Title: The Christian Life 3: The Struggle
Subject: Battling and overcoming sin
Age: 15+ years
Prerequisites: The Christian Life lessons: 1. The Beginning and 2. Humility
To develop a spiritual life one must embark upon or wage spiritual warfare. In the first two lessons we have begun to speak of the Christian life in its most basic form. We began by examining its start, that being the recognition of our fallen state. We continued in the second lesson by offering up the first step of humility. Now we move forward by looking at what it really means to progress to formulate some sort of way forward spiritually.
Our first step is to decide to fight, to mount a struggle against whatever the passion is that besets us. We cannot decide to do nothing. What does it mean to fight? The word often used in the spiritual realm is, "struggle." This is what we find in the Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus. Here struggle is understood as the application of force equal in strength to the attacking force, and victory is achieved in accordance with the inclination of one's heart.
The spiritual champions say that there are two crucial elements in our struggle to overcome sin: equal strength, meaning you don't have to overpower it. Your resistance must at least be as strong as what is attacking you. Secondly, victory does not come in a standoff, so the heart has to be inclined. In other words, the inclination of one's heart is to victory because you don't want to go down "this" road. This must be so for any type of temptation. The heart cannot be ambivalent or opposed. If one is opposed, then they are in real trouble: they become addicted. We fail in the battle against evil, and this results in developing self-hatred and essentially, we wreck things.
Once we have decided in the affirmative to first, fight, and secondly, that there is such a thing as good and evil and a war is being waged, we must then determine how much we want to fight or how much of a fight is in us. This decision will help us and our spiritual father if we have one to determine what tools we want to use and how deep and intense we want to go. If we do not have a spiritual father, we can work on this by ourselves. We can start small and with obedience and discipline, we can add to what we do to help us overcome the Evil One. If God sees that we desire to grow and we are in earnest and have integrity, He will respond and provide.
In the beginning, we recognize that we can't be double-minded or delusional. Self-knowledge is important so that we are not of two minds or duplicitous in our dealings. What can help here is to identify sins by name. To do this we must be honest. We need to be in touch with the names of sin. This will cause one to realize what actions and thoughts are sins. We never master this process, but will grow and progress. We will become free of depression and despondency, which come from sin that has not been identified and sins that have not been repented. Depression manifests itself as, but not limited to, anger, sleeplessness, indigestion, resent, quarrelsomeness, suppression of spirit, and suppression of immune system. One way to see this is to notice that we are not alive inside. Real life seems to elude you and especially the power and grace of the sacraments. There has to be an exertion of force to find the sin: you really have to go after it, especially if you are entrenched by sin for a long period of time.
It is beneficial to understand how sin works on us. Most importantly, it is helpful to understand how sin brings us to captivity and death. The spiritual masters have identified at least five stages of temptation:
- Suggestion or provocation. A sin presents itself. A thought appears in your mind. If you are in tune with spiritual warfare, you will get rid of it quickly. You must realize that these thoughts or suggestions will always come.
- Investigate. You grow curious of the sin (this is also called conjunction or coupling), and you start to get involved with the thought; it grows more attractive. We start to investigate. At the end of this step you are starting to be one with the thought and it is starting to sprout. You can stop here if you are vigilant and you can get free easily.
- You get involved, you join with the sin. Beyond conjunction, you are really into it, the thought is in you, you are not doubting or questioning it. At this point it takes some sweat and tears.
- Participate or habit. The response to whatever the temptation or thought is habitual, we start to become unaware of things.
- Captivity and passion. You become totally one with the passion, you are enslaved, it identifies you. If you don't get free of this it will undermine everything else in your life.
If you catch sin at step one or two, you can overcome it; if not, you are in trouble because it will take sweat, blood, and tears to overcome the sin. To combat this process you must use, if you understand this to be a spiritual battle, a spiritual force to overcome the temptation. We will expand more on captivity since it is a stage some of us may find ourselves in.
Captivity can be called addiction, which is extreme captivity. In this stage we really don't have the ability to say "no" anymore. Our fallen nature cannot turn away from the sin. It is almost like being possessed or obsessed. Captivity is the result of frequent and constantly turning away from the spiritual life, and it can come to anyone when they start to be negligent. Is there a way out? Something extreme is needed: Repentance, penance, etc.
Captivating sins can be broken. Sometimes you will experience a struggle between the sinful desire and your conscience to resist. A spiritual battle within the self can take place to get free. The response to the thought is habitual you are not really aware of this. If held captive by sin, you are totally at one with the passion, even enslaved. If you don't get free of this, it will undermine everything else in your life. To combat this process one must use a spiritual force to overcome the temptation.
Lesson 4 will offer tools to use in overcoming the struggle of sin.
Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas