Maybe you can relate to this: You're TIRED of struggling with this besetting sin. Maybe it's porn, masturbation, cutting, alcohol, anger, an eating disorder, drug use, selfish speech, pride, people pleasing or manipulation, or just some "garden variety" idolatry. Sometimes there are certain struggles that just drag on and on and they exhaust us. You may feel like, "It is killing me, it is stealing my joy, it is what got Christ crucified. Why is God not stopping it? I have prayed, cried, begged him for help. I have fought with EVERYTHING in me, and yet I still fail. WHY!? Does God not care? This sin is an offense against his glory! Does He not have the power to save and redeem? Why is heaven silent?? Why is God ignoring my prayers??"
Christian, this is a deep place of suffering. But it is not a place without God. The Psalms have much to say about this experience, and many psalmists have been in this place of feeling like heaven has closed its doors and God is distant. Psalm 13:1-2 puts it well, "How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?"
"Why is God allowing this struggle?" It's a very hard question to ask and begin to answer. It makes you wrestle with God in a very deep way. As you ask it, questions come up of God's sovereignty, God's goodness, His faithfulness to His promises, whether He is trustworthy at all, whether the Gospel is true, and whether you will trust God's wisdom by faith even when you don't see any reason for why He's doing what He's doing. This is not intro-level wrestling, this is the real meat & potatoes. This is where godly saints are forged.
But if you phrase the question a little differently, you start to turn the flavor. "What good is God bringing out of my struggle?" Ah, then you begin to open your eyes to see ALL the hundreds of ways that God is at work. Though there usually is not ONE single big answer for why God is doing this (He's much bigger than that), we can draw several TRUE answers from Scripture. Here are several for your encouragement:
- God's Glory: This is the MEGA-answer from all of Scripture. The glory of God is THE premiere reason why God does everything He does. But this is not a simple answer, nor is it a sterile and unsatisfying one. The aim for which God does all things is the exultation and display of His majesty and beauty, for the satisfaction of those who find their joy in Him. The prayer of Jesus in John 17 is for us to see His glory. The purpose of our eating, drinking, and everything is God's glory (1 Cor 10:31, Col 3:17, 1 Peter 4:11). The ultimate purpose of the universe is God's glory, and even our sin is subsumed into this epic purpose. Peter says this well in Acts 2:23, linking together God's purposes and man's sin, "This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death."
- God loves slow change: God has the power to change us in one instant. He could set us free from our struggles with sins just as easily as a child snaps the head off a dandelion. But often He doesn't. Often God lets us struggle slowly and learn holiness one step at a time. Elyse Fitzpatrick comments, "In our modern, microwave, zap-it-for-ten-seconds culture, we have become extremely impatient. We believe so strongly in our own ability to find quick and easy answers that we get frustrated when things take time. The kind of changes that God desires to make in us will take time - there's no denying that." (Page 151 from Love to Eat Hate to Eat). This steady slow growth often is God's method of helping us to get to know HIM as we struggle and wrestle through this sin and temptation. Slow growth also teaches us PATIENCE and dependence on the Lord for His timing.
- God specializes in bringing good out of evil: Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery, yet in Genesis 50:20 he claims, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." Although this is speaking of suffering and not sin in particular, the principle stands of God's ability to bring good even out of evil. Our sin against God is certainly evil, yet He has the amazing ability to reverse and redeem even our worst sins somehow for good. LOOK for how He might be doing this. Believe that He can.
- Greater hatred and violence against our sin: Frequent failures can be greatly frustrating. Use this to your advantage. Get angry against your sin, hate it more and more. Be strengthened in your fight and nurture your passion for holiness. Remind yourself of all the pain and suffering this sin brings, and let that fuel your violence. Remember that you are in a WAR, so put on that wartime mentality. Let it give you greater urgency for growth and strengthening.
- Empathy for other strugglers: When you fail, you develop compassion for others who fall. Maybe they don't fall in the same way, but you both experience that same rush of guilt and shame and anger. Let that move you TOWARD them in encouragement, gospel-reminders, giving them life and hope, and helping them with practical accountability. Help others with the same help that you yourself need.
