Sin as Pain Management
As with all of the articles in the PRINCIPLES and PURPOSE portion of this training, you are not required (or even expected) to fully agree with what we propose. Embrace what you can and consider what you can, and hold loosely to the rest. Feel free to share any comments you may have anywhere along the way. However, if you call what you are doing TPM, then you are expected to follow the PROCESS protocol exactly as it is taught.
Controlling Behavior is Not Transformation
Sometimes people see sin management—that is, trying not to sin—as a form of transformation. Trying not to sin is an effort to control behavior. This is something that most people can do (believer or not) if they set their mind to doing it. We are mistaken if we believe that controlling our behavior is being “spiritual” when in fact unbelievers can do the same.
We all have our “success” areas where we are able to manage our sin better than in others. It is in these areas of “victory” that we tend to be the most judgmental of those who do not do as well. However, true success in overcoming sin should not be limited to some “victory” areas, for unless we succeed in all areas, we are actually failing.
Trying to overcome sin is really no different from trying to keep the law. The Law was given to expose and point out our sinfulness. To break the Law is to sin, so then, keeping the Law is in fact an attempt to overcome sin. If you break even the least part of the Law, you have broken it all. There is no partial law keeping and no partial overcoming of sin. Keeping the Law is an all or nothing endeavor and so is overcoming sin.
Trying to overcome sin is performance-based spirituality and is often incorrectly considered to be transformation. Transformation is a work of God alone and cannot be brought about by human effort; it also produces the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The fruit is an expected outcome of transformation.
One Heart or Two Hearts or Both?
The Bible is clear that we have died with Christ and been raised up with Him so that we might live a transformed life. “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life…knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” (Rom. 2-4, 6-7)
The Bible also declares that God has only given us ONE heart since He has removed our hearts of stone and replaced them with hearts of flesh where it says, “I [God] will give them ONE heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh” (Ex. 11:19).
Even in light of these things, some people believe there exists a duality of both an evil and good a heart within the believer. They rightly understand that the unbeliever has only one heart and that it is evil, but it creates a quandary to say that the believer was given a new heart while leaving the old one in place. I understand the frustration here, since we all seem to produce what appears to be both good and bad fruit. However, there may be other explanations for why believers sin even though having been given a new heart.
Nevertheless, Jesus was clear when He distinguished fruit flowing from an evil heart as opposed to it flowing from a good heart where He said, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit… The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil” (Matt. 12:33-35).
No matter how we view it, there are only three possibilities. We either have and evil heart, a good heart, or we have both. However, there are other ways to explain how as believers we can seemingly bear both good and evil fruit without ascribing to a duality of hearts. We will explore this now.
The Great Sin Debate
There is an ongoing theological debate about why Christians sin, and many books have been written on the subject. There is much disagreement in this arena. Though there are many positions held concerning why we sin, I would like to suggest that we often sin because of the benefit it offers. Our sinful choices are not random and without purpose, we sin for a reason. Sin is believed to serve us in some manner. We sin because of the perceived benefits we believe it affords, while minimizing the obvious consequences.
This is what occurred in the first sin scenario in the Garden. The Scriptures say, “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6). Yes indeed the Serpent lied to her, but she reasoned within herself before making the decision to eat the fruit.
Sinful behavior is an effective way to temporarily manage the lie-based emotional pain in our lives. There is a pleasure in sin (Heb. 11:25) that provides us with a way to suppress the lie-based pain we may feel. Our minds have great difficulty feeling both pain and pleasure at the same time. Many of the sinful choices we make are direct, albeit subconscious attempts to distract ourselves from the bad feelings with which we struggle. This is why we find ourselves looking in the refrigerator looking for something to eat when we know we are not even hungry.
When we feel depressed, angry, stressed, fearful, or lonely, we are more apt to eat when not hungry, become involved in immoral sexual activities, look for some way to entertain ourselves, undertake some form of “spiritual” activity, or find some other distraction, rather than attend to the bad feelings.
Sin does distract us from our inner pain, but it does not resolve the reason we feel what we do. We feel whatever we believe. So, as we strive against sinning, we must deal with a primary reason we are even drawn to sin: the lie-based pain that motivates our sinful solutions.
“The Lord is in His Holy Temple…”
As the Psalmist declared, “The Lord is in His Holy Temple…” which is now His redeemed church. God dwells in His Holy temple which is individually within each believer. If the believer has both a good heart and an evil one, then God has chosen to dwell in an unholy place. This cannot be so.
Again, Jesus said this concerning the heart of the believer verses an evil heart, “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” If the heart is good it will produce good things, whereas, if it is evil then it will bring forth evil things. I believe that the true believer has been given a new heart —one of flesh as opposed to one of stone (Ezek. 11:19)
So then, if the reason that the believer sins is because of an evil heart, then what is the cure? What was resolved at the cross? Was only our sins impacted, or was our heart dealt with as well? However, if we have been given new hearts and the motivation for sin is deception driven by our lie-based belief, there is hope in this place. God can grant us new belief, whereas, if our hearts are evil, what can we do about that?
To be free of the lies we believe, we must discover and own them rather than deny them. Our natural inclination is to deny that we believe lies and attempt to bury the pain they produce by distracting ourselves with various sinful behaviors. Genuine freedom cannot be experienced unless we choose to acknowledge our pain, take responsibility for it, and identify the beliefs that produce it. Having done this, we are then in a position to offer those beliefs to God in order to receive His truth. When I know His truth in my heart I am less prone to sin. As the Psalmist declared, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” (Psm. 119:11)