What to Do When You You Lose the Battle: 7 Key Truths

A few months ago I wrote a two part series on “Killing Sin.” In Part 1, I laid the foundation for killing sin; that is, fixing our eyes on Jesus. In Part 2, I gave practical steps on how to realign our value system so that we can successfully make war on our sin.

My brothers and sisters, I want you to know that from time to time, we stumble. Sometimes we lose the battle – and the weight of our grief can be tremendous.

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. [. . .] For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15, 22-25a)

Several weeks ago, I was before the Lord with this very passage open – my heart sinking into my chest, and my eyes overflowing with tears. Like many of you, I’m just a man – learning to walk the Christian walk day by day. And sometimes, often more times than I care to admit, I stumble (James 3).

You see, several weeks ago I felt the pressures of life mounting against me. In the midst of this hardship, my heart became preoccupied with the affairs of this life and my time with the Lord became cold. What resulted was a prime opportunity for the roots of anger and irritation that reside in my heart to lash out against those whom I love the most: my wife and my children.

Therefore, I want to address a very important question: What do you do when you lose the battle? We’re told to fix our eyes on Jesus and to wage war against our sin, but what happens if I fail?

How you respond to failure (because the bible guarantees that we will fail) can mean everything. It can either mean crushing, final defeat or it can be a new opportunity to see God as the Glorious One who saves sinners. So I want to deal with that very question: What to do when you lose the battle . . .

James teaches us to confess our sins to one another, and to pray for one another, in order that we may be delivered from the power of sin in our lives. In the spirit of James, let me share a few words of encouragement and some of the lessons I’ve (re)learned.

1. Remember the Gospel – Sometimes, for various reasons, we lose sight of the experiential magnificence of the gospel: “But God demonstrates his love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Grasp that with your mind and your heart! Our experience of the sin cleansing power of the gospel is not “once done.” There are reservoirs of grace that have already made covering for all of our wicked thoughts and deeds, made available by the sacrificial death of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. Let us behold that wondrous mystery every moment that God gives us breath.

2. Repent Quickly – When you lose the battle, do not be slow to repent. God has forgiven you, but your unrepented sin still prevents intimacy with Him. The Holy Spirit resides in us, in part, to convict us of sin. However, shame makes us want to resist or hide from His conviction. But trying to hide from God is foolish, impossible, and will only prolong your sense of agony, for “when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4)

I urge you that if you are aware of your sin, to quickly confess it to God. His heart is inclined such that He desires to restore intimacy with us. The first chapter of 1 John reminds us that, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

3. Godly Grief v. Despair – One of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin. However, there is another who desires to convict us. Satan aims to entice us so that we act on our sinful desires (James 1:14), and then haul us before God and hurl accusations against us. In fact, his name, which comes directly from Hebrew, literally means, “the accuser”. In Revelation, Satan is called “the accuser of the brethren.”

So how do we know which is which? Paul tells us, in the seventh chapter of 2 Corinthians, that the aim of the Holy Spirit is “godly sorrow that leads to repentance.” God’s “end-game” is always repentance, restoration, and renewed intimacy with Him.

Satan’s end-game is to see the opposite: to see you either totally unaware of your sin or so crushed under the weight of your grief that you are crippled, ineffective, and afraid to run back to your Heavenly Father.

4. Eternal Security – Every time we sin, we provide ammunition for our accuser. It’s sort of like a boomerang that he can use against us again and again. Even weeks, months, or years after a sin – indeed, even after repentance – the accuser will speak accusations into our ear: “I know what you’ve done.” “Do you really think God could forgive or love you?” “You make God sick.” “You will never be able to master this.”

Do not listen to him. Do not fall back into despair. He is not known as the father of lies without cause. He is on a hell-bound path and he knows it. Like a child throwing a temper tantrum, he’s breaking as much as he can in his path, just so someone else can’t have it.

