Defeated Christian Living. Probably not the most inspiring title ever. But there has been so much written on the victorious Christian life and how others experience freedom from and victory over sin, and I just don’t live there everyday. I’ll be honest with you, there are a lot of days where I am defeated. I know I’m not alone in this, because I just walked through it with one of my kids.
It was one of those moments of clarity that often follow effective corrective discipline. This child was struck by the weight of the outcome of sin. My child recognized how ugly this particular repeating sin pattern truly was and vowed to not do it anymore. But there was a hopelessness behind that vow, as if s/he was defeated before ever getting off of the edge of the bed.
How many times have I sat in that same seat, worn down and grieved by the gravity of a particular besetting sin, repentant, and resolved to turn from that sin the next time I am tempted?
Too many to count.
And too often, I meet with defeat again and again and again and again as I face my particular pet sins.
Where is the victory over sin Scripture promises? If Jesus came to deliver me from the power of sin as much as the penalty of it, why am I still defeated?
If you are sitting in that seat today – feeling helpless and defeated – grieved by a sin pattern that will not let you go – can I shine a little light in your darkness?
Stopping the sin is not the goal.
G.I. Joe always said, “Knowing is half the battle,” which I think is why so many of my battles are only half won.
I know what needs to stop, but I have not made a clear plan as to how to stop it.
Stopping the sin is not the goal. Living righteously is.
G.I. Joe is not the only authority on the subject. Scripture teaches us to put off the old man and put on the new (Ephesians 4:17-5:21, Colossians 3:1-17). This is an active command and will require effort.
Let’s look at the way the Ephesians passage addresses this:
… put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Then there’s this great list of examples:
- Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another…
- Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
- Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
- Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Do you see the idea there? First we name what we don’t want to be doing (G.I. Joe’s “knowing” half), then we identify what we do want to do instead.
All of these examples go a step further to define the positive outcome of righteous choices.
- Don’t lie. Do be honest. Then your relationships will improve.
- Don’t steal. Do work. Then you can share.
- Don’t criticize harshly. Do encourage appropriately. Then grace abounds.
And so on.
This starts to sound like I can pull myself up by my own bootstraps. Bryan Chapell used to call it “Sola Bootstrapsa vs. Sola Gratia.”
Victory over sin will never happen in my own strength. It will take the power of the Holy Spirit and a lot of courage to use the tools God has given me before I can have victory over sin.
One of the tools God has given me is the put on / put off principle. And that’s exactly what I am talking about here. Those verses in Ephesians and Colossians give great ideas of things with which to replace my sinful tendencies. But I need to use my God given brain to figure out what it will look like in my particular situation. I still need to appeal to his Spirit to convict me in the moment.
For me, it looks something like this:
I am not a patient woman and I have an easily distracted kindergartener.
- It can take 30 minutes to write two lines in a handwriting book.
- After months of adding numbers within 7, there are days we start math and it seems like we are working with a blank slate.
- She’s been reading for over a year, but some days we can’t sound out the word “and.”
So, I get a little irritable. OK, “a little” is an understatement. It is amazing how angry I can become. Often I end up yelling.
I know yelling is wrong. I hate the way our lessons go after I have yelled. Part of the reason we homeschool is to foster a love of learning. Yelling does not foster a love of anything. If she finally settles into her work to shut me up, she is not learning to love learning. She’s not really learning anything. At least not anything good. If my goal is to “not yell today,” I will fail.
There in Ephesians it says, “Let all … wrath and anger… be put away from you. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted…”
So, what if I make it my goal to be kind and tenderhearted? What would that look like? How can I be truly kind, and not say “kind” words while inwardly seething?
I have to make a plan.
- When I start to feel agitated (and I will notice this because internally my heart starts beating a little faster, my voice gets an edge to it, and, usually, an older child glances anxiously in my direction) I will stop.
- I will take a moment to praise this little girl for all she has learned this year.
- We will go through the handwriting book and look at all those beautiful letters. Maybe we glance at the pre-test and then flip back to where we are today and marvel at the progress.
- Maybe we need to pull out the hundreds chart and review all those numbers we worked so hard to learn – and celebrate again the ability to count by twos, fives, and tens to 100.
- I might need to take her to the shelf full of books she’s already read to me and remind her how hard she worked to read them. Perhaps we read one of these “easy” books and remember the time when it was so hard.
- Maybe I need to see how hard she is trying, and how much there is to learn about God’s world, and how many obstacles she has already overcome. This it the little girl who couldn’t swallow four years ago. Look at her now!
- Maybe, if I take time to give acknowledge the progress we’ve made and give thanks for it, I can do better than “endure” today’s lessons. Maybe I can enjoy again the beauty of seeing the world opened to a young pair of eyes. And maybe, just maybe, I will be more likely to be kind and tenderhearted instead of angry.
A plan like that has a greater chance of success than grieving over my yelling and vowing not to yell again. It takes the biblical principles of “taking thoughts captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5), “giving thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), and using speech “that builds up” and “gives grace” (Ephesians 4:29) and puts them into practice. It also takes a look back at what has happened before – something God continually asked the Israelites to do so they would have the courage to move forward. It is a deliberate decision to put off yelling and put on grace.
What does it look like for you?
Besetting sins come in so many flavors. Mine may be yelling, but anything that entangles us in an ongoing way qualifies as a besetting sin.
- giving the silent treatment
- resorting to manipulation
- abusing drugs/alcohol
- excessive shopping
- engaging in gossip or slander
- avoiding conflict
- viewing pornography
- exaggerating or lying
- shaming others
- belittling ourselves
- striving for a good impression (fear of man)
- hoarding (money or possessions)
Are you tired of half-won battles? Are you willing to pursue righteousness rather than sinlessness? What can you do to plan to face temptation with righteousness? What can you do to fight against defeat? And, are you willing to celebrate progress instead of strive for perfection?