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One Big Reason You Keep Returning to Sin

Matt is a young man who is trying to leave behind a long habit of viewing pornography, of returning to sin, and occasionally having sex with strangers. He’s a recent college graduate working a job he doesn’t love while he pursues his true passion: Music. Matt would love to be a Christian musician or a worship leader.

Last month was one of the best and worst Matt’s had in a long time. At the beginning of the month, Matt was invited to lead worship at a weekend retreat coming up this summer. Over the two weeks, he spent time thinking and praying about the worship set, he enacted a daily schedule for both personal worship and practice, and most especially, he has been sensing God’s leading and delight in the midst of it all.

But also last month, Matt spent nearly twenty hours viewing pornography.

What’s going on with Matt? You might be surprised to learn that, hidden within Matt’s contradictory month, there’s a gem that can help set him free.

In his book On Hope, Josef Pieper discusses the reality that humans, and those in Christ most especially, are created for greatness. Far from being “just forgiven,” Jesus’s followers are reborn, their lives vivified to become glorious as those who image God on the earth and walk intimately with Him. But, Pieper explains, even while we long for this greatness, we also shrink from it and slip into a kind of sorrow.

“This sorrow is a lack of magnanimity; it lacks courage for the great things that are proper to the nature of the Christian. It is a kind of anxious vertigo that befalls the human individual when he becomes aware of the height to which God has raised him…He would prefer to be less great in order thus to avoid the obligation of greatness. [This] is a perverted humility…”

At the heart of Matt’s recurring sexual sin is a fear of what God has designed him to be. In other words, Matt is afraid of who he really is, and so afraid of his own desires and passions. So last month when those passions got stirred up, when Matt began walking the path leading up toward the heights for which he’s been raised, he was struck with the “anxious vertigo.” Rather than pressing on in hope, Matt steered himself into an old familiar ditch. He deeply desires the mantel of worship God is laying on his shoulders, and he also fears he is not truly a man who can bear its weight.

Where in your life are you returning to sin? Could this be your unconscious attempt to steer away from the desire you have to truly become the man or woman God has created you to be?

Walk the road of desire long enough and you will face disappointment in this life. Walk the road of hope and birds of despair will circle overhead. Don the clothes God has custom made for you, and taunting whispers will say you look ridiculous.

What if you’re returning to sin because every time you do it gives you more reason to live as though God is wrong about you? This would mean your sin habit isn’t so much about an inability to resist momentary pleasure, but about self-sabotage.

My friends, hear the words Jesus speaks to you: “Do not be afraid. Follow Me, and I will make you…” (cf. Mt. 4:19, Lk. 5:10). What will He make you? What’s something God sees in you or says about you that would be medicine to your soul to believe?

I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.

With great hope,

Josh

16 thoughts on “One Big Reason You Keep Returning to Sin”

  1. Isn’t your perspective more like just the power of positive thinking? If we realize God loves us we will do great things and avoid sin? It’s an overly simplistic due to a complicated problem. people are broken and hurting and the Jesus pill doesn’t make them feel better. So we turn to things to to make them feel better momentarily.

    We need to find a better way to dispense God‘s hope in relevant Christian teaching that really sets people free instead of more platitudes about how much Jesus loves us and how we are designed for greatness because those of us who struggle or caught in the guilt shame cycle just by knowing how much Jesus loves us – literally it doesn’t mean a damn thing when we’re stuck in that cycle.

    1. Hi Mike, thanks for reading and for your comments. I’m not sure what you’re seeing in my post that sounds like I’m pushing the power of positive thinking or offering the overly simplistic platitude that if we know how much Jesus loves us we’ll stop sinning. Help me understand.

      I’ve seen the cycle of hopelessness and self-sabotage at work in my own life and in the lives of others, and in my view it’s truly worth looking at as a part (not the whole) of the journey toward sexual integrity. Let me know what you’re seeing here that you think I’m missing. I’m open.

    2. If the Gospel can’t set us free; there is no hope. There is no other “relevant church teaching” aside from the gospel of Christ.

      1. I appreciate this, Ryan. I think you’re putting your finger on something truly important: Where we stray from the work and power of Christ (His bodily life, death, resurrection, and ascension) in the name of being “relevant,” we actually lose our relevance.

    3. This reminds me of something Ive been returning to again and again over recent years: Practicing “being willing to be uncomfortable”. Learning to actually anticipate and be thankful for the unappealing emotions as kind of like gifts wrapped in ugly paper, trusting that God has something in them that will be beautiful and new.

      1. I’m intrigued, Larry. Thanks for sharing this! I love the picture of difficult emotions being like “gifts wrapped in ugly paper [with] something in them that will be beautiful and new.” As you’ve been returning to this, how has this been unfolding for you?

