Blowing Up Bridges Back to Rebellion

Working in lay ministry at The Crossing, I spend a fair amount of time talking to people who are simultaneously feeling convicted of their sins and yet not quite ready to give them up, either. Come to think of it, most of us probably fit into this category in one way or another, even if our sinful indulgences may outwardly appear to be “lesser” somehow than those of, say, a prostitute or a heroin addict.

We all run into – at some level – a very real, very human inner-heart contradiction (Romans 7:14-20). On the one hand, sinful behavior has brought tremendous suffering into our lives, typically in multiple categories: spiritual, emotional, financial, physical and relational. And yet, it is more often true than not that we are actively maintaining “differing kingdom allegiances” and will try – against all reason and sanity – to maintain a “bridge” of sorts to our destructive, sometimes deadly “pleasures” while keeping one foot in God’s kingdom…or so we think (Matthew 7:21-23).

Given these dueling allegiances within ourselves, oftentimes the God-honoring resolutions we make in the light of day can tragically evaporate as night falls. What we find at that hour of temptation is that during our “daylight hours” of clear thinking we may have resolved to fight our foolish, sinful behavior, but we have actually done little to nothing to effectively dismantle the mechanisms that help facilitate said behavior. It is almost as if we had planned in advance to fail. Phone numbers have not been deleted from cell phones. Various online accounts still offer viable pathways to sexual sin. The money we need to “act out” is readily available even as our utility bills go unpaid. Destructive relationships that should have been decisively ended are still intact. On and on and on it goes.

I’d like to very gently suggest that any willingness on our part to maintain roads, bridges or other safe passages to a preferred lifestyle of sin, folly and rebellion against the living God is the clearest-possible outward sign that we have not (as of yet) fully surrendered our lives to the lordship of Christ. And the sobering follow-up fact to that is that if we do not have Christ as Lord, then we do not have Him as Savior, either, whatever else we might tell ourselves to the contrary. One of the enemy’s greatest tactics, as far as I can tell, is to reassure us that we are good Christians even as we live our lives in open rebellion.

Just to be clear, I am not preaching a Gospel of Perfectionism. Life is complicated, the human heart is beyond understanding (Jeremiah 17:9) and we will all fall short of God’s standard every day of our lives (Romans 3:10-18; 3:21-25). What I am focusing in on, however, is the professed Christian who maintains a longterm commitment to a sinful lifestyle and yet wishes to maintain that they have a personal relationship with the Lord, all outer evidence notwithstanding. Presented with a well-thought-out plan for combatting the debilitating sin, a plan that at least throws some roadblocks in the way to slow things down a bit, this person is all too likely to demure, offer up excuses or otherwise make it clear that he or she is not really committed to defeating their sin after all.

To use a well-worn World War II movie metaphor, a situation such as this is roughly analogous to a team of dedicated soldiers parachuting in behind enemy lines, rigging a strategic bridge with explosives, running all the necessary wires to the switch and providing adequate cover fire so that the commander has sufficient time to set off the charges. Realizing that pushing the plunger down will forever cut off all access, however, the man in charge of this operation inexplicably goes passive. The access point remains intact, much to the frustration and confusion of the beleaguered paratroopers. It goes without saying, I think, that those soldiers are going to think long and hard before volunteering for another such rescue mission.

Personally, I relate quite well to dramatic imagery and vivid metaphors, but the truth is that battling back against longterm sin does not normally take place in moments of high drama and riveting action. True repentance, it turns out, most often shows up in those unremarkable moments when we choose to take a different route home from work, decline an invitation from an old friend or give up control of our Saturday evening to an accountability partner. More often than not, our mettle is tested in the mundane events of how we slog through each and every day.

Perhaps a couple of examples of setting up “roadblocks to sin” would be helpful.

As an alcoholic circa 1997, I found that I simply could not walk into a gas station without walking out with at least a small amount of beer and/or liquor. Interestingly, the tank in my vehicle never got much below 7/8 full, i.e. it was “always a good day” to top off the tank…and get a little something else while I was at it. When I finally got serious about maintaining my sobriety, I did two simple things that served to make it more difficult for me to indulge: I paid at the pump whenever possible and I never, ever walked around town with cash in my pockets. Sure, I could just as easily have driven to an ATM to pull money out of my account to buy booze, but doing so required one extra step and usually – though not 100% successful at first – it slowed me down long enough to reconsider the likely outcome.

Or how about this? A few days ago, a friend of mine called me up to say that he was struggling with a decision as to whether or not he should attend a Halloween party, his reason being that he knew, without a doubt, that there would be a lot of scantily-clad women in attendance and that alcohol would be flowing freely. After talking it out some more, we mutually agreed that the day might come when he would be fully able to attend such an event without sinning, but that day was not yet here. After sharing with him the fact that God long ago enabled me to pull into a gas station – and even pay at the counter! – without stumbling, he ultimately decided not to attend the party, trusting God to meet him in his weakness and strengthen him for a future in which he, too, could participate in a wider variety of events without falling flat on his face.

One of the greatest gifts we as Christians can offer to our enslaved brothers and sisters is to help them self-identify the access points they use to engage in ungodly behavior and them help them construct barriers that serve to slow down the freight train as it steams relentlessly to Sin City. We need to recognize, of course, that just about any barrier can, with enough determination, be overcome; the point is to give our friend additional time to reconsider. And if we couple these barriers with a personal commitment to stay in relationship, we can hold out a strong offer of hope and reconciliation…even as we dynamite their well-traveled pathways.

Matthew 5:29-31 (ESV)
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (ESV)
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

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