- Protect you from pride: Imagine if there was no failure! Imagine how prideful you would become. You would quickly think that you had no need for the gospel, no need for growth or spiritual discipline. Imagine the arrogance and disdain you could develop for those who are still struggling. They are weak, compared with your strength. And gradually God becomes irrelevant. Thank Him for the humbling that He is providing to you through this long struggle.
- The presence of a fight shows that God is at work: Be thankful that there even IS a fight. If the Holy Spirit was not in you, there would be NO fight, just your flesh ruling over you and unchallenged love for your sin.
- To help you fight OTHER sins: John Owen has profound wisdom on this point from his classic The Mortification of Sin in Believers as he chastises us for fighting against ONE sin but allowing others to walk free. He writes, "If you hate sin as sin, every evil way, you would be no less watchful against everything that grieves and disquiets the Spirit of God, than against that which grieves and disquiets your own soul. It is evident that you contend against sin merely because of your own trouble by it. Would your conscience be quiet under it, you would let it alone. Did it not disquiet you, it should not be disquieted by you. Now, can you think that God will set in with such hypocritical endeavors - that even his Spirit will bear witness to the treachery and falsehood of your spirit? Do you think he will ease you of that which perplexes you, that you may be at liberty to that which no less grieves Him? No. God says, 'Here is one, if he could be rid of this lust I should never hear of him more; let him wrestle with this, or he is lost.' Let not any man think to do his own work that will not do God's. God's work consists in universal obedience; to be freed of the present perplexity is their own only." Note the strange mercy of God, "Let him wrestle with this, or he is lost."
- Good Discipline: The Lord often brings suffering and difficulty into our lives for our discipline and instruction. He does this because He is good, and He desires us to share in His holiness. Sometimes the only way for us to grow is for Him to discipline us, so we should thank Him and be grateful that He doesn't just let us go in our sin. Pray for Discipline. John Owen writes again, "How do you know but that God has suffered the lust wherewith you have been perplexed to get strength in you, and power over you, to chasten you for your other negligences and common lukewarmness in walking before him; at least to awaken you to the consideration of your ways, that you may make a thorough work and change in your course of walking with him?"
- Knowing Jesus more: One of the great benefits of struggling with our sin is knowing Jesus more. It will cause us to press into Him more deeply, to trust in Him more urgently, and to cling to His cross more desperately.
- Deeper knowledge and joy in the gospel: Nothing shows you the depth of your brokenness like struggling with ongoing sin. It humbles you, it shows the power of your sin, and CONVINCES you more than anything else that you ARE a sinner. You cannot save yourself, and you NEED a Savior. This is painful but precious fruit. We wish there was another way. We wish that God in His sovereignty would choose differently. But this is the path He has given. You cannot know deep joy in the gospel unless you know the deep guilt of your sin; THEN you will know the depth to which Christ has dropped to bring you up from the muck.
- Self-Control and Spiritual Strengthening: Struggle can strengthen you. Temptation can be your gym. Let this fight be that which builds your self-control and strengthens your spiritual muscles. Use it to grow in Scripture memory, in faith, in violent repentance. Do not waste this fight!
- Some other mysterious good reason: If we believe that God's character is good, then even if we don't have a good reason, we know that God is doing this for good. We can trust Him as our loving Father. He has demonstrated His love to us in the Cross, how can we claim He is anything else other than good and merciful and kind? Let us wait for the Lord, and be courageous (Psalm 27:14)
- ASK the question for yourself: Why is God allowing this? How is God bringing GOOD out of my EVIL? MEDITATE on it and write down at least 5 things: Maybe you see softness of heart, deeper gospel knowledge, dependence on him, patience, self-control, spiritual strengthening of the muscle of faith. Choose to SEE the goodness that God is creating, and be encouraged. Which answer in the list above was most encouraging to you?
- Ask the question of others: Hopefully there are people in your life that know you well, maybe a roommate, spouse, close friend, family member, or mentor. Ask them how they have seen God bring good out of your sin struggle. Ask them to remind you of what the Scripture says for our encouragement about why God allows evil to flourish for a time. Beg them to remind you of the gospel and God's good character, lest you forget and give up the fight.
Questioning and trusting,
The Relentless Fight