The Stagnant Sin Wave
In math, a sin/sine wave looks like the picture below. Notice that there are ups and downs, but the average value is zero. That is, there is no actual growth over time.
This can happen in the lives of Christians, too. We can get caught in a cycle between the world and Christ, bouncing back and forth, which results in an average growth of…none at all. Stagnancy. Some of my friends have gotten caught in that cycle before, and in fact, I bet we all have to a degree: chasing some stupid pleasure (or person, Lucas!) that we know we shouldn’t, or making some decision that we know isn’t wise and isn’t what God wants for us or for those around us, until we feel pretty disconnected. Sometimes we’ll hit bottom and start getting our spiritual focus back…until we decide that it’s good enough and then into a backslide we go!
So how do we avoid this spiritual math, where our average growth is zero?
1 John 1:9 helps us begin the process of actual growth saying, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
That’s a tough thing to do, but we have to. I wasted 3 decades of my life and missed two opportunities to marry women who were exceptional because I didn’t bother truly changing who I was. Facing what I really had become was excruciating: I was a failure, getting old, and stuck in a wave with no actual growth, and having missed out on the best years and best people in my life. This was necessary to cause me to change, but I’d love to help you avoid having to experience this process.
Confession—The Most Difficult Activity in the World
In order to get out of a stagnant cycle where we’re running between Christ and the world seemingly ceaselessly, we first have to confess our sins. This is deeper than just saying, “I have an issue.” In fact, it’s taking a full-on look at exactly where we are…and also exactly what we’re doing to get out of that place. It’s perhaps the most difficult step of all, because in order to confess to others, we first have to confess to ourselves. It’s been said that when you want something the most, it’s the easiest opportunity for deception because you’ll see what you want to see. And that’s the rub.
Deceiving yourself is the worst of all lies, because it’s the one that you are required to teach to others. It’s cheating yourself out of who you really are. It’s cheating yourself out of ever fixing YOU. As Dr. Dan Ariely noted from his vast number of studies:
“This result suggests that cheating is not driven by concerns about standing out. Rather, it shows that our sense of our own morality is connected to the amount of cheating we feel comfortable with. Essentially, we cheat up to the level that allows us to retain our self-image as reasonably honest individuals.”Dr. Dan Ariely, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves
Or as Greville said, “No man was ever so much deceived by another as by himself.” So how do we avoid that? How do we avoid dying as fake people, full or regret instead of integrity, when that time should come?
We have to have a desire for truth in love. It has to triumph over all else. That, it seems to me, is the mark of the truly courageous. Without that, we often ignore the challenge of our sins and become complacent. If you don’t think about them, they’re not that bad.
But God doesn’t want us to have an attitude where we think to ourselves, “This is something that I just can’t beat.” He doesn’t want us to say, “Well for this issue, I’m just always going to need a bucket of grace, because I can’t kick it.” And he really doesn’t want us to just ignore the sin entirely, or to pretend that it’s “no big deal.”
NO! God wants us to say, “No temptation has overtaken you except 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.” (I Corinthians 10:13).
God wants us to kick our habits. He wants us to grow. He wants us to face the stark reality of our failures and our triumphs head-on. No pretense.
Outcomes of Stagnancy—Failure to Thrive
In medical terminology, sometimes a child dies young from what is simply called, “failure to thrive.” The child simply doesn’t grow as they should. As Christians, we start out as little kids. God says that we, “like newborn babies, [must] crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (1 Peter 2) From there, we’re expected to go on to grow, though:
Dear family, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to Christians. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world, or as if you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with meat, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by the desires of your flesh to live in this world.Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians, my paraphrased version of 3:1-3
God doesn’t want us to accept stagnation. He doesn’t want us to experience this “failure to thrive.” He doesn’t want us to be stuck in a sin wave, accepting that as the ultimate reality of our existence! In fact, He wants us to know that such a stagnant thing can kill us, and warns us in James 1:14-15 saying,
“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!“
That’s why God not only said verses 14-15, but with verse 16 warned us, “Do not be deceived, my beloved family!” It’s very easy to deceive ourselves into thinking that our lives are “fine,” when God’s calling us to grow beyond measure.
Roses are red
Jesus is glorious
With a good friend
I’ll be victorious!
We can’t let Satan deceive us into thinking that we’ve tried our hardest and it wasn’t enough, and so we need to just accept the reality of failure. If we’ve tried hard by ourselves and can’t shake some sin, it’s time to enlist a brother or sister in helping! Alcoholics Anonymous uses a buddy system so that when you’re struggling, you can call on someone else to help you shake it.
We can’t be too proud to do the same. Instead of pushing away those who would help, and deciding to hiding our sin, we need to not only admit it, as God says, but to pester a brother or sister to help us put distance between that darkness and ourselves!
DON’T HIDE YOUR PROBLEMS! DON’T TRY TO FIGHT IT ALONE!
Ecclesiastes 4:12 begs us, saying, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
If you try to go lone-wolf, the world will overpower you. And if you’re already in a sin wave, the fact is, you’re already overpowered, because that which is not growing is ultimately dying.
An Exceedingly Great Army!
For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. —Isaiah 41:13
God provides help which comes from multiple places, but much of it is from our brothers and sisters. There is a spiritual war going on, and Satan is a supernatural evil who has only lost once. But that failure was utter and complete, and now God has made us “an exceedingly great army.” (Ezekiel 37:10)
There is a horrible war going on, and we are part of an army of magnitude! But if we decide to run off onto the battlefield alone, without all of that power going with us, Satan will win.
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) He has overcome, and so can we.
If You Need Any Help
If you need any help in your life, and I can somehow be that help, please let me know. I’m here to serve God, and I’m here to serve you. And please know, in your moment of despair, I know that you’re valuable beyond that of any treasure.