In Loving God, chapter 10, Colson gets intensely personal, and not just about his own dark shadows. He delves into the evil that lurks in believers’ hearts because we are a part of Adam’s race. He described a situation that took place while in the military where he was a Marine lieutenant, leading a troop in Puerto Rico. He took advantage of a poor local peddler to indulge his troop with free cold drinks on a scorching day, making himself to be a hero to them but a scoundrel to the man and to God. Though it had happened years before he had become a Christian, God later brought it to Charles’ heart and mind, perhaps to show him the depths of his depravity as he took and evil delight in fleecing a local trader to make him look good in the eyes of his underlings.
You could say that the evil that lies within has been squelched, irradiated, or defeated once we become Christians and we no longer have to deal with it. Colson used the example of a friend and student of Augustine’s, Alypius, to demonstrate that the sin battle is not over after redemption takes place. Alypius had delighted in attending gladiator contests, complete with bloody violence and carnage. Though he tried to break that addiction, one day “friends” drug him back into the arena and though he desperately resisted, he opened his eyes and once again drank in the insane violence.
What does this have to do with us? Plenty. It’s a big topic, but I’ll take a shot with a few implications and applications:
It’s easy to think that before we become Christians that the descriptions of Jeremiah 17:9 and Romans 3:10-20 apply to us, but not after: The heart if deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it? There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God…Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit, the poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Theologians have debated about what happens to the sin nature one we are regenerated. Some say it is taken away through Jesus and when we sin, it’s just our flesh that defeats us. The solution would then be to subdue the flesh and eventually not sin anymore.
Are we good looking on the outside, but inside we are still filled with unsurrendered selfishness, fits of anger, pride, bitterness, materialism, fear, and self hatred? And do we still fall prey to the same delight in evil that Colson described about himself or Alypius? It doesn’t go away by not talking about it to others, ourselves or to God. Others probably see the things we think we’re successfully hiding if they’re around us enough. Because our hearts are deceitful, we can be deceived not just by others but by our feelings and self perceptions.
1 Timothy 5:24 says The sins of some men are obvious and the sins of others trail behind them. In other words we can fool some people some of the time, but eventually what goes on behind closed doors comes out in the open. If it doesn’t in this life, it will when we stand before God to give an account of what we’ve done in the body, good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10).
Sometimes I hear Christians dismiss sin habits in their lives by saying “It’s all under the blood.” This would mean that they think they can live however, mess up and blunder forward because Jesus forgave us once and for all. As a result they live sloppy Christian lives, riddled with chinks in their armor. The open doors of unconfessed and unresolved sin leaves room for those around to discredit them and for Satan to harass. Rather than to clean things up, some Christians just stay busy and on the run. They’ve always got music, commotion, distractions and action to keep you or themselves from getting too close. In James 5:16 we are told to Confess our sins to one another that we may be healed. Perhaps graceful probing about sin needs to be a regular question we ask each other, especially when it comes to praying for healing or deliverance from some sort of calamity. That’s not saying that sickness and trouble come because of sin, but it still needs to be inventoried.
Other times Christians fall into traps of sin because they do view themselves as a pretty good Christian, not susceptible to affairs, addictions and depression. Author and pastor Gordon McDonald had an affair over 20 years ago. He went through church discipline and a time of stepping out of ministry. I heard a radio interview after restoration had taken place where he commented that he just never thought he was able to be lured into such sin by his own heart. But after the affair, he realized that his evil heart was certainly capable of infidelity and so much more.
That is why we desperately need Jesus! In John 15:5 Jesus told us Apart from Me you can do nothing. Maybe the view that McDonald had before his fall would lead him to not value prayer, thinking that he’s got everything under control. If I’m a pretty good Christian, then I don’t need to deliberately place myself in the palm of God’s hand everyday. I can do it on my own. And I don’t need others holding me accountable in a close body relationship, nor do I need Scripture. David knew he did when he wrote How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your Word. I have hidden Your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against You. Psalm 119:9,11
So we can either think we are pretty good and not need to address sin because we’re covered. Or we can think we’re just a sitting duck to sin’s bullets and that’s the way it is until we get to Heaven.
When I went to the graduate school of what is now Columbia International University and Biblical Seminary in Columbia South Carolina, I learned about how the normal Christian life is the victorious Christian life. They deliberately taught and practiced how to address sin and live a Christian life that is not defeated by it. In Romans 6 God declares “Sin shall not have dominion over you” and that we’ve been set free from being mastered by sin. That involves identifying those besetting sins, confessing them, renouncing them, and staying as far away from temptation as we can. It also includes accountability partners, a system of checks and balances, and absolute immersion in a life that yields and trusts Jesus for our victory.
Denial and defeat do not have to be our survival tactics. Instead, understanding the depths of evil that still lurks in our hearts and clinging to Jesus for our cleansing an