How to Face Besetting Sins, Bad Habits, or Addictions

Lina AbuJamra
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Besetting sin can be a lot like a thorn in the flesh. It is powerful and persistent in its attack on us. In 2 Corinthians 12:7–9, the apostle Paul made reference to a thorn in his flesh that harassed him and made him feel weak. Christians have long tried to guess what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. Despite our not knowing, most of us readily identify with Paul’s illustration. We each have our own thorn in the flesh.

Me and My Marshmallows

Let’s say that my thorn in the flesh is eating marshmallows. (Don’t get stuck on the illustration.) I love marshmallows like most people do, but if you follow the logic of the illustration, I believe it will help you understand how powerful sin’s lie can be.

“God goes to great lengths to save us, not because of who we are but despite our weaknesses, failings, and even sins. The whole thing hinges on His grace.”

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been hooked on eating marshmallows (again, this is just an illustration). I eat marshmallows not because I’m not sure whether God approves of it, but despite knowing He does not. That’s how sin works. We don’t sin because we’re not sure sin is wrong, but despite knowing it’s wrong. Sin is an act of rebellion against God. At the heart of sin is a raging battle: my will or God’s.

The problem with marshmallows is that they are enticing. When I look at a marshmallow, I lose sight of God. I’ve tried to convince myself that I can both think about God and marshmallows at the same time, but years into eating marshmallows I know better: it’s always either God
or marshmallows. Yet, I keep a bag of marshmallows in my pantry promising myself not to eat them; but who am I kidding? They have too much power over me.

I eat marshmallows when I’m sad. I eat marshmallows when I’m bored. I eat marshmallows when God feels far away. I eat marshmallows when I’m tired of doing all the right things. And truthfully, sometimes I eat marshmallows just because I want to.

Every single time I eat marshmallows, I feel bad about it. Somewhere between the moment that I start thinking about marshmallows to the point of no return, I lose the urge to fight. The promise marshmallows make becomes deafening. They whisper to me, “We will make you happy.” And you know how this story goes: one marshmallow is never enough. So, I lie to myself: God won’t care if I eat one marshmallow. No one will know if I eat a marshmallow. It’s just one marshmallow; it’s not like I’m eating a whole s’more. I’ll stop eating marshmallows tomorrow. So what? Some people don’t even think eating marshmallows is a sin. I just grew up in the wrong denomination. Don’t spiritualize this. Everyone gets hungry from time to time. It’s normal to eat marshmallows.

Sadly, the minute I give in and eat the marshmallow, I see clearly. I hate marshmallows. They make me feel sick and ashamed and weak. They never bring me the happiness they promised.

So, I do what we all would do: I confess my sin to God. I tell Him I’m sorry. I tell Him I hate marshmallows. I’ll never eat another marshmallow again.

I want it to be true. I throw away the bag of marshmallows and promise myself and God that I’ll never do it again. Until one day, I accidentally walk past a bag of marshmallows at the grocery store. And I remember how much I love marshmallows. I remember how hard of a week I’ve had. I tell myself I deserve a marshmallow. So, I buy the bag of marshmallows telling myself that this time it won’t hurt me. I can control this whole marshmallow thing.

Then I eat the marshmallows.

The minute I eat, I see. I hate marshmallows. They make me sad. They make me feel weak and ashamed and lonely and unloved.

By that point I can’t keep track of how many times I’ve told God how much I hate marshmallows and prefer Him instead. I can’t keep track of how many times I’ve promised Him I won’t do it again. Will He believe me this time? Will my resolve stick this time? Who am I kidding? God must see right through me: I still don’t hate marshmallows enough to stop buying them. So why am I even bothering?

Wrestling With Habitual Sin

Now the real questions start: Do I even know God? Am I even a Christian? Christians ought to hate marshmallows. Christians don’t stay stuck in a marshmallow-eating world. And even if I was a Christian, why would God even want me now? I’m a fraud and a liar. I guess I might as well just enjoy the marshmallows. I’m a lost cause anyway. And I’m tired—so tired. I don’t want to fight this battle anymore. I want to quit.

“God is a covenant God. He never breaks His promises.”

Do you feel stuck in a similar cycle? It’s the worst place in the world. It’s been said that “sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” But it’s more than that. For some of us, this pattern of defeat is the near deconstruction of our faith. The idea that God promises to transform people but hasn’t bothered to transform me is too much to bear.

Sin will blind you to the truth while promising to satisfy you. Sin will ravage your soul while promising to relieve your pain. Sin always promises what it cannot provide and delivers what you do not desire.

We’re not the first people to struggle with sin. Have you ever stopped to consider that almost every man or woman that God ever used greatly struggled with sin?

Abraham struggled with fear.
Sarah couldn’t shake her doubt.
Jacob was a liar.
Judah slept with his daughter-in-law.
Moses had an anger problem.

Aaron was an idol worshiper.
Samson was a womanizer.
Jonah was a racist.
Peter struggled with pride.

The list is long, but God’s track record is clear. He doesn’t use us based on our performance but because of His love for us. God is a covenant God. He never breaks His promises. When He called Abraham, He made a covenant with him where He swore to remain faithful to him no matter what (Gen. 12). In the New Testament, God established a new covenant with His people through Jesus Christ. His death on the cross secured our relationship with Him once and for all. God goes to great lengths to save us, not because of who we are but despite our weaknesses, failings, and even sins. The whole thing hinges on His grace.

For Further Reading:

Fractured Faith

by Lina AbuJamra

After your faith has fractured, let what takes its place be the real thing . . . at last. Somewhere along the way, the Christianity you knew...

book cover for Fractured Faith