    4. Praise God, Pastor, for this word today; this truly spoke to my heart. This is me all the way I am afraid of the unknown, so I try to say comfort zone because that is what I’ve known all my life examples: not taking care of priorities and suffer the consequences from it, going back to old behavior patterns, old eating habits, inconsistency, procrastination, laziness, slothfulness. I need prayer and more accountability from others, so I thank you for this word. Please keep me in prayer, and I know God has called me to a mighty calling. Thank you for Peace & Blessing over your Ministry. May God continue to use you mightily to spread the word.

      1. You’re welcome, Angel. One thing I didn’t get to in the post is how to uncover what’s under the surface in all this for us. Do you have a godly spiritual mentor, spiritual director, or good Christian therapist who can help you unpack where the fear that keeps you returning to old unwanted behaviors comes from for you? A wise, discerning person can help you look back at your story to uncover the voices and experiences that have thwarted hope and contributed to any faulty view you carry about who God has created you to be. Keep on pursuing Christ, Angel. Let us know if we can help.

    5. Where in your life are you returning to sin? Could this be your unconscious attempt to steer away from the desire you have to truly become the man or woman God has created you to be?

      I’m not sure I resonate with this. With all my heart I want to serve God but sin is sabotaging my efforts. I would like nothing more than to rise to the heights God destined for me. No part of me wants to be less than He created me to be…. except my sinful self. The struggle is in dying to self. The struggle is in surrender. I’d rather the struggle not be there. My heart longs for freedom.

      1. Thanks for your reply, Gary. I can appreciate it for sure. This post may not meet you, I respect that. I wrote it because there are many who keep returning to a specific area of sin often not realizing that part of what’s driving them is either a fear of the heights to which God wants to take them or the fear that the heights they long for are only in their head, not from God, and that they’ll end up with hopes dashed. This has been an active issue in my life for sure. Thanks again for your honest reply.

    6. Love this Josh! I think it is very true. When we trust God we lose control. Often I return to Sin because I am still in control. I may be miserable, but at least I could pull myself out of it. I am starting to get with the fact that God is bringing my life to places that I wouldn’t, but they are places where He is more glorified.

    7. Good article Josh! I can certainly relate. I believe part of my problem is what James 1 says being double minded.I know part of me loves God but I also no I love my sin to.I really need to ask the Lord to expose the ugly parts of my soul as well as disciplining my will towards righteousness.

      1. Thanks, Paul. I’m not sure I’m making the connection between this post and what you wrote about needing to ask the Lord to reveal the ugly parts of your soul. I may just be missing it. Help me connect the dots. Blessings to you, brother.

    8. I can relate to this article because I’ve returned to sin before & I like what all has been said here about returning to sin and why.. etc. but there’s an ingredient missing here. And that ingredient is the fear of the Lord. Proverbs says that it is by the fear is the Lord that a man will depart from evil. Proverbs also says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Many try to water down the word fear here to make it not mean fear but JESUS broke it down this way. JESUS said, ‘Do not fear man who can kill your body, but fear Him who can kill your body & soul, and cast you into hell’. Hello. You should fear the Lord so much that you don’t even think about returning to pornography! Look at the example God set for Sodom & Gamorrah, the smoke of the ashes of their burning is still smoldering to this day as an example of what would happen to those who live in like manner as they did who had given themselves over to the lusts of the flesh and of mind.. going after strange flesh. I am speaking here right out of the new testament by the way (Read 1st and 2nd Peter). Porn is not a small thing you’re doing there sunny boy. It is a grevious terrible sin. Fear the Lord and depart from that crap. That behavior has no place in the life of a child of God. Don’t let that junk keep you from God’s destiny for you. Only a fool would allow that to happen. Fear the Lord you his saints and all the people everywhere to whom we must give an account. Do you want to be on the side of God’s kindness and love and mercy or n the side of His severity and judgement?? You choose. Let us keep our lives pure for the grace of God teaches us this. God is holy and therefore we should live holy. Amen.

      1. Hi Chadd, I agree with you that fear of the Lord is also an important ingredient, but I think you’re oversimplifying the role that the fear of the Lord plays in leaving our sin behind. I’ve never met anyone who could “fear the Lord so much that you don’t even think about returning to pornography.” Also, looking to Jesus’ interactions with sexual sinners, it seems very clear that his aim was not about trying to get them to fear God more. We do live in an age that tries to minimize the reality that God’s judgment and wrath will come, and that ought to sober all of us to seek to not presume upon his grace. There’s tension here, for sure, and I think it’s summed up well in the old hymn: “‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace those fears relieved.”

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