If I was a doctor and had the cure for some dreaded disease: say cancer or Alzheimer’s, the medical community and the general public would be clamoring at my door for the treatment. Imagine what kind of money I would make. I would be a zillionaire! What is it about the ability to alleviate a dreaded plague on human life that interests us?
What if I told you I had the answer to overcoming habitual sin? You know the one I am talking about. It’s the secret one. The one that masters you most of the time. It’s the struggle you should be over by now but aren’t. If you had a nickel for every time you confessed this one you would be rich. The one struggle area that you would give up a year’s salary to overcome. Yeah, that one!
If I had the answer to that question, I could write a book that everybody would read. I would be whisked away from conference to conference. There would be no end to the demands on my time. I would be dubbed the sin doctor! Listen to the Psalmist describe the situation we all face
12 Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.
13 Also keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me;
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Thy sight,
O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.
In the passage the David lists 3 kinds of sin: Errors, hidden faults and presumptuous sins. I can identify with each of these. Sometimes, I sin by way of error. I just make a mistake, albeit that a mistake towards God’s law is sin. Poor judgment, bad decisions and rash behavior plague us all. We all experience error. It’s what the humanist means when he says “everybody makes mistakes”. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. The second expression of sin mentioned here is hidden fault. I remember as a young believer being exposed to the idea that God is gracious not to reveal all your sin lest you be overwhelmed. Fortunately for us, some of our sin is hidden from our view. I heard a story one time about a guy who went to clear a field he owned of rocks and he proceeded to remove the boulders that were easily visible and upon re-inspection of the field realized that the boulders were not the only things that needed to be cleared but there were a lot of mid size rocks and a lot of small rocks and even tiny pebbles. Our hidden faults are like that. One of my mentors told me as a young believer he went to a Bible study one week and they talked about how he shouldn’t be having premarital sex and then the next week he learned that we wasn’t supposed to even lust. Hilariously, he said, “yeah one week I learned I couldn’t do it anymore and then I learned I couldn’t even think about it, what a bummer!”
The third category of sin listed here is the most troublesome: presumptuous sin. The NIV calls it willful sin. In the Greek the word carries an idea of arrogance, pride and insolence. If you break the word presumptuous down you get the prefix pre: which means before and also the root idea of assumption which means to take something for granted. In the case of sin, this is a willful, arrogant presupposition that God will forgive your sin. We assume ahead of time that God will forgive us and do it anyway. Our favorite verse is I John 1:9- if we confess our sins he is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Now I have to admit that without the concept of forgiveness I would be utterly discouraged, but just because He forgives doesn’t mean I need to do it. That’s what David is talking about in the verse. Keep me from this kind of sin, let it not have dominion over me… then shall I be upright and innocent from great transgression. Just because my wife might forgive my indiscretions doesn’t mean that I should go have an affair.
So how does a young man (or a middle age man in my case) stay pure? Ps 119:9-11 speaks to this.
9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
By keeping it according to Thy word.
With all my heart I have sought Thee;
10 Do not let me wander from Thy commandments.
11 Thy word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against Thee.
Earlier in this passage David expounds on this idea of God’s word and its role in overcoming our sin when he writes:
7 The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
I think ultimately though the key to overcoming habitual sin is in the words of David in vs. 13 “keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins; Let them not rule over me.” I think David and I have come to the same conclusion, I don’t have a prayer unless God keeps me back from sin… unless God protects me from the rule of them I seem destined to stay enslaved to my “precious” sin. I need a big dose of His intervention in my life. I need to quit living the assumption lifestyle of the habitual sinner. We all know what ASS-U-MEing does to us don’t we? Sounds simple, huh. Too simple, yet profoundly out of reach. The secret to overcoming a lifestyle of habitual sin is connection to a God who intervenes in our lives. Honestly, I am not sure what that looks like. The idea is worthy, the application may kill me. Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said “if anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” God help us!