I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with a dear sister where I’ve said something like this: "I'm well overall. Just struggling with contentment in motherhood these days.”
When I say that, what I actually mean is this: “There’s this specific sin in my life that I give into almost every time. I’m being vague about what it is so that it (and I) doesn’t seem so horrible. Just thought you should know. Ah yes, I feel less guilty about it now that I’ve told someone.”
I can often use the word “struggling” to mean a sort of passive-annoyed awareness of my sin. I considered my sin like I consider a bad haircut. You learn to live with a bad haircut that will eventually grow out, but there it is! I have come to realize that nonchalantly admitting you have a sin problem doesn't mean you're actually struggling against it.
Is there more to “struggling with sin” than simply recognizing it?
God’s word describes our struggling with sin as an active and continual fight! There is wrestling, striving, and battling in this struggle. Think Battle for Helm’s deep (for us Lord of the Rings fans) and not a civil boxing match with gloves, a referee, rules, and a timer. Sin follows only one rule: Kill them (1 Pet. 5:7-9).
It “is like the grave that is never satisfied. In this we see the deceitfulness of sin. It gradually prevails to harden man’s heart to his ruin” (John Owen, The Mortification of Sin).
No wonder Jesus calls all Christians to “put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5). He knows that while we are fully redeemed and nothing can change that, true joy in him and our Christ-exalting witness cannot be attained if we allow sin to reign in our flesh. After all, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:2).
In the ultimate cosmic struggle, Jesus laid down his perfect life on the cross to deal a deathblow to sin and death in order to rescue His people! When I would prefer to get cozy with my sin I need to remember that Jesus broke the chains that enslaved me so I could be free to love and serve only him. Jesus satisfied the wrath of God on my behalf so I wouldn’t have to bear it for all eternity! And what’s more, Jesus has given me the Holy Spirit and grafted me into his body of believers and planted me in a local church where we can victoriously battle sin together.
Jesus has already won the war for my eternal salvation and he enables me to engage in grace-based struggling against my sin. If real change could be achieved simply by my power and ability, I would never have “a sense of helplessness or a desperate need for both redemption and power through Jesus” (Ed Welch, Addictions). It is a good thing to see our idolatry, self-love, and contentiousness and realize that we are helpless and desperate before the Lord each and every second of our lives (2 Cor. 11:30).
We must not regard our struggle against sin simply as a bad haircut to grow out. We must reject the fleeting vain pleasures that sin promises for the greater eternal joy that is held out to us in Jesus Christ. Through Jesus we have the strength to keep pursuing his holiness, keep mining God’s word for food, keep singing praises about his glorious provision of Jesus for all our wounds, keep resting in God’s promises of victory, keep taking out the earplugs that we use to drown the Spirit’s voice in our conscience, and keep praying for total reliance on Christ alone.
And of course, by God’s grace we can keep pursuing accountability in the context of community-- in order to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and [let us] run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1b-2).