Monday, December 16, 2013

Dead to Sin: One Step at a Time

I read an article earlier this week written by a self-professed alcoholic who argues for the fact that alcoholism is not a disease. In fact, I read several articles on this precise topic, even written by legitimate psychologists who are fed up with the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) labeling alcoholism (and obesity, and many other non-disease issues) as a disease. This particular article got me thinking about the Christian's position and how they are told to "consider yourselves to be dead to sin" (Rom. 6:11) and "do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts" (Rom. 6:12). Here is part of what that article had to say:
Is alcoholism really a disease?
Speaking of alcoholism in these terms makes it difficult to accept certain claims we have all heard declaring that it is a disease. Alcoholism is certainly related to psychopathology, but does this necessarily make alcoholism a disease? I do not believe that it does. Almost any human behavior or habit, positive or negative, could likely be linked to pathology. Alcoholism is, if anything, the symptom or sign of a greater problem. There may be myriad conscious and unconscious thoughts running through our minds, each guided by conflicting impulses and inhibitions, creating confusion and leading us to act contrary to our own best interests, but when it comes right down to it an alcoholic knows that it is a bad idea to pick up a bottle of Jack Daniels and start drinking. You know that it will lead you down a path of misery and devastation, but you crave it. You crave the pain and the desperation, you crave the bitter void that you know awaits you. Perhaps it could be argued that this very craving is evidence of disease and indeed it is a convincing argument, but it does not necessarily follow that alcoholism is itself a disease. The question still remains: if you know that what you are doing is destructive, if you are staring directly into a black abyss and choosing to follow it, then are you not in total control of your actions? On a daily basis there are a thousand things we might be driven to do by pathological lines of thought, but we still wouldn't grab a loaded magnum and start picking off our co-workers. Only a psychotic would do something like that! Are alcoholics psychotics? I'm sure there are some cases in which they are, but most of us are just using this disease thing as another way of feeling sorry for ourselves.
As an alcoholic, I think that it is important for people to comprehend that disease is not the issue. Labeling alcoholism as a disease provides a new source of denial for addicts: instead of forcing the addict to admit that she controls her own behavior and is fully accountable for the results of that behavior, the idea of disease allows the addict to deny a certain level of control and use that denial as an excuse to continue destructive behavioral patterns. It is certainly true that alcoholics reach a point at which they are out of control, but they allow themselves to lose control. The very urge to drink comes from the desire to lose control and in most cases it is a fully conscious decision. Alcoholism is something that appeals to a particular personality and to a particular psychology. It is not a disease, but a self accepted path to destruction. The alcoholic loathes himself and all those around him and so he loses himself in a haze of drug induced oblivion. Unconscious factors may play a role, but it is still a conscious choice. Only if the alcoholic can come to accept responsibility for his own deterioration, can he begin to deconstruct the lies he has told himself about his addiction and possibly even dig his way out of the debris.
You see, it is quite simple. A disease is something that happens to you. Not something you do to yourself. Alcoholism and obesity are the results of bad choices, but choices none the less. By providing an excuse for alcoholism and obesity, you take that choice away. Our society has become too much of an enabler for various people these days (including homosexuals). It offers up excuses left, right, and center instead of dealing with the real issues at hand. They do not want people to take responsibility for the repercussions of their own actions, but instead want to provide them with an excuse to blame it on anyone or anything else. The same is found within the Christian circle.

Far too many Christians grab Romans 7 and use it as an excuse for not living up to what the rest of Scripture clearly commands on every page. Study it some time. Read carefully from Matthew through Jude and note everything it says about how the Christian is to live and conduct himself/herself; every command, every declarative statement. Also take note of the passages where it is dealing with a mixed group of genuine converts and false converts (which Jesus illustrated, on several occasions, would be the reality), such as much of 1 Corinthians. These Christians pull Romans 7 out of its context in order to find "another way of feeling sorry for" themselves. Using Romans 7 in this way "provides a new source of denial for" those who do not want to rise to the Saviour's standards. Often times, it is because they have a pet sin they do not really want to discard, even though the Bible tells them that "Everyone who names the name of Christ is to depart from unrighteousness" (2 Timothy 2:19).

