Step 7. Embrace the belief that we are, and will always be, experts at sinning.
This is the sure-fire cure — the closing argument that incarcerates the Pharisee in all of us. This is what steers us clear of pharisaical attitudes and brings us back to our senses when we relapse. The Pharisee who sees himself as an expert sinner is no longer being ruled by pharisaical attitudes. He is a recovering Pharisee.
The Pharisee’s argument is based on being better. Take that away and the whole thing falls apart. But be careful. This has to be genuine. You can fool yourself. You can say on one hand, “Yep, I’m an expert sinner,” while still harboring secret thoughts such as, “Of course, we know this isn’t necessarily true. I’m not as bad a sinner as those types of people, and I’m certainly better than so-and-so. I mean, we all know that.” These attitudes are firmly entrenched and hard to eradicate from our thinking.
Here’s where the reality of the 12-step metaphor really helps, because the alcoholic never ceases to be an alcoholic; he just doesn’t drink. But by not drinking, he doesn’t see himself as better than anybody. He’s still an alcoholic. He’s fragile. His ability to say no to alcohol is based on reliance on a higher power, not on self-determination, or being better, or even being cured.
At some point he hit bottom. No one goes to A.A. until that happens. You don’t go to A.A. to “better yourself.” You go because you have lost control of yourself, and you need help. Everyone in A.A. knows what the bottom looks like. In the same way, every Christian should know the depths of their own sin. They have stared into the abyss. They have seen what their sin does to others. It’s not that recovering Pharisees are no longer sinners, or are no longer experts at sinning, it’s that they are seeking, through the power of God, to not walk in their sin. They are taking it a day at a time, dealing with each sin as it comes to their consciousness by the Holy Spirit.
In 1 Corinthians 4:4, Paul says, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” In other words, I am not consciously sinning, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t sin in my life or that I couldn’t be sinning right now and not aware of it. I know I’m still a sinner but I rest my case with the Lord.
And if that is bottom line for you, you will not look down on anyone anymore, because you realize that in you — that is in your natural make-up without God in your life — there is no good thing (Romans 7:18).
People like me with really good church backgrounds and fine Christian families have the hardest time with this because we have trained ourselves to hide our sin. Our Christianity has been mostly for appearances, and our sin has been secret. The repugnant truth is safely under the surface where we keep it. We need to peel away that surface. We need to take a good, hard look into our ugly, selfish, hurtful, angry, abusive lives, until we realize there is no sinner out there who can beat us at this. We are experts at sinning and experts at covering it up, and the sooner we can get to a recovering Pharisee meeting, the better.
You may have seen a clever Internet ad about a new product that immediately blocks all the odors in the toilet when you deliver some solid waste there. You spray the surface of the water with this product and it coats the water, captures the waste as soon as it hits, and releases sweet smelling aromas instead. Wow. There’s much of my Christian life right there. This is not the fragrance of Christ, it’s the sweet smell of cover-up, and underneath, is still nothing but poop. Paul would certainly relate to this, having called all of his religious pedigree nothing but a pile of manure (Philippians 3:4-8).
We are — every one of us — experts at sinning, and the sooner we agree with that, and accept God’s grace and forgiveness, the sooner we can identify with all sinners, and get on with sharing the good news of the Gospel of Welcome with everybody.
Try your hand at the following questions, for your own reflection and for discussion with others:
Step 7: Embrace the belief that we are, and will always, be experts at sinning.
- Why is it so damaging to both leaders and followers alike to live in an atmosphere of denial? Why do we wish to live in a structured and ranked hierarchy rather than in a community of fellowship and equality?
- What are the inevitable messages we send to our struggling fellow believers and also to non-Christians when we claim we are completely victorious over sin?
- If we are relying on ourselves to “get us through,” have we experienced God’s grace? Is it possible to truly encounter God’s grace but choose to reject it or to supplement it with human effort? What can we learn from the Galatians about the deception of works-righteousness?
- Is the experience of confession and forgiveness as fresh in your life as it was at your conversion? If not, do you believe that it can be?
- Does the discovery of more sin in our lives mean we are regressing? How can intimacy with God and fellowship with others be compatible with a constant and growing awareness of sin?