Finding Fulfillment in Following God

Today was a horrible day.

Some would judge me and say I am oppressed by religious guilt over being human, maybe I even need counseling to help myself believe that the “petty things” I regret are truly petty. But, I know it’s more than that. It’s not about the actual things nor whether it is fundamentally right or wrong to eat sugar, get sucked into the internet vortex, or hit the snooze button.

It’s about so much more than that, its about love.

It’s about whether or not I love enough to make a choice I know is right over whatever I “feel like” in the moment. It’s about intentionally choosing laziness, comfort, or sugar over my calling, over pursuing God.

What is Sin?

Sometimes sin is serious – grave matter chosen intentionally without compunction – but most often sin is “innocent”. Most normal people aren’t tempted to murder, child abuse, or bank robbery, because sin without its mask is abhorrent to us (usually – if we are healthy adults with some degree of conscience. The fact that this is quickly becoming NOT the norm is a whole other topic for another day)

The point is, that in order for us to fall prey to sin, it has to look pleasing to us in some way. it has to be “attractive to the eyes” and appealing to our senses. (Genesis 3:6)

We have to want the sin more than the reason not to sin.

That’s what makes sin sinful.

It’s a choice to choose something over God.

A spouse sins against their marriage bond when they love the idea of a fling more than they love their spouse. It doesn’t matter if they carry it out or to what degree (Matthew 5:28), they have sinned against their marriage in desiring something more than the marriage they already have.

For a faithful spouse to consider the marital infidelity of their spouse abominable is not selfishness, or cruelty, it is not insensitive, or unreasonable, it is actually healthy, joyful, and completely normal for them to desire to live in a relationship where they are (and feel) safe, valued, and prioritized.

Love rearranges our priorities – Matthew Kelly

Exodus 34:14 says, “Our God is a jealous God”. He pursues us like a lover (Song of Songs). He desires us singly, uniquely, and wholly for intimacy and even union with him (Isaiah 62:5 – This is an EXTREMELY deep topic that cannot be reduced to a single verse – but, may it suffice for now)

Sin isn’t called sin because its inherently evil

Although the argument could be made – that’s not the point. Living “rightly” is not about meticulously following lists of commandments, traditions, and pharisaical norms… it’s about relationship. It’s about God saying, I want to be your God and I want you to be my people (verses). I want to gather you under my wings like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings (verses). I want to dote on you, teach you, show you, feed you, live for you, and die for you.

Unrequited love is painful. Love that gives without receptive appreciation is poured out on the ground. The heart that loves is deeply saddened when its love is rejected, and hurt when it is reviled.

He DESIRES our love, but made us free, because He doesn’t want an obligated, puppy love that is meaningless because “instinct” is its only option. He wants us to love Him back, truly, to choose Him back!

Sin is sin because it is a betrayal of love, a rejection of love. It is sin because it damages a relationship that, ideally, would mean more to us than whatever we desire that could damage it.

Original Sin

Adam and Eve desired to be like God and choose their own good and evil, rather than bask in the glow of their relationship with Him. They chose to doubt His word over gratitude for His providence.  They chose curiosity and instant gratification over the “risk” of the explicit consequences (death, pain, suffering, and expulsion).

This is why we could say, every sin is a form of idolatry.

Because the antidote to sin is LOVE.

“He that has love is far from all sin” – Polycarp (155 AD)

To the strong and healthy married couple, the idea of infidelity is not even a temptation, it’s revolting.

To the soul deeply in love, everything else pales in comparison. It makes us do incredible things and make incredible sacrifices we didn’t know were possible without even thinking of them as sacrifices. It gets mothers through labor and delivery. It has kept hundreds if not thousands of deployed husbands and fathers alert and determined and sometimes even brought them home safely. It is the secret that helps grandma’s cook without recipes, and the only reason to steward our planet.

We do hard things because they are “worth it” to us, not because they are easy.

Is Sin “Inevitable”?

So many people chalk sin up to “the human condition”. It’s impossible to stop sinning for us weak human beings. Thus, even trying is a recipe for disaster (not to mention depression). It gets classified as “striving” and “pharisaical religiosity” and people write books saying how we have to quit trying so hard and bask more in grace, mercy and love. After all, that’s what Christs death meant, right?. He died because we are sinners and His perfection must suffice for each of us. (Jesus >Religion)

If there is a gospel of self-improvement, it is a damning one. It is a gospel that is not good news at all; it will wall you off shrivel you up, and destroy your sensitivity to God’s pursuit. This is why it must be destroyed and replaced by the true gospel of life-transforming grace. Only the grace of God s enough to bring us home, make us worthy, and keep us in the love of God. – When Strivings Cease (103)

And, yes, in a certain sense, they would be right, of our own volition and of our own strength, simple “resolve” never to sin again is almost a precise recipe for exactly how to fall more quickly. I don’t know if its reverse psychology or just me personally, but every time I tell myself, “Today is the day! I’m turning over a new leaf. I am officially going to be Mary Poppins and be perfect” It’s pretty much the worst day ever.

But every day I say, “Wow. I’m a total disaster, and every time I try, I fail. Lord, I cant. This is miserable. Help!” That’s the day that is beautiful. That’s the day nothing goes as planned and yet somehow it all gets handled, and well. That’s the day I spend every moment not striving to be perfect but to lean more perfectly into Him, into HIS Strength, into grace. The days I surrender to the impossible and pray my way through it, somehow I always know what to do, and manage to do it.

