Building a Fence against Compulsive Sins
Compensating for a Seared Conscience

     The immorality now inundating American society has trapped hundreds of thousands of persons in compulsive sins that are ruining their lives - and that includes believers as well. Justification, it should be remembered, is a one-time event that rests on grace alone, not on any effort we bring to the transaction. But sanctification is very different: it’s an on-going process that does indeed require enormous effort on a believer’s part. Sadly, however, many believers think that breaking free from the bondage of a compulsive sin requires nothing more than prayer, fellowship, and Bible study. And, yes, all three disciplines are vital. But when believers run head-long into the stubborn reality that those three disciplines alone are not sufficient, many of them throw in the towel and walk away from the Christian Faith, believing its claims are misleading. Either that, or they twist scripture to accommodate their failure to overcome the sin plaguing their lives - whatever it is: pornography; alcoholism; drug addiction; homosexuality; infidelity; gambling; an angry, embittered temperament; etc.

to Keep Yourself Safe from Sin

     We begin with Romans 1:16-21 ...


     For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power
of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 
     For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed -
a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
     For the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all
the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 
     Because what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 
     For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities -
his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen,
being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
     For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 1:16-21

     The word “suppress” in verse 18 means to “hold down.” The truth about God and his hatred of unrighteousness is inherent  - and to avoid facing it requires effort; it’s not easily done. The truth must be restrained forcefully. It’s not possible to simply walk around it - to ignore it.

“The Truth”
     What truth? The truth sketched out in Romans 1:16 – 18 ...
  • Man is a sinner;
  • he’s guilty of unrighteousness;
  • his only hope is to throw himself on God’s mercy.

     The phrase “suppress the truth” doesn’t necessarily imply that the whole truth is being “suppressed.” In the case of a hypocrite (Romans 2:1 and 2:17), it’s his own sinfulness that’s being suppressed, not the sinfulness of mankind generally. That alone, however, is enough to prompt the rationalizing Paul describes in verse  21a, which, in turn, leads inevitably to the hardening he describes in verses 21b-23 – a hardening which is entirely of his own making. 

Excuses and Rationalizations
     It's important to take note of the word "thinking" in verse 21 ...

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking (διαλογισμός) became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
​Romans 1:21

     The word "thinking" is not a very good rendering of what Paul has in mind here. It's a translation of the Greek word "διαλογισμός;" and because it's linked to the phrase "foolish hearts were darkened," Paul is telling us that we facilitate our efforts to suppress the truth by concocting excuses that justify our sinful behavior - and in so doing attempt to cover them with a thin veneer of intellectual respectability. Moreover, the word translated "foolish" underscores still more the pejorative sense of what Paul is getting at here. It's the Greek word "ἀσύνετος," not the usual Greek word "μωρός." And it means "uncomprehending," "incapapable of rational thought." The bottom line here, then, is obvious: whenever we find ourselves unable to overcome a besetting sin - meaning a compulsive addiction of some kind - we almost always resort to nonsensical, irrational excuses that arise from a mind that is no longer able to discern the truth. And so we plunge headlong down a path leading to still more sin; and because sin always produces death, it's a path that leads to destruction - not just our own, but everyone around us as well.

Spiritual Fact
     The spiritual fact you've got to grapple with here is both simple and profoundly meaningful: anyone who over many long years has excused his sin - meaning rationalized it - whatever it might be - suffers from a darkened heart, meaning a desensitized, seared conscience. It doesn't prompt sufficient revulsion and disgust to turn him back from committing the sin that has him so terribly entangled and trapped. That means he can't enlist it in his struggle against sin, at least not in the short run. 

What This Means for You
     In your struggle against whatever besetting sin is plaguing you, you can't rely upon your conscience to be of much help. When "push comes to shove," it's too anemic. What, then, can you enlist in its place? The answer is fellow-believers. You must begin to build a fence around yourself composed of fellow-believers who draw up alongside you; who remind you of the terrible consequences that follow in the wake of surrenduring to a compulsive sin. In a sense, they must substitute for your weakened "conscience,"  giving it time to regain its own vigor.

The Problem
     Building a fence, however, will be a daunting task. It's not easy for anyone suffering from a besetting sin to form transparently honest relationships. There are usually four factors at play ...
  • First, their fear of embarassment and exposure is usually very pronounced. A good many of them are frequently leading "double lives" - a kind of Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde double personna. Secrecy is a paramount concern - making it very difficult for them to allow fellow-believers to draw up alongside them. 
  • Second, many of them come from broken homes, betrayed by authority figures they should have been able to count on, and often the victims of serious abuse and neglect. They shun dependent relationships; control is their over-riding concern - and that too works against the possibility of forming the kind of relationships required to build a "fence."
  • Third, having been raised in broken homes and beset by compulsive sins, many of them project their own self-condemnation and self-loathing onto others - meaning they convince themselves others are "judging them." And that's especially true when attempts are made to integrate them into an actual church. "I hate church," they complain bitterly. "I'm not made to feel welcome. Church is filled with hypocrites." And, no doubt, there are hypocrites in every church. No doubt there are some immature believers who do indeed judge and condemn them. However, as true as that may be, much of that feeling is self-imposed - meaning they're likely to wrestle with it regardless of how "perfect" and welcoming a church might be.
  • Finally, here in America we're taught from a very young age to cultivate our unique individuality; to become “islands unto ourselves.” We guard our “privacy” with a jealous indignation. That means American Christians - even those raised in intact families and who are not beset by a compulsive sin - are predisposed  from the very get-go keep others at arm’s length.
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