Day has begun and I’m already sinning
Help me to change this heart that I have
Lord, help me taste of the grace that You’re giving.
I want to be a spiritual man.
“Let the Old Man Die” lyrics by Chuck Butler
Every one of us struggles with something. Some of us relapse into that “something.” Afterward, how we handle the relapse will have a lot to do with our future successes or failures.
To struggle is to have temptations, sometimes towards one particular life-dominating sin. You knew the type. It’s usually some bodily pleasure that we’ve discovered, then returned to, and then, after years of repetition, we’ve established as a pattern.
Overeating, porn, smoking, gambling, and drug abuse are all pretty good examples. What we discover we incorporate, and what we incorporate becomes predictable – a regular, often destructive part of our routine.
Predictable, that is until God puts His finger on that part of your life. That’s when He calls you to repentance, and when that happens, a new standard gets birthed.
Suddenly, what you used to allow is unacceptable, and abstaining from that “something” is a new mandate. New standards of what we do or don’t allow are sure to follow anytime we say “yes” when God says “this has to go.” That’s part of discipleship living.
But to say “God has called me to stop doing this” is also a way of saying “I’m committed to resisting the desire to keep on doing it.” Sometimes the desire is resisted successfully; sometimes not. And that opens up the possibility of relapse.
Relapse happens when you return to behavior you renounced. It’s often called “breaking sobriety” because it means you broke a commitment to abstain from something addictive; some would also call it a backslide. But whatever name the relapse rose goes by it smells just as bad, and is a thing to be avoided, guarded against, but also prepared for. It’s somewhat like John’s interesting statement about sin:
These things I write unto you that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. I John 2:1
Clearly John wasn’t saying it’s OK to sin. But he was saying that if you do, you have an advocate. Likewise, when you commit to abstaining from porn, fornication, drunkenness or gluttony, you don’t by any means have to relapse. You can stay clean; there’s no reason to return to those behaviors.
But if you do, you have an advocate with the Father who will cleanse and restore you. In that vein, let me offer a few immediate steps to take if, God forbid, you should relapse.
Decide now who’d you’d call if you relapsed. In most cases, an accountability partner is your best bet (and if you’re committed to abstaining from addictive behavior, then an accountability partner really is a must!) since he works with you weekly and you’re probably in regular contact with him.
But a trusted friend or member of your church will also be a good choice, or perhaps a pastor or counselor. What matters is that you know who to call and what number to use, and that you call him immediately. Tell him you relapsed, and that you’ll need his prayers and support. If you have a severe crisis situation, meet with him ASAP.
With the help of whoever you notify, figure out what went wrong. Usually, people relapse because they slacked off on their prayer life, scripture reading, fellowship or accountability.
But there may be other reasons, so spend time exploring what you were doing before the relapse, what you could have done differently, and what you’ll do differently in the future to prevent this from happening again. Human error is a terrific textbook, so you may as well use it.
3. Move It!
Get back on the saddle immediately, because you’ll accomplish nothing by wallowing in grief over your relapse, and there’s no reason to delay beginning again. If you refuse to start over, you’re yielding to a more severe, deadlier sin than relapse: despair. Sin is something you can repent of, but despair? Yield to that, and you’re really finished.
Don’t be. Relapse is a temporary set-back; despair is the end.
You’re protecting a treasure when you guard your purity, so apply yourself to its longevity the way you’d protect a valuable antique or piece of jewelry. Recognizing its worth, you work both to keep it, and keep it in its best possible shape.
The freedom of godliness, likewise, is a purposeful, challenging, exciting way to live, and keeping the ball in play is worth all the blood, sweat and tears a committed athlete has to shed.
So move ahead today in the power of gratitude for God’s grace, and let it manifest in the smallest and largest areas of your life.