The Christian "controls his/her own behaviour and is fully accountable for the results of that behaviour." Until the Christian "accepts responsibility for his/her own deterioration, can he/she begin to deconstruct the lies he/she has told himself/herself about" the Christian life and their position in regard to sin.

You see, I believe the reason why most Christians read what Romans 6 and 8 say (as well as the rest of the New Testament) and then try to argue and make excuses using Romans 7 in an attempt to back them up is because they look at it either as being instantaneous (where you will never sin again and never have to worry about temptation ever) or they are too focused on the future (of being sinless) instead of dealing with the present. Both of these are wrong views and understandings of what it means to be "dead to sin."

When you wake up, until you fall asleep, your day is filled with a series of choices. Temptations will come to your mind (your thoughts) and to your flesh (your behaviour) repeatedly throughout the day. Never the less, you make the choice whether you will submit to those temptations and act upon them, or whether you will resist those temptations and refrain from acting upon them. "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it" (1 Cor. 10:13). "But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death" (James 1:14-15).

When wrongful thoughts come to your mind, you know in that instant it is wrong to entertain them, but you have the choice as to whether you will do so or not. To argue and say you have no such choice is to say you are powerless to sin, which is to say that Christ's death, burial, and resurrection were ineffective in dealing with sin. Both of these are lies. Likewise, when you act without thinking (or rather, without thinking clearly), right in that exact moment you know what you did (or are about to do) is wrong. If the action has not yet been committed, you can change the course thereof and set your mind on proper things (Phil. 4:8). However, if the action has been committed, you can apologize and ask for forgiveness, because you know what you just did was wrong. We tend not to do this because of our stubborn pride, which only serves to increase the severity of the sin we have just committed.

As Christians, we need to be living in the present while hoping for the future. We need to deal with temptations that will befall us one at a time. Every time we resist a temptation to sin, we earn a victory. The power is ours through the Holy Spirit Whom has been given to us by Christ Jesus. How else would you take these words?: "so we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4); "our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin" (Rom. 6:6); "he who has died is freed from sin" (Rom. 6:7); "consider yourselves to be dead to sin" (Rom. 6:11); "do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts" (Rom. 6:12); "do not go on presenting the members of your body as instruments of unrighteousness" (Rom. 6:13); "sin shall not be master over you" (Rom. 6:14); "having been freed from sin" (Rom. 6:18, 22); "so now present your members as slaves to righteousness" (Rom. 6:19); everything in Romans 8:1-14; "walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16); "those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal. 5:24); "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25). These are commands and declarative statements.

Romans 8:24-25 is a blessing for the Christian: "For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it." We will not achieve sinless perfection in this life, but we hope for it and we strive to attain it one victory at a time. Yes, we will fail and we will fall, but we are not defeated. Take each temptation in its own time. A person growing in Christ-likeness will see more and more victories as they try to be like Him. If you are not seeing more and more victories, or you are simply not seeing any victories whatsoever, then perhaps there is a deeper root issue that needs to be dealt with—like your salvation. The Bible even says that God "is able to keep you from stumbling" (Jude 24). It also says "as long as you practice these things, (the things found in verses 5-8) you will never stumble" (2 Pet. 1:10).

Look at all the examples Paul provides for us. For example, the athlete running the race. It requires perseverance, endurance, and dedication. Who are you dedicated to? Yourself? or the Saviour? If you are dedicated to the Saviour, you are going to take your walk seriously and put forth your very best effort. With your own desires in life, you set the bar high and attain to reach that goal. How is it that concerning your spiritual life, where the bar is already set for us, you want to set that bar much lower and not even try to attain it? Which is more important? Which is more beneficial? If you do not put any effort into your walk, what does that say about you? Something to think about.

The fact is, if you belong to Christ Jesus, you are dead to sin and should consider yourself as such (positionally and practically). Take each temptation that befalls you one at a time. Make the right choices and resist those temptations. Do not focus on the sin. Do not focus on your victories. Do not focus on your failures. Focus on the Saviour. As Robert Murray M'Cheyne said, "For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ." The Bible repeatedly tells us to set our minds on better things, on things above. We need to change the way we think. Become dead to sin one step at a time.