Failure, Repeated Sin
We have reached that time of the year when just about anything you watch on television is a re-run. In a few weeks we will be watching all the Christmas episodes of our favorite shows while we sit in the shade to avoid the summer heat.
As we look at Genesis 20 you may feel that we are going into summer reruns from the pulpit! If you have been studying with us you will feel a strange feeling of deja vu when you read Genesis 20. The reason for that is that there is a very similar account that we looked at inGenesis 12:10-20 . In that passage we saw Abraham and Sarah as they devised a scheme to avoid problems with Pharaoh in Egypt. Abraham asked his wife to lie and tell the Pharaoh that she was his sister. In this chapter the names are changed (this time they are in Gerar which would be the western coast of Israel (the land of the Philistines then) and the King is Abimelech).
In the first account, God inflicted disease on Pharaoh and his court because of his relationship with Sarah. In chapter 20 Abimelech is warned in a dream not to touch Sarah. Other than this the two accounts are almost identical. This has led some to say it really was the same account recorded twice. I believe these are two different accounts. And the reason we take up this second account is because it speaks to an issue that is relevant to all of us: recurring sin. In this passage we see Abraham making the same mistake again. He stumbles at the same point a second time.
We should not be surprised by these things. It parallels our own experience, does it not? Aren’t there things in your own life that dog you relentlessly? Are there sins that you have taken to the Lord and said, “Never again”? Only to find yourself returning to the Lord to confess the same sin again and again.
- It may have to do with substances (alcohol, drugs, food)
- It may have to do with interpersonal relationships (gossip, anger, destructive conversation)
- It may be physical (some habit you can’t shake)
- It may be mental (lust, anger, bitterness, resentment)
- It may have to do with Money (debt, a lust for the material, and a reluctance to give to the Lord)
- It may have to do with time management (wasting time, neglecting time for God)
Whatever the sin, I suspect you don’t have to look very far to find one or two that you struggle with constantly. This morning we will look at how to move toward victory in the embarrassing reruns of life.
TRUTHS WE MUST REMEMBER
Before we look at some ideas for how to handle these recurring sins we must affirm several simple truths so that we are all working on the same “playing field”.
Have you ever had someone tell you that all Christians are hypocrites because of their inconsistency? They hear us proclaim a love of holiness but they also see us sin. A Christian stumbles and all the world seems to point their finger at them. This shows that there is an inherent misunderstanding of grace and discipleship.
Grace is given to us not because we are good but because God is gracious and good even though we are not. In fact, one of the prerequisites of salvation is a confession that we are helpless to save ourselves. Before we can be “saved” we have to confess that we are sinners. When we do this and receive the gift of life that comes from the Lord we are made clean before the Lord . . . sin’s penalty is taken care of. . . however, sin’s power and influence continues to pursue us. Old habits die hard . . . very hard.
Listen to that familiar testimony from the Apostle Paul,
Romans 7:16-25 (NLT) I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t. And when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. But if I am doing what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it. It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
Don’t these words describe your experience? Isn’t there a desire within you to honor the Lord in all you do? Yet, in your experience don’t you often find that you stumble and fall? We want to act like a child of God but we often act more like a child of the world. Paul says there are two natures at war within us. There is the spiritual nature that we are given in Christ, but there is also the sinful nature and all the habits associated with it.
This does not excuse our sin. But it does remind us that overcoming sin involves a struggle. I hope this realization helps you to get up after you fail. I also hope it helps you to extend mercy to those brothers and sisters around you who fall. We are to push each other to holiness but realize that living a holy life is a lifelong struggle.
Sin is no one’s fault but our own
Abraham was confronted with his sin and he had two excuses. The first is, “Surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.” In other words: It was an honest mistake. Abraham seeks to explain away his sin. He tries to imply that it is “no big deal.”
We’re good at this one, aren’t we? We try to sidestep responsibility by pointing to our upbringing (that’s just the way I am), or by blaming the media (they are always planting sinful thoughts in my head). The truth is that we are responsible for our own decisions. Abraham may have made his decision based on a faulty premise . . . but he was responsible for the faulty premise!
The second excuse was a rationalization. Abraham says, “Besides, she really is my sister. She is the daughter of my father but not my mother.” In other words, “Look, technically I didn’t lie.”
Again, if they handed out degrees for mastery of rationalization many of us would have a M.Rat. after our names! How many times have we comforted ourselves with this line: “everybody does this”? (Like when we are driving over the speed limit). Or how about, “compared to most people . . . “. In other words, in comparison to others, I’m not so bad. Each of those is a rationalization. Sin is not measured against other people . . it is measured against God’s standard.
Look at the description James gives of sin,
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)
Notice what James tell us . . . don’t miss the words: “WHEN TEMPTED”. James does not write “IF you are tempted.” James affirms that we will all be tempted. It happens to every one of us. And though we do not HAVE to sin (the power is within us to resist) we sometimes do.
