This is Part 6 in a 12 Part series. The premise is this: "Two men in their in their late 20’s walk into a coffee shop around 7:00 a.m. In college they had been good friends, but over the past few years had gotten out of touch. Having lived in the same dormitory for three of their four years at City Christian College, they still had many fond—and a few not-so-fond memories—of their time together in college. Just by accident (or so Michael thought) they had run into each other in a hardware store and had set up a time to talk over breakfast. This is their sixth breakfast together.
If you want to read this series of conversations from the beginning (you don't have to start at the beginning), please see Part 1.
Jim: Good morning!
Michael: Good morning.
Jim: Maybe we should talk about sin today.
Michael: That sounds like a good way to mess up a nice morning …
Jim: At least it’s a useful subject.
Michael: I’m not so sure about that.
Jim: Maybe it would be good to try.
Michael: OK, if you insist.
Jim: Do you struggle at all with sin?
Michael: You don’t waste any time getting down to business.
Jim: Well, do you?
Michael: Only when I’m waiting for my breakfast to arrive. Usually after the breakfast comes, I don’t struggle anymore. Amazing…here it comes now! And it sure does look good!
Waitress: Here’s your breakfast. A Colossal Omelet for you, and a stack of pancakes for you.
Michael: You came just in time.
Waitress: Hungry, were you?
Michael: You could say that.
Waitress: Enjoy your meal.
Jim: Thank you.
Michael: Did you watch the game last night?
Jim: No. I don’t watch sports much.
Michael: Neither do I. I just thought you might have watched last night.
Jim: Would you rather talk about something different this morning?
Michael: What makes you think that?
Jim: Oh, just a hunch….
Michael: But that doesn’t mean we have to ignore your chosen subject for the day. Go ahead …
Jim: Do you ever struggle with sin?
Michael: I guess I’m supposed to say “yes” now. But before I do, let me get one thing straight. What do you mean by “struggle with sin”? I’m not sure that everyone who uses this expression means the same thing when they use it.
Jim: What do you think it means?
Michael: I’m not really sure. But the thing I don’t understand is why people who seem to have their spiritual acts together talk about struggling with sin while burnouts like me (Jim frowns) also talk about struggling with sin. Of course, there are a few people out there who talk as though they’ve totally eliminated sin in their lives, but I have trouble believing them.
Jim: Do spiritually-minded Christians struggle with sin in the same way that those who aren’t spiritually-minded do? Do weak and failing Christians actually struggle with sin at all?
Michael: That’s a strange question.
Michael: Everyone knows that the more you mature in your faith, the less you struggle with sin. Actually, don’t many people measure their spiritual lives based upon how they are doing with the sin subject?
Jim: Aha!!! Yo comprendo.
Michael: Si … what?
Jim: “I understand.”
Michael: I know that’s what “yo comprendo” means. What is it that you understand?
Jim: There are two different definitions of struggling with sin. You’re using one and I’m using the other. That’s what I just realized.
Michael: And what are the two definitions?
Jim: “To struggle with sin” can mean either to fall into sin again and again, or it can mean to sense intensely an internal battle against sin. It seems to be used both ways in colloquial “Christianese”—pardon the expression.
Michael: Which does it actually mean?
Jim: It depends who you’re talking to. We commonly hear, “I’m struggling with such-and-such a sin.” But what is meant is that they keep sinning in one particular area again and again. They talk about how they can’t get victory. If that’s the definition of “struggle,” then a mature Christian clearly struggles less with sin as each day goes by. Certainly, one of the marks of a mature Christian is that he learns to draw on God’s strength to overcome sin in his life.
Michael: Is there another use of the term “struggle?"
Jim: Yes. Some people who talk about the struggle with sin—spiritually-minded believers—often are referring to the internal struggle that they feel when they are dealing with temptation and the internal grief they feel whenever they sin at all, no matter how small their sin is. Actually, employing this definition, the more a person matures in his faith, the more sensitive he will be toward sin in his own life. Using this definition of “struggle,” you could properly say that the mature Christian struggles more with sin than the immature.
Michael: Why do you say that?
Jim: Because a mature Christian struggles. The weak and slipping Christian, by allowing sin a foothold in their lives, gradually becomes numb to sin.
Michael: That makes sense.
Jim: If you constantly watch violent films, you become numb to violence. If you sin again and again in any particular area—and this applies to many different types of sin—you become de-sensitized to the seriousness of sin. On the other hand, the closer a person moves toward a deep understanding of the holiness of God, the stronger his appreciation of the ugliness and defilement of sin becomes. His personal sin will appear blacker. As he draws close to God’s holiness, the contrast becomes clear.
