Over the centuries, the theological debate has been, "Do we rule over sin, or does sin rule us?" Across the years of my ministry (35+), I have far too often been surprised by the secret sin that absolutely reigns over and oppresses many. Far too frequently, I have sat in my study as someone, respected in the church and/or the community, in a moment of desperation, revealed the dark, secret sin that was absolutely ruling over them.
On one occasion I experienced almost a group revelation of this sort. I was addressing a church men's group of about 50, and I made a remark about how widespread the involvement in Internet pornography had become; and that, if we knew the truth, there were probably men in that group who were being victimized by it, that very day.
I was not prepared for the reaction that came. It was, on that morning, possible to read the faces and body language of those men like a newspaper. Instantly, you could see a flood of emotional change go across the group. A significant percentage started changing positions in their chair, looking away, looking down, and slipping into blank stares. The group, as a whole, became aware of the change in "atmosphere." Then you could hear a pin drop as eyes began to dart around the room.
It was starkly obvious that long repressed guilt in some of those men instantly and involuntarily shot to the surface. I was, myself, totally taken back because I simply did not expect such an abrupt and visible reaction from this church group.
Does sin rule us? Sometimes it absolutely does, and in the harshest way. The prescription which the Bible gives us to overcome the rule sin in our lives is found in 1st John 1: 5 and following. It says this, "This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.
"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
The simple remedy of "confession," (always to God, and sometimes to others) realigns us with God's moral will and initiates the cleansing process that ultimately leads to consistent victory over sin. But, it is one thing to recognize the evil of sin and wrestle your way free of its grip, with God's help. It is quite another thing to intentionally hide sin away in your life so that you can continue to practice it, covertly, without anyone knowing. Protecting, and Planning for, and Pursuing the Reality of sin in one's life is not the "wrestling match of freedom." It is hypocrisy, and pretense, and delusion. And such foolishness absolutely makes sin the absolute ruler over us and over our personal destiny.
Over the years, the walls of my study have definitely heard many confessions of desperate people whose lives were deeply damaged and even destroyed by their secret sin. And this was not sin that they could not overcome. In Christ, there is no such thing. This was cherished sin, sin they chose not to overcome. They protected and quietly embraced this sin, until they discovered they were not holding it, but rather, it actually had a death grip on them.
Usually, by the time I was hearing about this very private and protected sin, their marriage, their self respect, their reputation, their relationship to God, and/ or their hope for the future were mostly "down the tubes." Protected sin will always destroy the quality of life, and often, not just of those who are harboring the darkness, but also the quality of life for the people around them.
Nor is cherished sin merely a killer of the souls. It is a killer of relationships, of life quality, and of personal and community morale. That is not God's idea of redemption . That is the deluded destiny that we fashion for ourselves when we establish a secret friendship with sin.
God's plan is to extricate people from the darkness of sin, first by the Cross of the Dying Christ, and then by the personal empowerment that flows through the Resurrection and the Living Christ. Sin always rules when Christ doesn't. But, the redemption that Christ brings to the believer is a liberating redemption that empowers our certain rule over sin in the most real terms of everyday life. But only if we pursue that liberation with our whole heart. Anything less, and sin wins.