Let’s Avoid Spiritual Insanity When Fighting Against Longtime Sinful Habits!
Eric V. Snow, sermonette, April 9, 2009, Ann Arbor, UCG, First Day of Unleavened Bread
“Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”- Rita Mae Brown, “Sudden Death,” p. 68. Now, have we also been struggling against major, persistent sins in our lives this way? Probably most of us here have been struggling against the same sins for 20, 30, 40 or more years. As the Days of Unleavened Bread begin once again, do they make us think it’s futile to struggle against our longtime sinful habits? In recent years, have we given up and decided to settle for X amount of a given sin in our lives? But now, is that because we keep fighting the same old sins the same old ways? Wouldn’t that then be “spiritual insanity”? But since God wants 100% perfection in obeying His law, we know that’s the wrong way to live. Therefore, we should commit ourselves to using new and different ways to fight our major sins, regardless of what they specifically are.
S.P.S. So today, let’s consider committing ourselves to using new ways to fight old longtime sins.
Before mentioning two specific methods for fighting major long-time sins, let’s set the stage some for why we should recommit to doing so.
God wants perfection, right? As Christians, we promised ourselves to live as Jesus Himself lived. And Christ never sinned. Therefore, we should never feel fully spiritually content from by cutting down on sinful ways of living. We should be wary of applying implicitly religious versions of the 80/20 rule and diminishing marginal returns when trying to live a holy life.
Of course, it should encourage us when we see spiritual progress in our lives. For example, one deacon in the local church told me about a sermon that he heard many years ago. That minister gave a 3-part test for spiritual progress: Compared to the time before you were baptized, has a particular sin been reduced in duration (how long it lasts), intensity (how strong it is when it happens), and frequency (how often it occurs). [Use examples based on worry, anger, lust, cursing]. If we’re still improving by this test, we should feel encouraged.
But suppose we’ve long been stuck at a certain level or plateau of spiritual development for many months or years. Now it’s time to consider some potentially new solutions to fighting old problems, and avoid “spiritual insanity.” For example, suppose we’ve prayed constantly and fasted about our problems with worry, anger, lust, cursing, etc., and nothing much has improved in recent years. So then, What else should we do? (I’m not saying we should give up praying or fasting about these sins, but merely it’s time to commit to try doing something else).
Today I’ll mention two specific methods to fight persistent sins, which are (1) to read full books about them and (2) to discuss them with other Christians.
1. Consider reading one or more full books on the sins that we are struggling against.
Articles or booklets often simply aren’t enough. We may say we don’t like to read. Or we may say we don’t like to read such books, that they bore us. Men, in particular, tend to avoid “self-help” books dealing with relationships and psychology almost like the plague. (Around 85% of them are sold to women). But if we really want to gain additional insights into our persistent problems, we have to turn to full books on given subjects. True, they may be written by secular psychologists and/or traditional Christians who commit their share of errors. The “self-esteem” gospel of modern secular psychology example. But we in the COG need to be humble, since we depend on traditional Christians to translate the Bible, do scholarly language work, etc. Can’t we tune out the incidental references to going to heaven at death, the Holy Spirit being a Person, etc., and focus on the main point of the book in question? Can’t we admit that (say) James Dobson’s approach to discipline and childrearing is more balanced than what was taught in the Church a generation ago? Sure, we have to stay on alert when reading such books. But a lot really can be learned from them which simply can’t be learned from any Church of God publication. Since we’re such a small group of people, we’re forced to be generalists, and wear many different hats. It’s time to be humble.
Examples: When battling lust, consider reading Joshua Harris, “Not Even a Hint,” and Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker’s “Every Young Man’s Battle.” When battling anger, consider reading Neil T. Anderson and Rich Miller’s “Getting Anger Under Control.” If the problem is doubting that God loves you or humanity in general, consider reading Philip Yancey, “Disappointment with God.” If you have major childrearing problems, read James Dobson’s “The Strong-willed Child.” If you have major marriage problems, consider reading Gary Smalley’s “If Only He Knew” (if you’re a man) or “For Better or For Best” (if you’re a woman).
2. Share your spiritual struggle with one or two other people in the Church, and ask them to help hold you accountable.
Let’s apply this text to spiritual struggles against sins. Some persistent major sins can cost people jobs and/or destroy family relationships, such as unreformed alcoholism, drug addiction, using pornography, the gay lifestyle, etc.
Personal accountability to others in a small group struggling against the same sinful habit or personal problem can be a powerful weapon against their shared problems. Of course, the world knows about this method very well, such as (most famously) Alcoholics Anonymous and their twelve-step program. But their technique can be applied much more informally among ourselves. If we have a persistent running sin that we haven’t improved in for year, let’s consider sharing that struggle with one or two other people who are strong in the area we are weak. Gay lifestyle example. Ask them to pray for you, and then periodically talk to them about the problem.
Joshua Harris: “Long Rangers Are Dead Rangers.” Create a small, informal subgroup with a friend or two who can help you with the problem. Mr. Rhodes has mentioned this method as being important for men who wish to leave or avoid going into the gay lifestyle. Today I’m just generalizing this approach and applying it to other persistent sins.
In general, we should also come to church each week and fellowship with the brethren as long as we sensibly can on the Sabbath. They can lift our spirits and make us feel better. By getting to know more true Christians better, we’ll help each other spiritually. We can also counsel first with the ministry about a problem, especially if we have never mentioned it to others people before.
Now, when choosing someone to do this with, it’s best not to choose someone who is self-righteous or callously critical in that area: A smoker in the COG shouldn’t approach someone who makes frequent, colorful, harsh attacks on smoking as a sinful habit. Look for someone who may not be your best friend, but who could challenge you to do better without being unduly abrasive. If you do this, try to talk about the problem with them on a scheduled basis, like once a week or month on the day and time.
[Optional, use if have time] Harris (p. 136) quoting Alan Medinger: “An accountability relationship is one in which a Christian gives permission to another believer to look into his life for purposes of questioning, challenging, admonishing, advising, encouraging and otherwise providing input in ways that will help the individual live according to the Christian principles that they both hold.”
Conclusion: So in conclusion, let’s deleaven our lives more effectively by avoiding “spiritual insanity” when fighting our persistent sins. Let’s consider using new methods that we haven’t tried before: 1. Read one or more full books on the problem. 2. Form small accountability groups or partnerships with other Christians. The Days of Unleavened Bread should remind us that we should not give up the battle against the same old sins.