I was sitting in a coffee shop a few months ago, talking with some friends, sipping the coffee of the day when an interesting thing happened. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a man coming down the sidewalk toward the shop window. As I glanced up to see him, he stopped in his tracks and looked behind him, down at the sidewalk. He then quickly turned, stooped down and picked up an unused cigarette from the ground. His eyes met mine as he slipped the cigarette into his shirt pocket and went on his way.
There was no hint of embarrassment in his face. He acted as if this was a normal thing for him, indeed anyone.
As I have reflected on this man’s strange behavior and the force of his apparent addiction I am thankful that I don’t have to worry about finding an unused cup of coffee on a sidewalk somewhere, especially on a day when I’ve gone without my morning caffeine! Who knows what I might do as well?
On further reflection, however, I am struck by how this man’s behavior mirrors that of all of humanity in our struggle with sin and sinful choices. Addiction is something that enslaves us. I humbly admit that I am enslaved to my morning caffeine. If I don’t get it my head begins to pound by mid-morning. We are all enslaved to our own addictions, if we have them (for indeed, some of you are purer than I). In fact I’ve tried going off of caffeine several times in my life only to decide that caffeine is a master I can live with.
Humanity is addicted to sin. Sin has power over us. Sin enslaves us. And, to some extent, this is true even of Christians. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 6:17-18, “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” Paul is speaking of the overall nature of sin – “sin” with a capital “S,” rather than individual sins. Our temptation as those who have experienced God’s forgiveness is to keep on sinning because we know that God’s grace is sufficient for us and that our salvation doesn’t depend on our ability to live without sin. Paul rejoices in God’s grace but wants us to choose not to sin, rather than allow the grace of God to be an excuse for our continued sinning (“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” 6:15).
As to the “sin nature” that condemns us to judgment, we have been set free by Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. But, as to the addictive, enslaving power of individual sins, we may still fall victim. Even after we have committed our lives to Christ we are free to make sinful choices. True, God will pursue us, surround us with loving brothers and sisters who will attempt to hold us accountable to the teachings of Scripture and nudge us with his Holy Spirit, but the end choice of disobedience is still ours to make. And until we repent and seek help these individual sins will continue to enslave us. It is as if Christ has bought us and made us “slaves of righteousness”, but we have gone and sold ourselves back to our old master. Sin, once given in to, leads us ever down a path paved with still more sinful choices. And once we’ve given in to sin’s power, other sinful choices are easier to justify. Make no mistake, sin is a harsh master and utterly without mercy.
Do you remember the old rhyme, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive”? Sin works the same way. With each sinful, unrepentant choice we make another strand of the tangled web is woven and anchored in our lives. Another linkage in the degrading of God’s image within us is established. And as we stack sinful choice upon sinful choice the web is made stronger and more difficult to tear down. We find ourselves once again enslaved to sin, wrapped up in the sticky webbing of our own disobedience.
We can be freed of this addictive enslavement, however. God has provided a way. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” It is that simple. Confess. Ask. Receive. The forgiving word of Christ has the power to break the chains of bondage and the webs of deception.
Are there pet sins in your life to which you are addicted? Are there whole areas of disobedience in which you have run from the clear teaching of Scripture? Take stock of the path you’re traveling these days. In which direction are you headed? If you are following the leading of sinful choices, you are enslaved and in need of liberation. God in Christ has provided your rescue. Let us fall into his arms and onto his grace and know that what Christ has done for us is sufficient, even for us. Amen.
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