I’m addicted to sugar.
I didn’t used to like to admit that, but I freely admit it now. As one of my New Year’s resolutions, I decided to do something about it, so I’m going without it (as much as is possible in this sugar-laden culture) for a month in order to lessen my addiction and give the goal of moderation a more likely possibility. If this abstention is anything like previous years, I will need to do this again next January after I hit the sugar load that comes with two birthdays and Halloween in October and when I let my habits turn from bad to worse through the holiday season.
I know how to go without something I crave. I tend to have an all or nothing personality, so moderation is what is hard for me. Also, as a long distance runner, I have learned how to train my mind to go through something unpleasant or difficult. However, without a real change of heart, a desire for a permanent change of lifestyle (which, in the case of sugar, I only partially want), I can only stand firm against it for a time. Hence, the yearly sugar fast.
Therefore, when two days ago I listened to a sermon online by my pastor Rick Dunn about white-knuckling, I understood exactly what he meant. White-knuckling, as defined by my pastor, is “when you decide, ‘I’m not going to do that anymore,’ and you try as hard as you can, and you just raise that fist: ‘I’m not going to do it; I’m not going to do it; I’m not going to do it; I’m not going to do it’ until you…fail.” Yes, I get that.
The thing is that my pastor wasn’t talking about sugar, except as an example. He was talking about sin, works, and grace. Many Christians, rather like the Pharisees back in Jesus’ time, try not to sin using willpower alone. They try to be good people by following a set of rules, some found in the Bible, some set out by their Christian community, and by doing as many good works as they have time to do. This, they think, will make them good.
The problem is that no matter how much they white-knuckle and try their best not to do wrong, they end up saying something they know they shouldn’t say to their spouse, or complaining about dreaded work that has to be done, or thinking some pretty bad thoughts about that idiot driver, or becoming envious about that new item their friend has, etc., etc. This is because, as my pastor said, “Sin cannot be overcome by white-knuckling Christianity.” If any of this sin is bad enough for them to notice in themselves (and the Holy Spirit does gently point it out sometimes), shame begins. If, however, they manage to stay fairly upright (compared to those other people) in one area or another, then the sin of pride begins.
I’ve been using the wrong pronouns, though. It’s not “they,” “their,” and “them.” It’s “we,” “our,” and “us.” I have done this many times. I still do this sometimes. I did this all my life to some extent or another, even as I’ve been trying to understand grace. I remember marking down the days I went without losing my temper with my children. Oh, the pride when the number started to grow! Oh, the shame and frustration with myself when the number went back down to zero.
We need to recognize that we WILL inevitably fail, and God wants to use that failure to turn us to Himself. He wants us to have a relationship with Him, a relationship where we depend on Him for help. He doesn’t want a relationship where we use Him like a tool to do right, but if we truly have a relationship with Him, if we truly love Him, our motives to do right will be changed. We’ll have the true change of heart that we need if we really want to be right (just like I need a true change of heart if I ever want to kick my sugar habit for good). We will desire to do what is right because we love God. Although we will still fail, we can accept His grace when we do and lean on Him in our weakness.
Next time you are tempted to white-knuckle to do the right thing, fold those knuckles together and pray instead!