How to Struggle Against Sin

I saw an item online this morning about a woman who fought off an attempted assault. In the accompanying photo, she is wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words she yelled at her attacker. A pattern on the shirt depicts the GPS coordinates of her struggle and subsequent flight from the man, who was later caught and jailed. The shirt is an arresting reminder of her resistance.

Self-defense classes often teach students to fight with all their being against an attacker, instead of submitting to their fate. Struggling against an assailant, however mighty, gives us hope. There is honor, and often salvation, in the struggle.

We are to struggle against sin as well. Our habits and passions are those things that pull us away from God, and into our own selfishness. It’s not enough to throw in the towel and say, “This is who I am, I can’t control myself.”

It’s also not right to shrug and think, “I am saved, I don’t have to worry about how this will all turn out.”

We are not to be passive observers of our salvation. We have to fight.

A Monk’s Struggle

There is a story about an alcoholic monk who was drunk every day, scandalizing his fellow monks as well as visitors to the monastery.

When he died, the other monks came to Elder Paisios to announce that this problem was solved. Elder Paisios told them he knew the monk was dead, because he had seen the angels carry his soul to heaven.

The other monks were angry. How could this be, when he was always drunk?

Elder Paisios explained that the monk had been an alcoholic all his life. He had come to the monastery to struggle against this sin. The monk did prostrations and prayers every day. He prayed that his impulse to drink be reduced by one glass. Over the years, he had reduced his drinking from 20 glasses to two or three.

For years he struggled, and while the world saw a drunk, God saw a fighter.

How to struggle against sin

I’m writing this as much to myself as to you, my readers. I struggle with sin every day. Some days I don’t put up much of a struggle at all. I need reminders to get up when I fall, and to get back in the fight.

Here are ways to keep fighting:

  • Don’t despair. Saint John Chrystotom puts it thusly: ” After the sin comes the shame; courage follows repentance. Did you pay attention to what I said? Satan upsets the order; he gives the courage to sin and the shame to repentance.” If you fall, get up!
  • Pray and fast. Denying ourselves is the key to fighting sin. Prayer and fasting is an ancient method of orienting our entire being toward God. A fighter trains their mind and body before a battle. Prayer and fasting is our way of training our soul for struggle.
  • Repent. It’s important to work on changing our attitude toward our sin. We must learn to hate the things that pull us away from God, and resist their appeal. This is hard work, and it’s more than being sorry. Repentance is setting our mind to resist and to reject the things that tempt us.
  • Confession. The Sacrament of Confession is how the Church brings us back into right relationship with God. A true, honest self-examination and confession is a joy to God, and He forgives us and welcomes us back. Think of the happiness you feel when your child is sorry for being bad, and desires your forgiveness and love. How much greater is God’s love for us when we repent and confess?

Living in this fallen world is a struggle against sin. But God equips us to fight, and we should do so. Let us resolve to get up, dust ourselves off, and get back in the fight.

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