Hope for the Struggling Christian

Many confessants admit, often with a degree of despair, that they seem to repeat time and again they same sins.  So their confessions are repetitious and they sense a lack of change or progress in their own spiritual life.  They feel discouraged both by the habitual nature of their sins and by the fact that in confession they have to admit each time to the same kinds of sin they previously confessed.    Sin couches at the door but despite their wishes, they fall into the same sin again and again.

St. Peter Damaskos offers some hope for the sinner who feels stuck in confession, repeating the same sins with little improvement to show.

“We are punished for our lack of repentance, and not because we had to struggle against temptation; otherwise most of us could not receive forgiveness until we had attained total dispassion. But as St John Klimakos again observes, ‘It is not possible for all to achieve dispassion, yet all can be saved and reconciled with God.’”     (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 30139-43)

There is victory in the spiritual warfare in persevering.  There is victory in simply struggling with temptation, wrestling with sin, striving to do the right. God does bless the intention says St. John Chrysostom in his Paschal sermon which we proclaim every year (“The deed He honors and the intention He commends.”)

In one story from the desert fathers when a monk seeks counsel from a monk elder because his sexual passions have become so strong, the elder tells him to consider whether the spiritual warfare itself  – the struggle against one’s passions – is good or bad.  If fighting against one’s passions and self-will is in fact a virtuous thing, then why avoid the struggle.  If continually struggling against one’s passions and temptations is a bad thing why struggle?   The obvious answer is that the struggle itself is a blessed thing, even if we don’t want the struggle and find it difficult.

Not everyone is capable of being an ascetic, but everyone can be saved and reconciled with God.  Not everyone can fast perfectly, but everyone can be saved and reconciled with God.  Not everyone can resist every temptation, but everyone can be saved and reconciled with God.  Not everyone can be a perfect Christian, but everyone can be saved and reconciled with God.

Such is the wisdom of the Tradition of the Church from the great spiritual writers of our faith.  We fight the good fight – it is what God asks of us and what He is willing to bless and reward.

St. Paul the Apostle writes about his own struggle with his passions:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.   (Romans 7:15-26)