On a visit to the Philippines, I spent part of a weekend with Pastor David Yardy in Manila. His was a newly-established church, attended by about 100 mostly young converts, many of whom were professional people.
At a steamy Sunday morning service one young man stood and spoke of his struggle with lust. At first, this seemed unusually candid to me, because during my time as pastor of a college church in the United States, sins like lust were usually confessed in private during times of counseling and prayer.
As the young man in Manila spoke I wondered how the young women present would see him from then on. However, Pastor David responded skillfully. He stood and quietly acknowledged the confession, explaining that this was among the struggles a new Christian would experience in his/her desire to be inwardly pure. He spoke clearly of the way to victory in Christ.
There was a refreshing honesty and deep seriousness about sin in that congregation that day. These Christians had recently come to faith in Christ and there was no impulse to conceal the realities of the old life.
The pastor was well aware that God willed his newborn children to be victorious not only over outward and more public sins such as stealing and lying, but also hidden “heart” sins. Pastor Yardy’s ministry was in accord with what the Apostle Paul wrote to Christians long before: So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:16).
In that letter the Apostle Paul identifies eighteen sins of our fallen natures, and they can be divided into four groups.
Sensual sins: immorality (fornication, or sex outside of marriage), uncleanness (inner defilement produced by harboring salacious thoughts), licentiousness (a reckless disregard for public decency).
Religious sins: idolatry (whatever we allow to dominate our affections can create an element of worship, whether of possessions, status or even the world’s values), witchcraft (the use of magic in the calling up of evil spirits for information or advice).
There are interpersonal sins: enmity (hidden feelings of unbrotherliness), strife (inclination to create division or conflict), jealousy (causing rivalry with or even hatred of the fortunate), anger (hurtful rage), selfishness (self-absorption, egocentricity), dissension (open hostility), party spirit (divisiveness, wilful breach of relationships), envy (secret desire to deprive another of what he/she has), murder (hatred which could grow to the taking of another’s life).
And there are vulgar, coarse sins marked by loss of self-control: drunkenness and carousing.
What a cesspool of evil! Sins from this catalogue are often the cause of inner bondage, or at the root of conflict in families or Christian communities and organizations.
Only the enablement of the mighty Spirit of God can help us conquer the sinful nature. And his help is only possible if we are willing to acknowledge the reality of these darker exertions as elements of our fallenness. They cannot be educated out of existence. They cannot be disciplined into good behavior. The Apostle Paul’s remedy is much more radical.
He writes: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24). The sinful nature must be put on the cross and by faith and the use of Christian practices kept there. These practices include honest confession of the reality of heart sin, association with healthy-minded Christians, daily Bible reading, prayer, regular communal worship, and pastoral counsel if needed.
As Saint Paul exhorted long ago: live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:16).
Photo credit: Claudio Ungari (via flickr.com)