Have you ever stopped to think about why you sin the way you do? Maybe that’s an odd question. But let me ask it this way: Why do some people get hooked on video games while others get hooked on working and making money? Or why is it that some people always love to give their opinion—even when not asked…like me—versus a person that is afraid to give his opinion even when someone else wants it? Or why do some people get stuck in yelling, domineering anger while others are stuck in people pleasing and never standing up for themselves?
I think for the most part everyone understands that sin is selfish and proud, but I think it’s still an important question to consider why I sin the way I do while others sin in other ways that I haven’t done and have zero desire to do.
Before we consider the question of why I struggle with my specific sin like being a worrier vs. being really depressed we need to answer generally: why do I sin?
Why do I sin?
There are a few answers to this question. All of them being quite important.
A very important answer to this question is, I sin because I’m a sinner and have been born into sin (cf. Rom 5:17–19). But beyond just being born a sinner scripture makes it clear that as a sinner I love to sin. That might seem like a strange concept, but I think it’s a critical concept to helping people hate their sin and grow in righteousness. Here’s a couple of verses that support the truth that as sinners we love to sin:
Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way of death.”
- This verse doesn’t use the word “love” or “sin” but the point is quite clear. I do what I do because fundamentally I believe it is the right way to get what I want. But sadly, what I believe is right—unless it is founded on the truth of Scripture—will never lead me where I want to go.
John 3:19–20 says, “19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
- This passage makes it very clear that sinners love their sin. The light—being Jesus—came into the world and revealed that people really, truly love sin and darkness. Because when Jesus exposed their wickedness they got angry, left him, betrayed him and ultimately crucified him.
A failure to help your counselees understand that they love their sin and that’s why they keep doing it will leave them frustrated and stuck wondering how they can change.
Why do I sin the way I do?
Once we’ve grasped that we sin because we love it, we are prepared to answer the question more specifically of why do I love the sin that I do (i.e. why do I sin the way that I do)?
Let me give this illustration that most people can relate to because they’ve done it. Did you ever put your hand on the stove as a child? Many people have done that as a child even though they were warned by parents not to (myself included). But apparently something about the orange glow from the stove top was just far too welcoming that we couldn’t be reasoned with, we just had to touch it to see what we were missing. Almost instantly though, we learned that all we were missing was a significant amount of pain! As a result, the number of people that put their hand on the stove the next day, or the day after that on purpose is infinitesimally small compared to the number that put their hand on the stove at least once. The question is, why? Hopefully the answer is quite obvious. There was NOTHING beneficial that came from putting their hand on the stove!
Unlike the stove, when it comes to sin and rebellion that we repeat and repeat and repeat, there is some sort of benefit that we are receiving. In other words, we are getting something we want which cultivates a deeper and deeper love for that sin which is why we continue doing it over and over. And as Romans 6:16 teaches, if you present yourselves as an obedient slave to sin you will enslaved by sin.
Now, if you think back to the opening question why, do you sin the way you do? The stove illustration should begin to illuminate the answer. The answer is because the manifestations of sin that you chose and pursued are the ones that you believe benefited you the most. And conversely, the manifestations of sin that you chose not to do where not things that you saw as worthwhile or giving enough benefit to try.
For example, there are many people who smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol but they did it only once and never again. Why? Because they didn’t like it! It tasted bad, made them sick, made them fearful of legal trouble or parental disappointment, etc. But for others, the bad taste (at first), the sickness (at first), and the potential legal trouble or disappointment from parents wasn’t enough to deter them from the benefit they were getting from smoking or drinking (benefits might be fitting in/peer pressure, desire to be in control and rebel against authority, escape and forget pain/problems, etc.). In that case they will smoke and drink again and as long as the benefit outweighs the cost, or the perceived benefit outweighs the cost they will keep going.
Cultivating Hatred for Sin
Addiction is a great test case for why cultivating hatred for sin is so important. Cultivating is a key word here, because the implication is that you must work diligently to produce a true hatred for sin. That doesn’t just happen naturally.
That’s why addiction is a great test case. If we sin because we love it, then we will never truly kill and give up sin until we truly hate it. In the addiction world, this is what confuses people so much about why people keep going down the path of addiction when all that it brings (eventually) is relational pain, financial trouble, health issues, career woes, legal problems, and more. By the time people are considering giving up drugs or alcohol or sexual addictions, etc. the consequences of their addictions are usually quite severe. They can recognize that they are having problems because of the addiction and the problems that have come from the addiction they genuinely dislike. However, their dislike for the consequences is much different than a dislike and hatred of the addiction and sin itself.
Addicts will often say things like, “I hate it,” and “I don’t want anything to do with it anymore,” but then curiously, they end up doing it again…and again…and again. Love for sin is what explains going back again and again. As long as they still love the sin and see there being benefit there, they will keep going back. It’s not until they are convinced that there is nothing good in it, that they will truly give it up for good. And that has to be cultivated! As long as they keep going back, they are not convinced that “the wages of sin is death” (cf. Rom. 6:23). They still believe that there is blessing, good and life to be found there.
As counselors, if you’re going to help your counselees become more like Christ, you must help them learn to cultivate a genuine hatred of their sin not let them be fooled thinking their hatred of consequences is the same as hating sin itself.
Romans 6:20–21 is great passage to have your counselees meditate on to really understand how to hate their sin.
Romans 6:20–21 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.
Notice how in v.21 Paul asks what “fruit” they were getting. Counselees should spend time mediating and thinking about all the terrible things that came from their sin. They do not need to move past their sin too quickly. If they forget the consequences of their sin, they will be tempted to “remember” the benefit and good that they sought from the sin in the first place and go back.
V.21 goes further and encourages them to remember what they are now “ashamed.” How unnatural is that!? We hate to think about things that we are ashamed of, and yet that’s exactly what Paul wants us to think about! Thinking about how much shame came from our sin is one of the ways that we reinforce that there truly is nothing worthwhile in sin, period!
And then finally, v.21 tells us where that sin goes. We got horrible fruit from it, we are ashamed of it, and the ultimate end of our sin is death.
The point: sin is a lose, lose, lose!
Most counselees can give intellectual assent to that. But when the rubber meets the road often a love of sin is revealed that causes them to go back to the same sin again and again.
If you want to help your counselees overcome sin and learn how to grow and change, then you need to make sure that your counselees have a robust understanding of sin and a robust understanding of how to cultivate a genuine hatred of sin, not just a hatred of consequences. Cultivating a hatred of sin is not the only element needed to help your counselees grow, but it is a crucial element that is often overlooked or treated superficially. So I’d encourage you to consider, how does your counseling help your counselee truly hate their sin the way that God does?
Join the conversation:
What kind of passages or assignments have you found helpful in teaching your counselees to hate sin?