We’re coming into that time of year when we are under attack. I don’t mean spiritually; Satan doesn’t particularly abide by the seasons. No, our house is currently under attack from ants. Every year, they find some way in. Through some crack in the wall or gap in a floorboard. Every day we hoover them up and, the next, come down to find them swarming in again.
As I was trying to remove the latest incursion, I was given some simple but effective advice. Find where they are coming in and focus preventative measures on the point of entry. I was able to follow a line of ants to a tiny gap near the front of our house. We have initially put down washing up liquid (they seem not to like it) which is keeping them at bay. This is tiding us over until we can get some ant powder to ensure they don’t keep coming back.
But sin seems to have a similarly persistent habit of encroaching on us. We may find ourselves falling into sin again and doing little more than the spiritual equivalent of hoovering up the ants. We sin, we repent, but the very next day, there it is back again. We think we have dealt with it, we think we have resolved the problem, but really we have only cleared up the mess left from the latest iteration. And so, unsurprisingly, it happens again, and again, and again. It’s not that we don’t want rid of it, it’s just that the only tool we ever reach for is one that deals with the problem after it has arisen.
Just like with our ant problem, we need to find the point of entry and enact some preventative measures. If we know we are prone to particular sins, its not much good simply clearing away as and when it happens. We might be repentant, and genuinely mean it, but its not going to do much in the long run to stop it happening again. And if we know we are prone to such sins, genuine repentance means more than just cleaning up after the fact but putting ourselves in a position, and putting things in place, to limit the possibility of it happening again.
In other words, we have to find the point of entry for the sins to which we are prone and lay the spiritual equivalent of ant powder to prevent it getting in. There comes a point at which, knowing we are tempted to certain besetting sins, we are dicing with death if we aren’t willing to inconvenience ourselves enough to stop falling into it. That is not to say you will necessarily never see that sin again – just as my laying ant powder doesn’t mean I will never see another ant inside my house – but it does make it that much less likely and evidences a desire to mortify it.
If Jesus can talk seriously about hands chopped off and eyes gouged out if they cause you to sin (cf. Matthew 5:29f), why should we be any less serious about it? If your internet connection causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. Better to lose your ISP than to enter Hell with your wifi password. It’s no good insisting that you need the internet (or even, your computer) for your work. The prostitutes who came to Jesus, no doubt, had similar concerns. If your ministry is causing you to sin, stand down and do something less visible. Better to end your ministry than to enter Hell with your pastor’s contract. It’s no good insisting your church will probably fall apart if you leave. No doubt the early church viewed the apostles as they were martyred similarly.
We are, by nature, self-justifying creatures. Any sin to which we are prone may come with excuses. The circumstances under which we repeatedly find ourselves falling can readily be justified as necessary. Yet a repentant heart would do what is practicable to inconvenience itself enough to minimise repeat occurrences. There comes a point at which, if we’re not willing to do so, we are proactively giving sin a foothold and evidencing a heart that is happy to indulge sin. And that, dear reader, is a treacherous path indeed.
We will all have besetting sin this side of glory. None of us will free ourselves from sin influence in this life. As such, we must find the points of entry and take preventative measures before we find ourselves infested. Some of that will be positively stepping into our time with the Lord, being honest with him in our prayers about our struggles, seeking to surround ourselves with those who will encourage us to press on in the church. But some of it might involve placing ourselves in positions where the sins to which we are prone will have a much harder time gaining entry. It may mean doing what some would consider drastic because we don’t want to dishonour the Lord.
If we’re frequently failing to honour the Lord in our existing circumstances, we have to ask whether we love the Lord more than we want the thing causing us to sin. A genuine love for the Lord will mean we want to honour and glorify him more than we want anything else. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?