James says, “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James places the blame right where it out to be . . .on us. WE are responsible. WE fall short. It is OUR evil desire that leads us to sin. He identified the way Satan usually works, 1) He baits us. 2) Our evil desire takes the bait 3) we sin and 4) the ultimate result of sin is death.
Make no mistake, when we have fallen in one area, Satan will return to that area many times seeing if he can get us to fall again. Satan will exploit every weakness we reveal. But this is not Satan’s fault . . . it is ours.
Sin Brings Consequences
If you were reading this story of Abraham and Abimelech for the very first time with no background knowledge of the men involved, which would you think was the righteous man? Probably Abimelech! Abimelech pleads with the Lord,
Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother?’ I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands. (20:4,5)
Let us not make any mistake here . . . when we fall (especially in an area where we have fallen before) there is often a price to pay. Look at the consequences of Abraham’s repeated sin.
- Damage to his character. Abraham was caught in a lie. This would make it tougher to trust his word in the future. His character and integrity took a hit when he lied to the King. Integrity takes years to establish and only a moment to destroy.
- Damage to his Testimony. Abraham compromised his ability to testify and minister in Gerar. He was supposed to bring blessing to the world . . . but here he is bringing judgment on them.
- Damage to his relationship with Sarah. I mentioned this in Genesis 12. What message does Abraham send to Sarah as he willingly lets her go to the home of another man . . . knowing full well what the man’s intentions are?
Sin brings negative consequences. Some are external, some are internal. Some are public, some are private. God does not allow His children to sin without consequence.
God’s Grace is Greater than our Weakness
In the midst of Abraham’s sin, we see that God is still watching out for him. He protects Sarah, he protects Abraham and even puts Abraham in a position to bless Abimelech. God forgave Abraham in spite of his repeated sin. This is not to say that there weren’t consequences. There were and always are. But the point we need to see is that God did not throw up His hands and walk away from Abraham. He won’t walk away from us either.
God wants us to overcome our failures and weaknesses. He has promised He would help us. But God knows that growth takes time. Martyn Lloyd Jones says that we don’t have to be discouraged . . . in fact we can be hopeful. He writes,
I lose my sense of hopelessness because I can say to myself that not only am I no longer under the dominion of sin, but I am under the dominion of another power that nothing can frustrate. However weak I may be, it is the power of God that is working in me; and it is God’s purpose to deliver me from every vestige and trace and remnant of sin, until I become faultless and blameless. There is a power working in me which is against sin and sin’s power. I have been taken out of the realm of sin and I am being purged and purified, God is working in me. However great the power of the devil may be, I know that this power is greater: “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4) When I say that, and believe it, I can smile at the devil, I can defy, I can resist him and see him fleeing from me. I can resist him, ‘steadfast in the faith’. I used to be terrified of him, but no longer! Oh yes, If I were still alone I should be terrified; but Christ is with me, I am in Him. Therefore I need fear nothing that the devil can do to me. I can defy him, though he is a ‘a roaring lion roaming about seeking whom he may devour.’ In Christ I can resist him. [Lloyd Jones A NEW MAN p. 143, 144]
Even in our failure we have the assurance that God is at work in our lives if we belong to Him. God will continue the work of freeing us from the power of sin just as He has delivered us from the penalty of sin. Don’t give up my friend! Keep working . . . keep resisting. When you fall, get up again. The Lord is at work in the lives of everyone who trusts Him.
STEPS TO DEALING WITH RECURRING SIN
Admit and Confess the Truth. It is comes to dealing with sin we can’t mess around. We must be honest about it. One of the biggest barriers we often face is that we all tend to maintain a “holy facade”. In other words, we come together and we smile and maintain a “holy air” about us. We intentionally give the impression that we have everything together. After all, we are Christians. True believers have no problems. They don’t struggle. In other words, we are really good at lying to each other. And we try to lie to God.
This is the height of foolishness. We are fellow pilgrims. We have good days and bad. We have victories and failures. And until we are willing to admit that things aren’t always easy, we’ll never be able to take aim at the sin we are unwilling to acknowledge.
I find that the best way to deal with recurring sin is to identify the sin completely. Get to the root issues. See it in all it’s ugliness . . . here’s some examples:
- Don’t just confess, “I lied”. Confess that you turned away from the truth which means you turned away from the Lord. Recognize that in your lying you showed a lack of love to the one you lied to. Confess the pride that made you want to hide the truth.
- Don’t just confess, “I lusted”. Confess that you were allowing your mind to wallow in filth. Confess that you took something from the one you love in lusting for another. Ask yourself how you would feel it is was your son or daughter that was the object of your lustful thoughts.
- Don’t confess “I took something that didn’t belong to me.” Confess that you stole. Admit that you robbed another. Admit that you are guilty of coveting what is not yours. Admit that you showed that you were ungrateful for what the Lord has provided you.
- Don’t just confess, “I gossiped”. Identify it for what it really is. Confess that you assaulted another’s character. Confess that you were guilty of tearing down rather than building up. Confess the pride that made you savor the gossip and the arrogance that presumes to glory in another’s failure.
