Monday, November 29, 2010

Addiction: The Speck in Your Brother's Eye

Whenever the topic of repentance comes up, you always hear people bring up the topic of addictions and habitual sinners. They will bring up the guy who struggles with his particular sin constantly and--while he comes back for forgiveness time and again--never seems to gain any traction in resisting this particular problem. It is usually something like alcohol, drugs, violence, and pornography.

This matter is obviously a complex issue that is well within the grounds of individual pastoral care between a sinner and his minister.

That said, what is often the case is that individuals who bring up this situation are only talking about "those people" over there. The addicts. I saw this alot in the you-should-be-getting-progressively-more-holy-and-sin-less-and-less mentality of evangelicalism, but it strikes right here in Lutheranism as well. Too often, the implication here is that these people who struggle with habitual sin are just not serious. They are luke-warm Christians and hypocrites. They are taking advantage of God's mercy by not fighting their addiction hard enough. What they really need is to get their lives in order.

My response to such thinking is: "...and how is it that YOU do not consider yourself an addict? Are you not addicted to lying? Are you not addicted to envy? Do you not repent over and over again and yet continually fall back into taking the Lord's holy name in vain, despising the proclamations of His word, and trusting in the false gods of your own making? Do you not find yourself getting bored or thinking about other things during divine worship? Do you not refuse charity to those in need so that you can have all the riches you desire? How is it that you do not consider yourself a gossip addict? Do you not laugh at crude jokes, think impurely of others, and even commit murder in thought if not deed?"

"In what way do you not continually dishonor your parents and other authorities? In what way do you not habitually and constantly violate your marriage vows or stain the purity of chastity in singleness. Why do you read God's Law and get the notion that you do not daily struggle with loving God above all things and loving your neighbor as yourself? Do you not get off on the 'high' that your sinning gives you? Does it not shame you to the point where you hide your sins from your neighbors, friends, and family? How are your addictions any different? Do you think that God gives you a free pass because your dependency is not chemical or because your wretched acts don't leave any track marks on your arms? Why is it that you are just not taking your sin problem seriously enough? Why don't you stop? If you are honest, you realize that you can't. You have a problem. You are an addict, too. The old adam in you is addicted to sin and can't get enough. Just admit it and receive the ever present gospel remedy."

The obvious addict who falls into sin again and again and returns to God for forgiveness 70 times 7 times is not the exception. It is merely a more apparent example of what happens in all of us. The truth is that you are exactly like other men... even that sinner over there. The constant, unrelenting struggle against sin is the picture of the Christian life as we labor and wait for the perfection of our flesh on the Last Day.

So take advantage of God's mercy which is offered to you freely and without condition because of Christ Jesus who purchased you, a poor miserable sinner, by death on the cross. The real tragedy is not the individual who struggles with particular sins, but the poor soul who does not realize that his need for constant and repeated forgiveness through the Gospel of Christ Jesus is just as great--if not greater--than his neighbor's need. Even repentance itself is a free gift of God since people who are dead in the trespasses and sins do not turn to God or love Him. We are by nature sinful and unclean. We are desperately sick and are in need of the Great Physician, Christ, who did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance [Luke 5:32]. By the power of the Holy Spirit, put to death the old flesh and make no provision for sin as you await the eternal rest that will come to all who believe when our Savior returns to judge the living and the dead.

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