Every one of our sinful actions has a suicidal power on the faculties that put that action forth. When you sin with the mind, that sin shrivels the rationality. When you sin with the heart or the emotions, that sin shrivels the emotions. When you sin with the will, that sin destroys and dissolves your willpower and your self-control. Sin is the suicidal action of the self against itself. Sin destroys freedom because sin is an enslaving power.
In other words, sin has a powerful effect in which your own freedom, your freedom to want the good, to will the good, and to think or understand the good, is all being undermined. By sin, you are more and more losing your freedom. Sin undermines your mind, it undermines your emotions, and it undermines your will.
Sin Is Addiction
All sin is addiction. Whether it’s bitterness, whether it’s envy, whether it’s materialism, whether it’s laziness, whether it’s impurity — every sinful action becomes an addiction. And every sinful action brings into your life a power that operates exactly like addiction cycles and addiction dynamics begin to operate.
In other words, in the specific addictions of alcohol or drug addiction, or voyeurism, or exhibitionism, or sexual addictions, you actually have a microcosm of how sin works in general.
You know how addiction works. It starts like this: There’s some kind of disappointment or distress in your life. As a result you choose to deal with that distress with an agent; it might be sex, it might be drugs, it might be alcohol. The agent promises transcendence. The agent promises freedom, a sense of being in control, a sense of being above all this, a sense of being liberated, a sense of escape. And so you do it. But when you do it, when you take the addicting agent as a way of dealing with life, the trap is set.
The trap is set because three things begin to happen:
1. Tolerance. You get trapped into what the experts call the “tolerance effect.” In other words, the tolerance effect is that today this or that amount of alcohol or drugs, or this kind of sexual experience, will pale in comparison to your desires tomorrow. The same activity will not give you that same experience any more, and you will find you need more and more and more. What brought you joy yesterday will not be enough to give you joy tomorrow, because your emotions are shriveling and numbing. There’s a tolerance effect.
2. Denial. Addiction destroys because of denial. We all know part of addiction patterns is that your craving makes you rationalize and justify. It twists your thinking. You become selective in your reasoning, selective about your memory. You’ll do all sorts of tortured rationalizations, but you refuse to think clearly and objectively. You can’t.
3. Defeat. Addictions destroy willpower. You know you are an addict when you are trying to escape your distress with the very thing that brought you your distress. And when you are in that spiral, you are stuck forever — down and down and down and down.
Sin in general operates like that. When you think disobedience to God is going to bring freedom, the very act that promises freedom is taking the freedom. The very act that you think is putting you in the driver’s seat of your life is taking you out of the driver’s seat of your life.
Playing With Fire
The Bible defines sin as craving something more than God. Sin is making something more important than God. If you’re just religious occasionally, if God is on the outskirts of your life, that is the essence of sin, and that sin grows.
Jonathan Edwards says sin turns the heart into a fire. Just as there has never been a fire that said, “Enough fuel, I’m fine now,” so there has never been a sinful heart that said, “I have had enough success. I’ve had enough love. I’ve had enough approval. I’ve had enough comfort.” Oh, no. The more fuel you put into the fire, the hotter it burns, and the hotter it burns, the more it needs, the more oxygen it is sucking and the more fuel it requires.
And this is the heart of the fire. Next time you are crabby, or grumpy, or irritable, or scared to death, or in the pits, ask yourself: What am I telling myself would make me happy if only I had it? There is an if only at the bottom of this. Whatever is your if only, that becomes your slave master. It destroys your will.
This explains how lies necessitate other lies. Envy necessitates more envy. Racism necessitates more racist thoughts. Jealously necessitates more jealous thoughts. Bitterness necessitates more bitter thoughts. In the beginning when you first tell a lie you still have an appetite for the truth, but it won’t take long. Sin is a power. And the things you crave become your slave masters because in your heart those things burn with this idea: if only. Everything would be fine if only I had that. This creates a suction in your life. The more you throw in, the more it wants.
Winning the Firefight
If you are a Christian and you are dealing with enslaving habits, it’s not enough to say, “Bad Christian, stop it.” And it is not enough to beat yourself up or merely try harder and harder and harder.
The real reason that you’re having a problem with an enslaving habit is because you are not tasting God. I’m not talking about believing God or even obeying God, I’m saying tasting — tasting God.
The secret to freedom from enslaving patterns of sin is worship. You need worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and to be moved by it — moved to tears and moved to laughter — moved by who God is and what he has done for you. And this needs to be happening all the time.
This type of worship is the only thing that can replace the little if only fire burning in your heart. We need a new fire that says, “If only I saw the Lord. If only he was close to my heart. If only I could feel him to be as great as I know him to be. If only I could taste his grace as sweet as I know it to be.”
And when that if only fire is burning in your heart, then you are free.
About the Author: Dr. Tim Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York, and the author of numerous books including The Reason for God: Belief in an age of Skepticism (In my opinion the best book to date on apologetics for a postmodern culture—I think this book will do for post moderns what Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis did for moderns); and The Prodigal God (in my opinion the most clear presentation of the gospel for a post modern culture based on Luke 15). He is also one of the founders of The Gospel Coalition.