“How do I deal with this sin in my life?” he asked. The young man truly was broken. The weight of shame that haunted him because of his actions had truly broken his heart. He was dejected, humiliated, and more than self-despairing. He wanted change but had no idea how to master his difficulty, and was in fact, just beginning to come to grips with the truth that his difficulty was mastering him, and therefore poisoning everything in his life and in his relationships. “How do I deal with this sin in my life?” he half-queried and half-cried in fear that he could not.
It was then I could offer those comforting words that every human being just loves to hear. “You can’t,” I replied. His face fell, and the wave of discouragement sweeping through his body was huge. I continued: “Your first problem is recognizing that you can’t deal with this sin in your life anymore than you can deal with gravity or deal with the fact that the sun rises in the east, not the west. You, by yourself and on your own, cannot now and never will be able to deal with the sin in your life because no matter how much self-discipline you exert, no matter how successfully you moderate your life style and behaviours, sin has its hold on you. At best you may control your actions, but you remain sin’s slave. The simple fact is that you can’t deal with this sin—only God can. And wants to. If you are ready to acknowledge that you are helpless, utterly needy of Him, and will let Him deal not only with the sin, but with your soul.”
The above situation and dialogue, I should note, are not specific to any individual in case anyone is worried that I am divulging a confidential conversation. The dialogue is not specific, but is rather a compilation of years of pastoral ministry in which I sit with folk struggling with all sorts of heartache, shame, addiction, confusion and difficulty in their lives. The stories may vary, but like the bumper sticker that reads Jesus is the answer. What’s the question? the counsel remains essentially the same. More importantly, it is the same not only for those trying to deal with their own or another’s overt difficulties like addiction, but for all of us who, despite whatever pretenses we may outwardly posture, helplessly try to deal with the sin that is dealing with us.
That we are helpless to deal with are our sin are such discomforting words because true surrender of our hearts to God is so difficult for us to do. We have such inherent longing to be in control of ourselves that even when we admit our powerlessness, we often view it more as a first step in a self-help programme than as the first step in letting go and letting God. We usually view sanctification or the process of growing in the grace of God as a sort of do-it-yourself kit in managing the development of our own human potential. We will seek out counsel and supports to deal with the things we want to deal with but only when we truly hit the wall will we invite and allow God to deal with the things we would rather keep hidden and buried.
The hard truth is that I am the young man in the dialogue. And so are you. So is each one of us, we who long to be renewed, freed, and transformed more and more into the likeness of Jesus. Long before such freedom and change can take hold of us and the beauty of Jesus be seen more clearly in us, we must be ready to acknowledge that we are an unholy mess-up and our life is a mess. We’ve tried to deal with sin and with life as if it were ours to control when in reality our sin, our life, our selves are either surrendered to the Lord to control or they and we are out of control. The problem is never that I have some sins that are messing up my life; the problem is that sin is messing up my life and I need—I still need and always will need—Jesus to rescue and save, redeem and strengthen, heal and restore me.
When it comes to dealing with the sin in our lives that leaves us broken, dejected, humiliated, and more than self-despairing, we can’t. But praise God that Jesus can.