- Don’t just confess, “I didn’t make it to church today.” Confess the fact that you allowed other things to take priority over your worship of the Lord. Confess the laziness that kept you in bed. Confess your idolatry in honoring something above the Lord.
Do you get the idea? Don’t soften sin . . . identify it as the horrible thing that it is. If we misrepresent the nature of our sin, we are opening the door for repeated failure.
Avoid Tempting Situations
The way an Eskimo kills a wolf is grizzly, yet it offers fresh insight into the consuming, self-destructive nature of sin. First the Eskimo coats his knife blade with animal blood and allows it to freeze. Then he adds another layer of blood, and another, until the blade is completely concealed by frozen blood.
Next, the hunter fixes his knife in the ground with the blade up. When a wolf follows his sensitive nose to the source of the scent and discovers the bait, he licks it, tasting the fresh frozen blood. He begins to lick faster, more and more vigorously, lapping the blade until the keen edge is bare. Feverishly now, harder and harder, the wolf licks the blade in the Arctic night. So great becomes the craving for blood that the wolf does not notice the razor sharp sting of the naked blade on his own tongue nor does he recognize the instant at which his insatiable thirst is being satisfied by his own warm blood. His carnivorous appetite just craves more – until the day finds him dead in the snow. [Paul Harvey]
Things that seem innocent can quickly become destructive. We need to be alert to those things that lead us into sin. Satan will lure us in with something that appears harmless. He will tempt us to get as close to sin as we can . . .all the time assuring us that we are not “technically sinning.” But if we play with sin . . . we will get burned. Joseph had the right idea . . . when his boss’s wife grabbed him and tried to seduce him, he didn’t play around . . . he ran.
- If you have problems with lust don’t linger at the magazine rack and don’t rent movies that could turn your mind from the truth. Put a filtering software on your computer and have someone else set the password.
- If you have trouble with wasting time . . .chart the way you use your time. Then start cutting back. Limit your time on the Internet or with your video games, or in front of the television.
- If you have problems with alcohol you shouldn’t go out with the boys “just to have a coke” at the local bar. Don’t bring liquor into your home. Don’t give in to the notion that “one won’t hurt me.”
- If you have problems with money, don’t carry a credit card. Throw way catalogs before you look at them. Turn off those infomercials!
- If you have problems with gossip, walk away when gossip begins to take center stage. Learn to ask yourself, “would I want someone to be repeating these things about me?” Ask people for sources.
- If you have problems with resentment or bitterness, stay away from those who feed your feelings. When your mind starts replaying the hurt and imagining getting even . . . change the channel. Imagine instead what it would be like to forgive and to restore the relationship. Imagine being faithful to God rather than imagining playing God.
Where Possible, Get Help from Others. We can all benefit from accountability. It helps to confess our struggles to a trusted friend. Now I know that this is very difficult. As we expose our weaknesses to others sometimes that is used against us. We have to be careful who we look to for accountability. But there is strength that comes from others knowing our areas of weakness. For one thing, those people can be praying for us. For another, it is easier to resist when we know that someone else is going to ask us about our lives. The best relationship is where you holding each other accountable.
Read and Memorize Scripture. If we want to free ourselves from sin, we must continually focus on that which is holy, good and righteous. The best way to do that is to read and memorize Scripture. If you are serious about eradicating sin in your life you must spend time in God’s Word. It doesn’t matter what system you use . . . just keep reading. Expose yourself to God’s Word every day. Interact with it. Apply it to your life. Ask, “what should I be learning?” This will help you think Biblically.
Do you remember when Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness? Every temptation was answered with the truth of God’s Word. The only way you can do this is to commit His Word to memory. You can do this by using some memory system. Or, you can memorize verses that you run across in your own reading. When you come across a verse that speaks powerfully to a need of yours, write it down on a card and carry the card around with you. Refer to the verse often. Think about it as you drive, wait in line, or lie in bed. Arm yourself with God’s Word!
Don’t Give Up Repeated failures tempt us to give up. But that is exactly what the Devil wants us to do! Focus on the goal and not the obstacles. Remind yourself that growth takes time. Keep in mind the image of a little child learning to walk. How often they fall. Sometimes they bang their head. But one thing is certain . . . they keep getting up. We need that same kind of focus as we learn to walk by faith. There will be falls. There will be times of frustration . . .but keep getting up!
When you have drifted, come back to the Lord. When you have sinned, confess it. When you have fallen, get back up . . . and begin again. The holy life is worth pursuing with every ounce of strength we have.
It is my hope this morning that you are encouraged by this story of Abraham. I hope you have seen that you are not alone. Abraham struggled. We all struggle. It’s a part of the journey. Once we gain victory in one area of our lives, God shows us another to begin working on.
Spiritual growth begins when we are humble enough to acknowledge our need for growth. So, it’s time to drop the pretense. It’s time to stop pretending. It’s time to work together to become the people God has called us to be. It is a lifetime pursuit. It won’t always be easy. But it will indeed be worth the effort.