Catching Sin Before It Catches You

Things tend to pick up speed as they go down a hill. Put a car in neutral and send it down a big hill and you might be able to get in front of it and hold it back if you do it right away, before it gains momentum. Wait until it goes a few yards and your chances become much slimmer. Let it get half way down the hill and you really don’t stand a chance, unless you are the Incredible Hulk.

Sin is much like this, I think. Catch it early, before it gets a chance to gain momentum, and your chances of avoiding it or reigning it in are much better than if you let it go too far. The Holy Spirit is, of course, helpful in this regard. So is prayer. Luther I think spoke often of how he would “go to his little Psalter” and start praying at the first sign of trouble. Too often we don’t take the warning signs seriously enough or we simply ignore them, and then it is too late. We’re like those people (like me) that like to wait around and see what a storm is going to do before taking shelter. And then it is upon us before we can do anything about it. Take shelter quickly, and you might be able to avoid being harmed by the storm.

There is a “point of no return” with sin and temptation, a point at which our minds have completely given in to the desires of our bodies, and we cannot hold back, much like a car going down a hill. Catch sin before it catches you!

We cannot keep sinful urges and temptations from assailing us, but we can change the way we react to them when they hit us. One way to reduce these is to cut off access to the things that entice us. If you have a weakness for chocolate, it’s not going to do you much good to have a counter full of chocolate bars.

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About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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3 Responses to Catching Sin Before It Catches You

  1. orrologion says:

    Theophan the Recluse has a wonderful, accessible, understandable section in “The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to It” on how to combat ‘thoughts’ (logismoi). In short: anger (the only right use of anger is against sin) and prayer. He is merely following the monastic tradition of the East where the progression of sin moves from thought (not sin), to acceptance, conversation, action, passion (‘addiction’, slavery). There are more technical names for each step, and different Fathers count them differently. The overall agreement is to ignore all thoughts and images, whether good or bad, and merely pray and ‘be’ before God. Suggestions, thoughts, are the entree the devils use to throw us down the slide of sin; they are the root of more developed addictions to sin.

  2. Rev. Paul Beisel says:

    I appreciate this comment and the reference to Theophan. Although, I think he left one out that Luther rediscovered: laughter and mocking. Luther used to say that nothing thwarts the devil quite like laughing at him and mocking him. On one hand, we should take our sins very seriously, and the devil’s temptations. But the devil can also capitalize on this, and we might have to counter it with a little mockery and light-heartedness. Know what I mean?

  3. orrologion says:

    I think the Fathers would say that laughing at and mocking temptations is dangerous – not because they are not terrible little things worthy of mockery, but because the terrible little demons tempting us are far more experienced than we (they have millenia of experience). Laughing or mocking them is a form of ‘conversing’ with them and giving them ‘strength’ since their only entree into this world is through us and our wills.

    The ‘Neptic Fathers’ do say that one can also allow a passion/temptation into your heart one at a time so as to do battle with it and overcome it, but they say this is rather dangerous and fit only for the advanced. The safest way is to stand with attention at the door of your heart and let no thoughts/suggestions in, whether good or bad (the bad are bad and the good can merely be the foot in the door needed to allow in a flood of other neutral then bad thoughts).

    Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain advised some pilgrims to think of thoughts like airplines flying far overhead – ignore them and they will be far away very soon. My spiritual father said to think of them like clouds – no substance, and moved away by the wind in no time.

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