We have one – Jesus Christ – who stands before the father making intercessions on our behalf. And He has promised that he will save those who draw near to him – no one, not even the accuser of the brethren, will be able to pluck you from His hand.

5. The Refiner’s Fire – God knows our hearts even better than we do. He knows what thoughts and desires corrode the walls of our hearts, and he loves us too much to allow us to peacefully co-exist with them. To that end, God permits circumstances that are trying, hard, or painful in our lives. Malachi describes God as a “refiner’s fire” or “fuller’s soap.” God turns the heat up in our lives because he knows that those impurities and inconsistencies will make their way to the surface. It is the only way for us to be able to see them, and to be able to deal with them accordingly. It’s a painful process, but allows us to draw closer to God as a result.

6. Know Thyself – Socrates is often given credit for the quote, “Know thyself.” Whether or not he actually said it, I’m borrowing a page from his book. The truth is that God has been incredibly gracious to mankind. He has woven into our human natures, certain “barometers” or “tests” so that we can read the condition of our souls. The things we say (or the things that we do), tell us about the condition of our hearts. In fact, our Lord, in the book of Luke, said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

In other words, he’s telling us that we don’t have to wonder what’s lurking in our heart. We don’t have to wonder if we have angry hearts, or jealous hearts, or lustful hearts. All we have to do is look at the things we say and do, and diagnose the problem. It really is a blessing to us!

So what’s the application here? Recognize your own sinful tendencies – which will vary from person to person. Don’t rationalize them! Instead, be honest with yourself about your tendencies! What drives you? Be specific! For some, it’s pride, for others it’s anger, or jealousy, and so on. Knowing which sinful tendencies are more prevalent in your life will be useful in your battle against sin.

7. The Grand Scheme – Do not waste your sin. By no means am I encouraging you to dismiss your sin, or to revel in it. Nor am I making the argument that Paul famously rebuts in Romans 6, “Let us sin so that grace may increase!”

No. What I am saying is do not waste the bitter taste for sin that God graciously provides in repentance; do not waste the lessons your war against sin – both successes and failures – will teach you.

Perhaps, most importantly, do not waste the opportunity to see the grand scheme: Our glorious God has chosen – out of the multi-faceted goodness of his character – to make his name the most glorious by providing himself as the means of loving, rescuing, and redeeming sinners like ourselves. That thought should move our hearts toward worship!

I am reminded of the exchange between Lucy, Susan, and Mrs. Beaver in the Chronicles of Narnia. Lucy and Susan asked what Aslan (the Jesus-like character in the story) was like. Mrs. Beaver responded, “He is not safe, but he is good.”

And so it is with our lives as Christians. We face many trials and hardships – some caused by this world, some we cause on our own – but we know from the promise of scripture, and the depth of our experiences of Him, that He is good.

My dear brothers and sisters, our lives are a fight for joy. Fights are hard, but this one is worth it. Keep up the good fight, and remember – one battle does not define your war.

Our Desperate Need for A New Heart

A Fatal Flaw

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah17:9)

Let me tell you a story:

It’s a cool, cloudy spring afternoon. Rain drizzles outside as the grey light seeps in through window blinds. The fluorescent flicker of the exam room heightens the nervous tension in the room, as a young couple – perhaps in their early thirties – wait anxiously in the corner. At long last, the medical technician breaks the silence, “It’s another boy.”

No, this isn’t a story about Planned Parenthood; nor is this a story about abortion. This is a story about my life.

The excited and anxious young couple are my parents. And at 3:00 pm, on April 6, 1990, they welcomed their second son (me) into the world. Unfortunately, instead of being able to enjoy the moment, their excitement and joy would soon give way to heartache and fear. Something is gravely wrong with their son: his heart has a fatal flaw.

