Have you hit the wall in your fight for holiness?
Athletes speak of hitting the wall when they experience extreme exhaustion due to depleted reserves of glycogen in the liver and muscles. Many believers feel similar spiritually. If you find yourself in an ongoing cycle of three steps forward, two steps back; if your prayers, resolutions, and frustrated attempts at mortification still leave you struggling with the same old sins; if you are weary in the race set before you and feel ready to quit, you’ve hit the wall.
Don’t stay discouraged. There is hope for weary saints. Take heart from these truths: the conflict is normal, the battle is winnable, and the war is coming to an end.
The Conflict Is Normal
Soldiers should expect combat in wartime. The passions of the flesh are waging war against your soul, and our adversary the devil is a prowling lion hunting fresh prey (1 Peter 2:11; 5:8). Ongoing conflict with both sin and Satan is the common experience of all believers. As J.C. Ryle wrote in his classic book Holiness, “True Christianity is a struggle, a fight, and a warfare. . . . Where there is grace there will be conflict. The believer is a soldier. There is no holiness without a warfare. Saved souls will always be found to have fought a fight” (53–54).
This should not surprise us. If you feel alone in your experience, take heart. You’re not. Even the apostle Paul knew the misery of a heart divided between indwelling sin and delight in God’s holy law: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18–19; see the context in Romans 7:14–25)
This reality is not an excuse for laziness, but a summons to sober-minded watchfulness. But it is also a humbling reminder that we’re still waiting for final redemption and need the help of others in the good fight of faith.
“Take heart: the conflict is normal, the battle is winnable, and the war is coming to an end.”
The Battles Are Winnable
Though inner conflict is normal, you can win more victories in your daily battles with temptation and indwelling sin.
Listen, beloved in Christ. Yesterday’s failures do not determine the outcome of today’s battle. Look to Jesus, your brother, captain, and King. He has already crushed the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). Your bondage to sin was decisively broken by Jesus at the cross (Romans 6:6). You are joined to the crucified and risen Lord by faith and the Spirit (Galatians 2:20). You were baptized into his death and raised to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). You are no longer a slave to sin. You are not a prisoner of war. You are free. This is decisively and irrevocably true for every born-again believer.
Therefore, “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus,” and do not let sin “reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6:11–12). You can win the next skirmish against sin and the flesh, however large or small it proves to be. Your victory over the next temptation is the fruit of his triumph.
Make no mistake: today’s battle does matter. As C.S. Lewis said, “The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible” (Mere Christianity, 132). While we shouldn’t be paralyzed by yesterday’s defeat, we must not make light of present and future obedience.
The War Is Coming to an End
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). That grace includes the gifts of perfect sanctification and final glorification. The day is coming when the fight will be finished, the war will be over, and the agonizing conflict against sin and the flesh will be no more. D-Day has come; V-Day is coming. This “blessed hope” is the fuel that powers the engine of our present pursuit of godliness (Titus 2:12–13).
By taking a brief rest and powering up with carbohydrates, athletes can keep running even after hitting the wall. As believers, we also need to “carb up” for the race set before us, by deep meditation on the glorious realities of the gospel.
No one said it better than the sin-fighting seventeenth-century puritan John Owen: “Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of thy sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and thou wilt die a conqueror; yea, thou wilt, through the good providence of God, live to see thy lust dead at thy feet” (The Mortification of Sin, 79).
The conflict is normal. The battles are winnable. And one day soon, the war will come to an end.