by Barbara Duguid
Should our sin surprise us? In counseling earnest college students who love the Lord, I have seen many Christians who agonize over their daily struggle with very ordinary sins. Jane knows the gospel well, attends church faithfully, and reads her Bible every day, yet feels hatred toward her roommate. She idolizes her professors and strives to impress them by academic overachievement. Yet what really bothers Jane is her struggle with masturbation and pornography, which cast her into a spiral of depression and anxiety every time she gives in. Jane despairs because she can’t “surrender all” to Jesus. Should Jane be shocked by her sinful battles?
How did Jane get to college without understanding the depths of her depravity? As it turns out, Jane’s lovingly anxious parents didn’t let her sin very much. When Jane was a toddler, they followed her everywhere and distracted her from the toddler-sized sins she was prone to commit. As a little girl, Jane struggled with hatred toward her brother. Yet when he messed with her stuff and Jane struck back at him, Mom told her to say sorry, even when she wasn’t sorry at all. She was forced to participate in this charade, sealing the deal with a Judas kiss on her brother’s cheek, while she inwardly simmered with feelings she could not understand. She learned that sin is not an option in this family.
When Jane was in middle and high school, her schedule was so packed with frenetic activity she didn’t have time to sin much. With study, music, sports, youth group, and mission trips, she couldn’t play with temptation or experience quiet moments when thoughts could drift to dark places. Her parents triumphantly erected a barrier between her and her sinful heart and thought they were protecting her from youthful folly. But now Jane is in college, her parents can only hover from a distance, and she is shocked and undone by the riot of sinful desire in her heart.
The “Of Courseness” of Jane’s Sin
Sin should never shock us. We live in a fallen world full of temptation that beckons with alluring whispers and siren shouts. We have depraved, twisted natures, prone to wander away from God all the time. We have a clever enemy who has been tempting souls for millennia. Jane’s young body is full of sex hormones. Shaping influences led her to discover the pleasures of sexual gratification way too early, and she lives in a world where porn is easy to get. Masturbation helps her to forget her bad feelings for a minute before plunging her into shame and despair. Of course she struggles with these sins! Sin is easy.
God calls us to obedience, but does not immediately remove our sinful natures at the time of salvation. Although he plants his unstoppable Spirit within us to begin the work of new creation, he tells us that we have this treasure in jars of clay. In other words, he calls us to try hard to obey him but tells us that we will be very weak and fail a lot. Why would our loving heavenly Father leave us weak and sinful? He desires to humble us and to show that the surpassing greatness belongs to Christ and not to us! The sovereign God is thus not surprised by our sin; he planned it this way. Though our sin grieves him, it does not anger or shock him. Instead, he uses the sin that he hates to point us to our great Savior, who took all his anger for our sin. Our Father has loving purposes for letting us wander into the far country many times each day, and he always welcomes us back with great rejoicing. In this way, he shows us the depravity of our hearts, so that we will cherish our Savior more and grow to live in humble dependence on him.
Letting people sin?
How can you help your kids, your spouse, your friends, and yourself become more comfortable with this God-ordained sin struggle in a holy way? Sin is always bad, but how can you help others to be less undone by the ordinary sin that daily besets us all? Perhaps you can ask God to help you stop your frenetic attempts to keep people from sinning. He can help you to trust the Holy Spirit with your growth and that of those you love. Ask him to open your eyes to how he uses sin for his own glory and your good. Let little sinners sin in age-appropriate ways, so that you can show them how normal their sin is, how wonderful their Savior is, and how to run quickly to hide in the love of Jesus. He has paid for all our sin, past, present, and future, and now his shining, captivating obedience covers us when we sin. There is no end to the depths of human depravity—and there is no end to the love of God for us in Christ! It goes on and on and rises high above the mountains of our pathetic sins. If Jane had been taught that earlier in life, she might be able now to wrestle with sin freely and honestly, without the cycles of shame, despair, and anxiety which characterize her. It will be my great privilege to help Jane to fight that good fight with greater confidence and hope in the extravagant grace of God.
Barbara Duguid is a counselor and ministry assistant at Christ Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Grove City, Pennsylvania, where she crafts the weekly liturgy. She is a pastor’s wife and the mother of six children, and she holds an advanced certificate in biblical counseling from the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation in Glenside, Pennsylvania. She is the author of Extravagant Grace: God’s Glory Displayed in Our Weakness and coauthor of Prone to Wander: Prayers of Confession and Celebration.