With no time to waste, doctors whisk the young couple’s newborn infant away. More doctors come and go, while shouts and orders echo through the hallway. In the midst of the chaos, the couple is all but forgotten. Finally, a kind, grave-faced doctor enters the room, shuts the door behind him, and sits down across from the young couple. The solemnity of his expression seems to communicate everything long before he even has a chance to speak. Nevertheless, he takes them by the hand and delivers the frightening news:

“Mr. and Mrs. Romine, your son has a very serious heart condition. The major arteries of his heart have developed in the wrong place.”

All sense of time and space seem to warp around the young couple as panic rises in their chests – they can’t think. Pushing through the mental haze, and with tears welling up in their eyes, they manage to ask, “What are you saying? What does that even mean?”

“If we do not act now, your son will surely die . . .”

The Day Their Hearts Stopped Beating

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. (Genesis 6:5-6)

Truth be told, our diagnosis is not so different. All of us were born with a fatal heart condition. Our sick hearts are pitifully and wretchedly bent to “exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve the created, rather than the Creator.” (Rom. 1:25)

We weren’t supposed to have sick hearts. We were made for something greater: to be eternal beings that magnify and delight in an infinite, all-satisfying God. That day in the garden changed our fate forever. That day we chose to “become like God” and magnify and delight in ourselves. That day we waged cosmic treason against our Creator. That day we chose death.

By declaring war against our Creator – whose breath is our very life and sustenance – we opened Pandora’s box. Since that day, we’ve been exploring every filthy, cavernous recess we can imagine. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, [and] slander.” (Matt. 15:19) All around us we see the tragic consequences of our natural state: families and lives are broken; we are slaves to an endless list of addictions; children are routinely neglected and abused; we lie, cheat, and steal; our hate has produced an astounding, piling body count.

Sadly, even in the face of incredible brokenness, we still often choose to suppress the truth because we cherish our sin. It’s that simple. It feels so good … at least for a while. Much like the ancient Israelites, we choose broken cisterns and dirty mud puddles over a fountain of fresh, living water.

We are pitiful, wretched creatures indeed.

A New Heart

“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and them a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 11:19)

In case you couldn’t tell, I didn’t die that day. Gifted surgeons spent hours in the operating room, with my chest splayed open, grafting and cutting and correcting the fatal flaws of my tiny, quarter-sized heart. I still had a long road of recovery ahead of me, but I had new life breathed into my dying body.

Like my own heart, our only hope is radical, invasive surgery; without a new heart, our prognosis is certain death.

However, in His wisdom, God knew that we were both unwilling and unable to initiate peace.  He knows that our hearts are mutinous to the core, and no amount of “doing better” or “right living” can ever fix them – or, for that matter, atone for our crimes. Therefore, out the richness of his love, and in spite of our treason, God took compassion on his enemies. For His glory and our joy He purchased peace with the shedding of His own blood, and thus gave us ‘hearts of flesh.’

On account of the heavy cost of securing for us hearts that are now at peace with God, we must not cheapen the gift by allowing our faith to devolve into shallow, passionless obedience which ultimately has no power to help us to live pleasing lives for God. God rightly demands and desires so much more from us. He desires that we fulfill the greatest commandment: “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all of your mind.” (Luke 10:27)

We must not be guilty of being superficial about God. Superficial love – affections without obedience – does not glorify God, for “if you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) Likewise, superficial obedience – obedience without affection – does not glorify God, for even demons believe and obey Him.

Instead, let us seek to savor, to magnify, to exult, and to delight in everything God is. Let us cultivate deep, rich affection towards God that naturally results in our glad obedience to Him.

C.S. Lewis aptly said, concerning our desires, that, “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

The Christian life, then, is not marked by a single heart transplant (which is undeniably necessary). Instead, it is marked by our humble and persistent confession that even though we are now a people set apart for God, our mutinous hearts are still quick to usurp the throne. To that end, let us entreat God to deepen our desires for him and to give us the only thing that will cure us: new, undivided hearts.

Thank God that there is no shortage of new hearts in God’s kingdom.