When We’ve Tried So Hard and Just Can’t Stop
Principle 6: The Christian life (discipleship) is a continual process of abandoning (crucifying) the flesh nature and following Christ.
If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:13
Most of us have suffered from some self-destructive behavior that we’ve desperately wished we could stop. We’ve gone to God, asking him to take it away and we’ve sworn we’ll never do it again. We’ve tried really hard, but eventually, we give in just one last time, and start the whole cycle over again.
This is the definition of addiction and most of us understand it in some way. We may not all struggle with drugs, gambling, or pornography, but daily, we’re all tempted to live our way instead of God’s. If we think ourselves to be free from the struggle, simply because we don’t use drugs, then we’ve embraced pride and ignorance.
In my own struggles, I’ve heard this: If you’ve tried and failed repeatedly, then you’re trying too hard. Stop trying. Let go and let God. He will change you when he’s ready. This is absolute nonsense. It is not God’s will that we give up trying to stop sinning.
Jesus taught that the normal Christian life is one of daily doing whatever it takes to abandon (kill or crucify) the old life to follow him (Luke 9:23). He commanded that if something causes us destruction, we must violently cut it out of our lives (Matthew 5:29-30).
Daily, we must use our freedom in Christ to do whatever it takes to abandon the old and follow the new. Paul insisted that when we follow our own nature, we sow the seeds of destruction (Galatians 6:7-8). Thankfully, the opposite is true as well. When we pursue God, we grow life.
What does this mean? How do we abandon the old ways? This will vary according to our struggles. If I’m an alcoholic bartender, I must quit my job. If I can’t stop using drugs, I need to go to treatment and attend recovery meetings. If I can’t stop looking at pornography on my computer, I must get rid of my computer or internet access.
This is where most of us fail. When we say we’ve tried really hard, what we mean is that we’ve not done much at all. If I want to stop eating junk food, but I keep failing, it’s because I’ve not been willing to do what it takes to cut it out of my life.
While abandoning self, we must simultaneously pursue God. It’s not enough to simply abandon the old behavior. We must replace it with God. Daily, we need to pick up our Bibles, reading, praying, and asking God what it is that he wants from us. What should I do to pursue you God? How can I love my neighbor? What must I do to obey today?
This is the supposed to be the normal Christian life: Daily doing whatever it takes to abandon my way for God’s.
Author’s Note: I’m currently writing through the principles that have helped me understand my condition as a Christian who still has very real struggles with my destructive appetites. I’ll include the full list here for reference.
- God created us to live in communion with Him, but man’s sin fractured that communion.
- We all struggle with flaws in our corrupt flesh nature, though it has different manifestations in all of us.
- When we come faith in Jesus Christ, we are born again into a new, perfect spirit life and restored to communion with God, but we still carry this gift in a flawed flesh life.
- Though God may graciously deliver us from some thorns of the flesh, some battles are lifelong, requiring the ongoing work of denying self and following Christ.
- We may always feel the gravity of the flesh, but we are not to live enslaved to it. We are meant to know and experience freedom daily in Christ.
- The Christian life (discipleship) is a continual process of abandoning (crucifying) the flesh nature and following Christ.
- Should we fail, there is always grace and forgiveness for those who believe in Christ.
- Though we are forgiven, we are not to use grace as an excuse to continue in our destruction.
- God’s eternal forgiveness does not absolve us from practical, earthly responsibilities and/or consequences.
- As we all labor, we must be continually honest about our battles. It is not helpful to construct a facade of perfection. In fact, such a facade is detrimental to recovery, sabotaging it.
- We should regularly meet together with other believers with the purpose of spurring each other on to the pursuit of God.
- God provides the only adequate replacement for our pursuit of self. This is core to recovery and identity. Though we try to find purpose, joy and fulfillment in self, we find the answer to our deepest needs only in God.
- Transformation (sanctification) is not an automatic process. It is our responsibility to daily do whatever it takes to deny self and follow Christ. The Holy Spirit always does his part. We must do ours.
- God allows the daily battles and honest struggles of recovery to deepen our awareness of our constant need for God.
- Our eternal identity as Christians is in our new life in Christ. Acknowledging our persistent flesh life and its battles does not deny our position in Christ bur rightly identifies the forgiveness and power that alone can be found in Christ as we daily experience life through Him.
- God saves us from ourselves. We must tell others what He has done for us.