Michael: It’s easier to see a black spider when it’s crawling up your white shirt …
Jim: (looks down) Get it off me!!!
Michael: (brushing off the spider) You always were afraid of spiders.
Jim: (heart beating) I hate spiders!
Michael: Don’t worry. That type of spider only likes to eat meat. They don’t eat anything else. They especially like fingers. (Jim looks very uncomfortable.) What I was trying to say when you got so worked up about the spider was that it’s easier to see a spider when it’s crawling up a white shirt than when it’s crawling up a black shirt. In other words, I was trying to give you an illustration for the point you were making. Of course, if you’d had on a black shirt, I might not have been able to rescue you until the spider had gotten to your neck.
Jim: OK, that’s enough. I got your point. (… taking a deep breath …) Yes, that’s what I was trying to say, too. It’s easier to see the blackness of sin when it’s up against the whiteness of God’s holiness. The closer you move to the holiness of God, the clearer your perspective becomes. The further you move away from a holy life, the more de-sensitized you become to sin. Novocaine-filled gums feel only a little pain, even when the dentist drills deep. Sin-saturated lives feel only a little struggle with sin. The mature believer will sense a lot more of the struggle, even though his sin is undoubtedly smaller.
Michael: It is an interesting thought.
Jim: It wasn’t until I realized this that I understood what Paul was talking about in Romans 7. When Paul described the internal struggle he experienced over temptation and the grief he experienced whenever he did sin, it was by no means because Paul was a great sinner. On the contrary, Paul felt the struggle with sin so acutely because he was a holy man. Everything we know about Paul points toward a faithful, fervent, sold-out servant and friend of Christ. He struggled with sin—no matter how small the sin—because he was so in-tune with the righteous character of God. Paul’s exemplary life allowed him to feel more perceptively than most the struggle that existed within.
Michael: How, then, does one draw closer to an understanding of the holiness of God.
Jim: That’s an important question, isn’t it?
Michael: It sure is.
Jim: What was your most memorable assignment in college?
Michael: Hmmm. Do you remember when one of our Theology teachers assigned us to go find an empty field on a clear, star-filled night, and do nothing for a half hour but meditate on the character of God? I found that experience to be very memorable.
Jim: I thought you might mention that assignment. That was also my most memorable assignment. Anyway, the answer to your question is, “That’s how.” To understand the holiness of God requires regular, extended periods of meditating on his character. You have to set aside time to think deeply about God and how you relate to the universe that he’s put you in. You need to meditate on the Scriptures that lead you to an understanding and heart-knowledge of the God you serve.
Michael: That’s good, Jim. But if this sort of growth in my life is going to lead me to a greater sense of the intensity of the struggle with sin, why is it worth it? You said that it is the most holy person who is the most sensitive to sin in his life. That means he feels the struggle intensely at times, just as Paul illustrates in Romans 7. Is it worth that sort of struggle? Why should I bother? It’s easier just to cruise….
Jim: Is it good to go to chemotherapy and radiation treatment to try to get rid of cancer?
Michael: That depends….
Jim: But do most people choose to do it or not to do it?
Michael: To do it.
Jim: Is it good to exercise?
Michael: It hurts sometimes.
Jim: But what does the Surgeon General say?
Michael: He says it’s good.
Jim: Is it good for a student to write the paper the teacher assigned for homework?
Michael: I don’t know. But it’s good.
Jim: Is it good for a man who is unemployed to go out and make a real effort to find a job so he can meet the needs of his family?
Jim: Some things in life are worth the struggle, even if they are sometimes difficult. Glorifying a holy God by aiming to live in holiness is one thing that is worth it.
Michael: I want to glorify God in my life, but I guess I’m afraid of the struggle. I think I’m just looking for an easier way.
Jim: An easier way does not exist. But don’t forget what we talked about a few weeks ago. The walk of faith may be full of difficulties, but it is the only life in which a solid internal peace and a truly deep joy are possible. I think that if you could compare which life was the better life, life with Christ would always come out on top. It’s certainly the happiest life, even though the resulting happiness is not the reason we follow Christ.
Michael: I assume you’ve said it before, but what is the reason that we follow Christ?
Jim: Because he’s the truth. Because this is the purpose for which God created us. There’s no possibility of finding purpose apart from following Christ.
Michael: We’ll have to talk about this subject again. Or, at the very least, I need to think about it some more.
Jim: Keep thinking. The bill’s on me today.