Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Pendulum: The Sinful Nature and Personal Responsibility

I've been thinking a lot about this issue over the past week or so, particularly since I watched the Ben Cousins documentary (and I plan to do a post on that next).  After watching the two-part documentary, I started thinking about sin and addiction, and I remembered a sermon on addictions from my old church which I had downloaded early in the year.  It is available here if you're interested.

This is one issue where I sit squarely in the middle.  One of the most helpful points in the sermon was that addiction is a manifestation of sin, however harsh that may sound.  Addictions are part of the reality of our struggle with sin.  Paul says in Romans 7:17-24: As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Paul is not excusing his sin, but pointing out the reality of life as a Christian.  We have the Spirit and the sinful nature warring within us (Galatians 5:17) so we do what we know is wrong and do not do what is right.  In this sense, we have something in common with every addict, even if we do not share the same addiction - we all struggle with sin.  Nobody can stop sinning by willpower or having a foolproof recovery plan.  Paul points out our need for a rescuer in verse 25.  Our situation is hopeless without Jesus.

Yet, while we cannot simply stop sinning for good in this life, nor can we behave like victims, deny personal responsibility and use our addictions and desires as an excuse to hurt people.  This was one of the most helpful points in the sermon.  An addiction might ended up mastering and controlling us, but we made that initial choice to go down that path - to try that drug, to go to that porn site or whatever it is we're doing.  Even though some desires are really powerful, we cannot assume a victim mentality.  We can be out of control, but we also made choices based on our pleasures and desires.  In fact, it is suggested in that sermon that many addictions stem from idolatry - the idol of comfort, of easing pain, of pleasure, of power, image.  Idols promise so much, but turn into ugly masters which enslave us.  It's not wrong to want to stop the pain, for example, but when that becomes our primary aim and causes us to make choices contradictory to following Jesus, then it is sin.

I've heard the issue of sin and responsibility debated in relation to predestination.  How can God choose NOT to predestine and reveal Himself to some people, yet make it impossible for them to stop sinning, and so punish them for their sin?  They can't stop sinning, and God didn't choose them, so God must be unjust.  No, we still make that choice to rebel against our creator.

Can we stop sinning of our own accord?  No.
Are we responsible for our own sin?  Yes.

More of my thoughts on the Ben Cousins documentary next...

1 comment:

Ronnica said...

"Nobody can stop sinning by willpower or having a foolproof recovery plan."

Yes...but why do I try it?

Romans 7 and 8 are my 2 favorite chapters in the Bible...I so "get" Paul's struggle with sin and thankful God has given us help and hope that it's not all about us!