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More on Besetting Sins


I have just finished an article which reminds us of how much prayer and effort it takes to overcome besetting sins. However, it seems that more needs to be said on the subject. In particular, I would like to give some thought to exactly what besetting sins are, and how widespread they are. I am hopeful that this article will give some hope to people who are depressed about their efforts to overcome besetting sins. 
When I say "besetting sins", I mean the ones that crop up over and over throughout life. In many cases, they may actually be inherited. Things like drug and alcohol addiction, schizophrenia, and sexual orientations seem to all have some connection with genetic dispositions. It is partly BECAUSE so many besetting sins have biological roots that we are inclined to ignore them as "the way God made me", or "just my personality".

But other besetting sins may have as much (or almost as much) to do with our genes as the three already mentioned. You need only observe your own parents to see how often you find yourself acting just like them... even in areas where you absolutely detest these qualities in them. My father, for example, was given to blowing up at people, and I hated it; but I ended up doing the same thing myself... and I continue to do so despite all my efforts to stop it.

This inherited tendency can often be seen in people who get depressed, who overeat, who procrastinate, who are obsessive about cleanliness, who talk incessantly, who start things and do not finish them, etc. 

So what I am saying is that besetting sins are so deeply ingrained in us that they seem almost impossible to shake. Paul referred to a "thorn in the flesh" from which he had prayed several times to be delivered. It may have been a physical sickness, but it may also have been an inherited spiritual weakness. It may have also been what he was referring to when he said, "The good which I want to do, I end up not doing, and that which I do not want to do, I do." (Romans 7:24)

It is tempting to veer off here, with comments about how important it is to not give up in trying to overcome these sins; but the real purpose of this article is to give some encouragement to people who DO try to overcome their besetting sins, but still fall short.

The Bible says (Romans 3:23) "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." We might add, "All have besettings sins, and fall short of conquering them" as well. Just knowing this should cause us not to lose heart.

The nicest people in the world still have besetting sins, and they can often make them nearly impossible to live with. Gandhi's own children considered him to be terrible to put up with. Sr. Teresa upset many people with things she said and did. In fact, if you were to list all the people you admire as role models, it would almost be certain that you do not really know these people. Traditional heroes often only become heroes because of good 'spin doctors'.

In other words, the world is full of beastly, terrible people, all wrestling with besetting sins... sins which can make others hate them intensely. A new romance, or membership in a new group may cause us to think for a while that we have found exceptions to this rule; but don't be fooled. These people, too, will disappoint and anger you eventually. In fact, the closest that most people come to being really nice people to be around, is when they come to accept this truth about themselves and about others. Knowing that we are all wrestling with the demons inside of us is a good safeguard against both self-righteousness and despair. And being able to "confess your faults one to another" (James 5:16) can be a great source of comfort as well as one of the most potent tools in overcoming these same faults.

Being able to admit to someone (anyone), that we are plagued with fears about what others think of us, or with thoughts about sex, or with feelings of bitterness toward people who have wronged us, can be the most significant step toward overcoming these same sins.

In all of our efforts to help people to STOP sinning, we must be careful that we do not give the impression that they must pretend to be more successful in overcoming them than what they actually have been. Such deception (and self-deception in particular) is the basis of hypocrisy... the sin that Jesus most hated.

That's pretty much what I wanted to say on the topic. Perhaps we can find little ways to remind ourselves and each other that we are all in this battle together. Let's do what we can to encourage and support one another, and to remember at all times that we each have similar weaknesses and we each encounter similar difficulties in overcoming them.




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