One April during my Air Force tour, our squadron commander handed us a goal: a 100% off-duty safety record for the summer.
I raised an eyebrow. Our squadron was based in college-town Phoenix and consisted of twentysomethings brandishing motorcycles, ATV’s, jet-skis, and a love of drink. Expecting no off-duty accidents for a whole summer seemed as likely as deciphering a Newsboys lyric.
Later, that commander visited the flightline and happened to strike up a conversation with my work group. Being a little (too?) bold, I asked if he realistically expected the 100% goal to be reached. His gracious reply:
“Well, what results would I get if I only asked for 80%?”
I am among many Christians struggling with certain sins. (The rest are just quiet about it.) We sincerely want to please God, cut the garbage out of our lives. The first thing I often say to teens who say they’re struggling is, “Good. Struggle is good. It’s better than surrender.”
But eventually we have to face the results. Longings to become gentler and kinder, with little to show for it. Years of bondage to sexual sin. Constant failed attempts to be more honest. Our flesh doesn’t just roll over; it weighs us down, and our hearts sink with it.
One day, I heard a talk that transformed my approach to sin.
It was at a workshop for youth leaders. The speaker told us to stop saying that we were “struggling with sin”. He said that the word “struggling” actually gives sympathy to sin, creates a middle ground where we’re fighting but not winning. “Stop struggling with your sin and kill it!” he said.
It’s one of those but-of-course things. After years of hard-fought effort to kill an entangling sin, we start settling in subtle ways. “I’ll never really win,” we mutter. “I guess trying is what counts.” AWe settle for a cordial detente where we’re not capitulating but not winning either. A sort of romanticized no-man’s land, where we talk about grace and the dark night of the soul and “the journey and not the destination”.
The enemy is perfectly happy to dwell there.
Contrast this with Romans 8:37:
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
Or Ephesians 6:13, 16-17:
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. … In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Do you see the aggression of it? The vigorous intentionality?
“Stop struggling with your sin and kill it!” jolted me awake, made me question the nature of my efforts. Was I really overmatched, or just going marshmallowy with my daily crucifying because I’d come to believe victory was out of reach in this life?
God doesn’t write as if victory is out of reach. He says we should be “able to stand our ground”. It’s so hopeful.
But we have to choose it.
And a shot of gumption towards our sin goes a long way.
It’s not a matter of our strength, but attitude. We have to hate the stuff. Sharing God’s aggression toward sin was the push I needed to start making real headway.
And then, of course, the first thing that happens is that we realize how much we like the cordial detente. “Sure, you could defeat that sin in prayer. But it’s a hassle, and you really don’t want to.”
That commander of mine wanted 100% from his troops. So does God (Matt. 5:48). I’m like, “100%? I might have 30% in play on any given day.” Partially because of my flesh, but partially because I’d been deceived about how much victory was available. Saboteurs to my left and right. The sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith gather dust in my closet, and then I wonder why I don’t have victory.
A victory mindset leaves no room for lies or willful weakness. It makes you choose. We need to hear this. We’re a people who procrastinate, slash other people with our tongues until we get our coffee and brag about it with Facebook memes as the world goes to pot around us. What if we could be different?
The battle may take a while. Some victories, especially over addictions, are processes.
But that is no excuse to linger in the valley. Your fruits will waver if your goal does. Our eyes must stay on holiness. God can get us there.
Stop struggling with your sin and kill it.