Sin lies. Sin deceives. Sin constructs an artificial world, opens the doors, and invites you to move in. The more you begin to dwell in the construct world, the more it feels like home. Soon it’s more inviting than the real one.
If we’re going to stand against sin’s lies, we need to learn to know our enemy. Just like a man with a pocket full of money needs to know beforehand the moves of a con artist, so too we need to recognize the tactics sin uses to deceive us. Here’s one primary way sin pulls the wool over our eyes: sin makes us selectively blind. Not totally blind – that would give away the con – but partially, selectively blind. Listen to John Calvin describe this ploy:
In reply to the general question, every man will affirm that murder is evil. But he who is plotting the death of an enemy contemplates murder as something good. The adulterer will condemn adultery in general, but will privately flatter himself in his own adultery. Herein is man’s ignorance: when he comes to a particular case, he forgets the general principle that he has just laid down (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.ii.23, emphasis added).
Do you see the pattern? Sin blinds us to the particulars, to our concrete, 7:35am-on-Monday-the-20th behaviors, all while letting us still see clearly the general, abstract principles of obedience. So, as Calvin says, a man can trumpet his belief that adultery is wrong yet still convince himself that, in this particular case, his wife’s failings justify his own infidelity. The pattern holds at every level:
I’m not an angry person! I’ve just had such a hard day at work…I just lost my cool for a moment, that’s all.
I know nagging is wrong – but this time he really does need to be reminded one more time.
I’m not defensive! It’s just that this time I’m right and you’re wrong!
Do you see the method? Of course we believe anger, nagging, or defensiveness is wrong – it’s just that this time there are mitigating circumstances. But we’re not angry, nagging, or defensive people!
So here’s how we defeat this tactic: when it comes to sin, don’t deal in generalities. Pursue godliness and obedience at the specific, concrete level. Don’t ask, Do I love my spouse? Instead ask, Was that response loving or unloving? Don’t ask, Am I a defensive person? Instead ask, Did I just respond with pride or humility? Sin can’t be beaten at the level of abstractions. Victory happens in the trenches, on the streets, moment-by-moment.
And remember the good news. Once we believed lies so deeply we didn’t even know there was such a thing as truth – until the Way, the Truth, and the Life burst into our world, shattered the shackles of deception, and brought us out of sin’s fantasy land into the real world, the kingdom of light. Sin can outwit us, and left to our own devices, it still will. But sin cannot outwit or con King Jesus. And because he has broken its power and opened our once-blind eyes, we can now fight and resist sin’s deceitfulness with confidence that the war has been already been won.
Sin lies. Sin deceives. But Jesus tells us the truth. And the truth shall set us free.
Photo by David D