale Heart
Consider David, the man after God’s own heart, and his sin against Uriah and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. Right off the bat, we learn that David was not where he was supposed to be (2 Samuel 11:1). Perhaps he was already ignoring his conscience in this matter and others, which would have created noise in his soul.
What would make him feel better? Give him a moment of peace? Ah, I’m sure you understand where I’m going with this. He should have turned to God, but he didn’t. Instead, he used another human being, even murdering her husband, for his comfort. At that moment, he did not love God, and he certainly did not love his neighbors.
David had nothing against Uriah, per se; Uriah was just an inconvenience standing between him and what he perceived as the means to quiet his soul. He saw both of these people as being for him, through him, and to him. His heart was so hard at this point that he had no idea why his soul was in distress; Nathan had to approach him circumspectly to overcome his abject blindness, causing David finally to repent and receive healing and freedom from God (Psalm 38).
I was mute and silent; I held my peace to no avail, and my distress grew worse (Psalm 39:2).
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah (Psalm 32:3–4).
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit (Psalm 51:7–12).
Misreading the Signs
Think back to what I said about people feeling driven or compelled toward alleviation behaviors. Could it be possible that what they perceived as stress was actually the conviction of their partially hardened, unloving consciences, and that the drive toward alleviation was them fleeing when no one was pursuing them (Psalm 139:7)? If your soul is in turmoil, friend, it may very well be due to a lack of love for God and neighbor.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love (1 John 4:18).
When you read “perfect,” in this verse, don’t think of perfection in an absolute sense, but in the sense of maturity. When the hypothetical people in the scenarios I listed cried out for deliverance from the sins that were bothering them (overeating, porn, etc.), it’s entirely possible they were doing so for selfish reasons (James 4:3). It seems likely, given their selfishness toward other people.
Besides, by not dealing biblically with their anger, they were cherishing iniquity in their hearts, so God did not hear them (Psalm 66:18). If this is the case, loving God and loving others is the way to righteousness and freedom for them.
Create in Me a Clean Heart
How else might “fleeing” when no one is pursuing manifest itself? God unexpectedly delivered me from what I thought was PTSD when He granted me repentance from murder in my heart. No kidding. Now, when I feel the symptoms returning to me, I ask Him to reveal my unloving motives to me.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23–24)!
Thus far, He has always done so, presumably because I’m asking according to His will. And also, thus far, He has never failed to restore peace to my soul when I’ve cried out for repentance. I would never have believed this could be the case had I not experienced it, even though the Word testifies to this truth. I’m thankful for the Lord’s patience as I persist in learning everything the hard way.
I’m begging Him with tears to give you the same freedom and joy He’s given me. How else may a person flee when not being pursued? If you are experiencing anything from this list, will you please take one month to cry out to God and ask Him to search your heart, especially if you’re tempted to be angry with me right now, before you respond to or critique what I’ve said? No one is chasing you, friend; please don’t run.
- Overly sensitive conscience
- Unwanted sexual feelings
- Eating issues
The Bible tells us that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). Could love of God and neighbor be connected to the soundness of mind? Could it be that simple? Again, maybe we counselors will be out of jobs one day soon. May the Lord grant that it be so, to His glory.
Perhaps He will heal our bodies through love, too, to whatever extent that bodies perishing because of the Fall can be healed. It’s well known that “stress” causes illness, after all. But that’s a conversation for another day.
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah (Psalm 32:1–5).
Call to Action
- Do you have an ongoing sin pattern in your life? Perhaps the pattern is continual frustration because you’re not getting your way. Maybe the desire that you have is a good one, but it’s not happening now. If this is you, it is possible that the person who is resisting you is God, and not the focus of your frustration.
- Will you spend time considering how you may have been focusing on the wrong thing while the Lord was prodding you to deal with a hidden idol in your heart?
- Read Rick’s book, Change Me, which is one of the best for helping folks break habits, mature in Christ, and build relationally with each other.
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I am indebted to Dr. Nicolas Ellen for teaching me about the conscience. If you ever read this, Brother, please know that God has been good to me through you. Thank you.Why Should I Disciple If God Has to Grant Repentance First? How Do I Help My Teen When He Does Not Want My Help? »