The Problem of Repetitive Sin

It is comforting to know that two men who lived a long time ago – and who are wiser than I will be in 10 lifetimes – struggled with an issue that I wrestle with today as a Christian…repeating sins of the past.

Socrates once said, “I don’t know why I did it, I don’t know why I enjoyed it, and I don’t know why I’ll do it again.” If you’re a Christian and that sounds familiar to you, it should. Paul said something very similar in the 7th chapter of his epistle to the Romans:

14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. (NKJV)

As my dad is fond of saying, when sin entered the world, Adam and Eve literally “ate us out of house and home.” I always chuckle when he says that, but it’s true. Sin changed everything forever (including Adam and Eve’s literal eviction from the Garden of Eden), and it changed all of us who are now “born” into it…born into an antagonistic relationship with God. While we live and breathe, we will be fighting a constant battle within ourselves to conquer the devilish nature in all of us.

One of the great tricks of the devil in my opinion is alluded to in the quote from Socrates and the excerpt from Romans – he somehow gets us to commit sinful acts that we, in fact, very often get no pleasure from. In fact, the displeasure comes in many forms. My dad has asked me before, “How many times have you sinned where you really didn’t know you were doing something wrong?” My answer is basically, “Never.” So, as a born-again Christian with the Holy Spirit residing within me, the premeditation of my sin wars against God in my spirit, mind and body. Then, any feeling of “joy” that may be present during the act of sinning itself is at best a perversion of the word and in fact would probably be better described in a different way entirely (e.g. the adrenaline of rebellion). And we all know that as soon as we have committed the act, post we feel – almost immediately, and very palpably – the break of the bond of fellowship we are privileged to have with God our Father.

Speaking personally, patterns of repetative sin in my life are often the sins I hate the most. I have a hard time reconciling the whole thing in my head because, looking at the situation objectively, I agree with Socrates much of the time. That is, I know what it’s going to feel like; I know I don’t like that feeling; I know I don’t really enjoy it; and, though I fight and swear “This is the last time!” I know, as a fallen human being, that it’s coming again.

It is at this point we must – while striving for that true repentance that leads to behavioral change – give ourselves grace. We are blessed beyond measure that our Savior extends this grace to us. Paul understood that in his flesh dwelt “no good thing,” and Scripture tells us, “For He knows our frame; He remembers we are dust (Psalm 103:14).” And knowing this, He sent His son to redeem us.

Copyright © 2012 Jonathan Ruth