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The good news is that I am a Christian, which means that I’m not a helpless victim to the power of sin. You, too, have a choice, a biblical response when things go wrong in your life if you’re a believer.
Because of God’s power working in us, we can respond in wise, humble, and beneficial ways to our fallenness. God has given us a grace-empowered solution to sin. The strength to overcome its painful realities resides in us (Ephesians 3:20).
We are equipped to be gospel-centered, gospel-motivated, and gospel-empowered aggressors in the war against evil. You and I can be biblically feisty when it comes to those things that trap us.
It is up to us as to how we want to respond. No victimization permitted. No matter your plight, if Christ is your King, you have a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).
The sad news is that we do not always access the power provided for us when sin happens. As I have reflected on the ways that I have responded to sin, I came up with four typical responses to my fight against evil. All of them are wrong. Perhaps you have others; here are mine.
Making excuses is probably my most often used tactic to fake out myself and others. My old friend Adam used this approach in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:12). I have found it to be a tempting response when I do dumb things.
The downside for those who live with me is how frustrating this response is. It does not get rid of my sin. It merely ignores it, or maybe better said, it turns my sin into something that places a burden on them.
It leaves everyone feeling a bit awkward because they know I have not sufficiently or biblically responded to what I did wrong. Sin remains, and my family and friends have to live with the big elephant in the room.
When I resort to “excuse-making” rather than “responsibility-taking” for my actions, life and relationships can only clunk along at best. Sin continues to live in my heart while infecting my relationships, particularly those with whom I am the closest.
There are times when I will compare myself to others, which is part of the process I use to talk myself into thinking how my sin is not as bad as someone else’s. (See 2 Corinthians 10:12)
Like making an excuse, this does not remove my sin, but only temporarily masks it. Typically when I go into a self-justifying mode, it is because I think I deserve something better than what I have. I am not willing to give up my desire for whatever it is that I want, so I justify my actions.
Justification is a form of anger that comes from an angry heart that says, “I will get what I want regardless of what it costs or who I hurt in the process because I deserve to be happy. I am justified in my actions.”
Usually, the justifying person has not been able to deal with their disappointments in their life. They have ongoing and unresolved discontentment with God.
Disappointment is one of the more subtle forms of anger, as well as one of the most common ways that Christians harbor in their hearts. They talk themselves into being a victim of this or that. Because of what happened to them, they have reasons for how they deserve better.
When these victims do sin, in the process of striving for whatever it is they feel they deserve, they justify their sinful actions. They convince themselves they have been unnecessarily hurt and should be rewarded. It is a cycle that leaves many casualties (Hebrews 12:15).
Typically the person who seeks to alleviate his sin has more of an inward focus. Unlike the Justifier, or the Excuser, who tend to point to externals for why they do what they do, the Alleviator will do things internally.
While the Excuser and Justifier know the difference between right and wrong, they are not as introspective about their sin. They are looking outward to make allowances for what they are doing wrong.
The way this works out practically for the Excuser and the Justifier is their response to sin is to put it on others while the Alleviator chooses to punish or blame himself. This reaction is their version of self-atonement—how they seek to pay for their sin.
Here is a shortlist of self-atoning, self-punishing responses to sin: drugs, sex, over-eating, excessive TV watching, spending money, vacations, clothes, medication, anger, cutting, and self-loathing remarks. These responses are intended to help the Alleviator in at least three ways:
None of these responses accomplish the intended goal of removing sin. It continues to remain. The alleviating person creates another complicating problem: they become habituated (addicted) to the thing they use for alleviation.
To blame someone else for your sinful thinking and behaving is another form of outward finger-pointing. It is a game of deception that we play to keep the heat off ourselves. Here are two common ways people can blame others for their problems:
My list is longer than this when it comes to the “Art of Blaming.” The art form is as old as Adam and Eve. Blaming is just another sinful response to sin that never solves the real issue we have with our wickedness. The core issue with the Blamer is self-righteousness.
The blaming person finds it difficult to admit they have done wrong. They are overly in love with themselves to say they made a mistake. They have a high view of themselves, which creates this insecurity. They want you to believe their lies, so you will esteem them in a manner in which they wish.
This methodology allows them, at least in their minds, to elevate themselves above others. They put the problem on someone else rather than humbly taking responsibility for what is wrong.
Typically the blamers are aware of their sin, but it is hard for them to own their sin. People’s opinions matter too much for them. They want to look good at all costs, even if it means putting the cause of their sin in the lap of another person.
The problem with all four of these attempts to respond to sin is how they will harden the conscience. Conscience—co-knowledge—is our inner voice that acts as our moral thermostat. It tells us when we have done wrong. It alerts us to the need to repent (Romans 2:14-15).
When we choose any of the responses that I have described as a solution to sin, a layering-of-our-conscience-effect begins to take place (1 Timothy 4:2). In the long run, it will desensitize us to God’s conviction, which is a means of grace that motivates us to change. In time, we will not be able to feel the Spirit’s conviction.
Once a conscience becomes hardened (layered), the person becomes morally dysfunctional, not able to discern or respond to right and wrong. This condition is an awful place to be.
I do not want to come to the place in my life where I cannot discern good from evil. I do not want to be self-deceived. It is like the guy who never heard himself speak on a recording, and after he did the first time, he was shocked. He blurted out, “Do I sound like that?”
What he does not understand is that everybody in the room already knows how he sounds. The only person surprised is the person who did not perceive his real self. When it comes to masking our sin, it is called self-deception.
Have you ever been around a person who does not seem to perceive what he is doing to himself? I do not want to be that guy. Pray this way, “Dear Lord, open my eyes. Help me to see the real me.”
There is only one way to respond rightly to sin (John 14:6). Rather than choosing to work slavishly through the aforementioned human-centered responses to sin, God judged His Son on the cross to give us the only acceptable eraser of our sin (Romans 3:23-25).
He only asks us to accept the judgment of His Son as the final right answer for our sin problem. Rather than going through the motions of self-deception, He is calling us to trust Him through humble confession and personal ownership of our sin.
He wants us to accept the transformative power that He holds out for us. It is a call to humble ourselves before the cross of His Son and be amazed as the chains of our sins drop to the ground.
True freedom comes through the door of humility, honesty, and transparency. If you are like me—trained in the art of deception—I appeal to you to drop the mask and trust God.