But, it’s not an accident.

God doesn’t want perfection in action, He wants perfect dependence, perfection in LOVE.

Be perfect even as your heavenly father is perfect. – Matthew 5:48

If God is love (1 John 4:8) then it makes sense that what He is looking for is perfection in love.

And if we love, then anything that is contrary to love is repulsive to us.

As we grow in love, sin slowly but surely goes from “unavoidable” to literally unthinkable.

The Role of Guilt and Regret

This is why when someone who loves God sins, that they experience regret. Not because they need therapy to help them stop feeling sorry for “guilt”, but because guilt is a healthy response toward having wounded a relationship that matters to us. It inspires a desire to seek forgiveness and to change. Forgiveness builds stronger relationships because the trust level increases, not only because someone is willing to own up and apologize, but also because the love of the other person is strong enough to be willing) to remain vulnerable and choose to trust again.

This is why an apology isn’t good enough unless it is accompanied by true contrition. Guilt helps us cultivate regret and regret helps us realize that we don’t want to repeat the same offense again. It helps us to see that whatever negative choice was made was less valuable to us than the relationship it damaged, the trust it betrayed, the hurt that it caused. Contrition says,

  • I wish I had never made this choice and if I had the chance to go back and choose over again I would choose differently

or at least,

  • I learned a lesson through that negative choice that will make me think and choose differently when I am faced with this same or similar situation in the future“.
This is why love is the only antidote to sin, and why all sin essentially boils down to a form of idolatry.

I have to love God more than whatever tempts me to leave Him, rely on anything else for strength besides Him, or grasp for what I think I want rather than trusting in His provision.

This is why sin is so much more simple than memorizing endless lists of “impossible” rules, and also why no list of rules could ever encompass the totality of sin, because sin is infidelity of the heart, a duplicity, a lack of focus.

If we weren’t talking about God we could apply the term sin to almost any relationship.

A doctor sins against his patients by prescribing unnecessary medications and procedures because he hopes to increase his profits. A pro-football player sins against his franchise by putting himself in situations where he could get injured off the field. A parent sins against their child by cruelty, neglect, unreasonable expectations, etc, etc, etc.

We don’t call sin sin because God is egotistical but simply because we are using the word sin – a word we always associate with God. It is only logical and just to expect a doctor to abide by the Hippocratic oath, or for a franchise to expect their athletes not to injure themselves off duty. These people have chosen this loyalty, and anything less is clearly not only inadequate but clearly WRONG!

It is the same with God.

Do I claim Him as my king? Is He my strength and my shield? my fortress and my deliverer? Is He my all? (cites) Do I call myself His follower?

Then why do I still turn to food? Why am I still so worried about money? Why do I still keep falling in all the areas I know are my weakest?

Is it a sign that I should give up? Accept my weaknesses as a hopeless cause and call myself “justified by grace”?

No, my weakness is simply a signpost, a priceless piece of helpful information, a label for my idol. The source of my next prayer.

“Oh, my God, grant me greater love. Deepen my desire for You. Help me to love you more than _____”

(fill in the blank – sugar, new clothes, my paycheck, my house, my plans, my kids, my ideals, my perfect health, my longevity, my looks, my being “in-the-loop”, my public image, my addictions, etc…)

Now, the very thing that used to be our greatest source of temptation, that weakness we could never avoid, is instantly transformed into a cue for prayer. When I feel those desires, urges, or situations that used to be my  downfall, with a little practice and a LOT of leaning into prayer, instead of being tempting, become literally the opposite, the source of our becoming made perfect.

Temptations are not the end, they are the very fire with which we are forged (Malachi 3:3)

When the Lord permits temptations, He is testing me. This is my opportunity.  Am I ready to move on to something new? or Do I still need more work in this area?

You have proved my heart, and visited it by night, You have tried me by fire: and iniquity has not been found in me. – Psalm 17:3

I do not perfect myself, it is He who is perfecting me.

I do not increase my own love for Him, I merely pursue this increase in love, this increase in desire. I show my openness and my commitment, He is the one who does the growing.

I do not strive to make myself perfect, I strive to trust deeper. I do not strive to break my own addictions, I strive to replace my idols with God. I do not strive to act nicer, I strive to love more.

My calling is love – Therese of Lisieux

And thus, my darling, do we become sinless,

not of our own accord but by falling in love. Not of our own strength, but out of a literal loathing for anything that could possibly ever come between me and my God.

Becoming sinless is not an accident,

nor a special grace only given to a select few. It is literally the first and most important commandment, and the explicit calling of every single Christian,

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and your strength. – Mark 12:30, Matthew 22:37

So, let us strive, not to prove how amazing our will power is, but to always lean in deeper to His strength. Not to preform impressive acts of philanthropy in order to “leave a legacy”, but to discover the answer to the question, “What does love mean to God?”. Let us strive not to look good, but to be good. Not to offer appearance but to ask what it means to be genuine.

And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. – 1 Corinthians 13:2

Tools you will need for the battle:

Unanswered questions:

Yes, I know this article leaves some questions “unanswered”, and to many it may seem largely impractical. But, give it some time to sink in. I promise there are more tools and we will cover many more of them in detail, but for now. Just focus on loving Him. Everything will turn out right.