Living a just and holy life requires one to be capable of an objective and impartial evaluation of things. - St. Augustine (354–430)

There is a giant problem in East Africa: snails. Lissachatina fulica, giant African land snails, originated in Kenya and have traversed as far as Asia and the Caribbean. They can wreak major havoc. In fact, in the United States, it’s illegal to possess one of these little critters. Illegal!!

Though they seem weak compared to other wildlife (at their adult height, they are slightly taller than a tennis ball),[1] these African snails live long, reproduce quickly, and perpetrate their evil work under the cover of darkness. Creeping in unnoticed, they devastate crops, forests, coastal areas, and cities. They also carry an insidious disease that is deadly to humans. In vain, hunters have levied against them all manner of quarantine, chemical warfare, and predatory creatures. Even flamethrowers were no use.

Diehard snails! How can such a small creature cause such a widespread problem? It takes only a little time and a little neglect.

Diehard Sins

This post is about sins. Not the ugly, notorious sins we have come to know and hate. But the little, daily sins. The snail-sized sin habits that slither undetected in the shadows, beneath a fire-resistant shell, and eat up our lives from the inside out. This book is about the sins that nag us, resist our spiritual treatments, and persist beyond all our measures to contain them. The subtle sins. The respectable and acceptable sins. The resilient and relentless sins. The diehard sins.

In spy novels, the silent assassin learns to live incognito, waiting and plotting his deadly deeds. Our sins can be very much like that. We hustle through life while they escape our notice and fester just beneath our noses. Either we don’t recognize them as sins because they’re commonplace in our lives or cultures, or we know that they’re sinful but have given up on changing them. With the passage of time, we accept them as a disappointing, natural part of life. These sins are hard to fight because they are concealed from us.

Puritan pastor John Owen provides this ominous warning: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you."[2] For many Christians, the sins that “will be killing” us are not the million-dollar sins like murder or rape. We often have sufficient reason to avoid them. Rather, the hidden faults that fly under the radar—at the lower altitudes of our hearts—are the sins that cause us the most trouble. If we are not alert, we practice them day by day and they burrow into our lives like lice. And once they are settled in, extermination becomes all the more difficult.

I have known people with a deadly peanut allergy. Even a whiff of peanut butter constricts their airways and immediately endangers their lives. The most serious allergies don’t even allow the sufferer enough time to reach a doctor for help, meaning that the person must remain ever ready to jab himself with a shot of medicine in order to reverse the violent reaction. The fight against sin carries a similar quality. We depend on pastors, counselors, and other Christian friends to give us wise counsel. But we also need a growing ability to minister the Word of God to our own souls. Immeasurable hope and help await you as you learn to kill the diehard sins that plague you, because, no matter how deep your sin struggle runs, there is hope through Christ and His Word.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Newspapers of the 1920s offered readers “the gift that keeps on giving”: the Victor Micro-synchronous Radio Console with Electrola. Happy families tuned in to the Victor- Radio every night, and their delight continued on and on. Although I was not aware of it at the time, the Lord gave my wife and me a gift much like this. (No, it wasn’t a radio.) Two years into our marriage, during an exceptionally hard time, He called us to biblical counseling through the care of a faithful pastor.

Despite growing up in a faithful Christian family, my wife had walked a dark path. Amid life-dominating despair and recurring panic attacks, she had twice attempted suicide. She had been hospitalized in prominent psychiatric wards and had received nearly every psychiatric treatment available, including electroconvulsive therapy (an option of last resort). Soon after our marriage, we moved seven hundred miles from home in order to go to seminary—two broken people who were intimately acquainted, yet disappointed, with the full gamut of psychiatric help—and there we heard for the first time about the grace of Christ and the sufficiency of His Word for the care and cure of sinful, suffering souls like ours.

We were confused, amazed, and panicked all at once. This was very new to us. The next few weeks of class were especially eye-opening and challenging. We faced new truths about the nature of our persistent problems. These truths were hard to hear, and we didn’t immediately respond well. But by God’s grace, we scraped together what little courage we had and reached out to the professor of the class for help: “We’ve never heard any of this before, and we really need to talk to you.” He abounded with generosity and understanding. The next Friday we entered a simple yet life-changing season of gospel-centered, grace-driven biblical counseling.

There were good days and bad days. Sometimes the truth was a sweet salve for our souls; other times we spewed our medicine and stomped off in disgust. In small, hesitant steps, we found hope, help, and lasting biblical change. The colors of our world became brighter as God’s truth renewed our minds. The fingers of depression and anxiety that had relentlessly gripped my dear wife (and me too at times) were pried away. The process of change was sometimes unpleasant and often slow—but, looking back, we wouldn’t wish it any other way. Through it, we received lasting benefits.

The transformation God worked in my wife and me through biblical counseling compelled me to discover ways to instill Christ-centered hope in the lives of others. With each step toward becoming more competent in the care of others, I became a more competent counselor of myself. The Scriptures rang true: all the trials and temptations addressed in my counseling were common to man—common even to me (see 1 Cor. 10:13). In every case, I gave the people who I counseled the same comprehensive counsel of God’s Word that I myself needed. And I counseled myself in the same ways. The gift of biblical counseling that I received many years ago has kept on giving to me, helping me in my own walk with Christ.

The Three-Part Plan

My method of caring for others through counseling and discipleship is simple. When ministering to another person, I use a three-fold plan: enter his world, understand his need, and then bring Christ and His answers to the person.[3] It is by no means simplistic, but it is simple. As you will see in this post, I have adapted this method of ministry to others and presented it as a tool for fighting sin and caring for our own souls day by day. With practice, it has become second nature to me, and I hope it will become second nature to you too.

1. Enter with joy into your struggle against destructive daily habits,

2. understand your real needs in the fight, and then

3. bring Christ and His provisions to bear on your beliefs and desires.

The three steps of the plan are specifically drawn from Matthew 9:35–36, but they more broadly represent Jesus’s entire ministry. In an unassuming passage of his gospel, Matthew gives a glimpse of Jesus’s normal mode of ministry.

Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. (Matt. 9:35–36)

On a mission of love, Jesus entered our world by His incarnation and even walked our streets. He would actively traverse the cities and villages. Jesus routinely spent time with people and entered into the dark and difficult experiences of life. The Lord of glory did not remain in His regal, heavenly home; rather, He condescended into our fallen world—born in a manger, living in poverty, and working with His hands. Though sinless, He was tempted as we are and suffered a cruel atoning death. Many people may love me, but none would stoop down in such a magnificent way for me. Jesus entered my world and yours.

As one of us, Jesus understands our true needs. Every thoughtful person has some sense of our common spiritual problem. Every person knows that there is a God “with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13; see also Rom. 1:21). But the blinding influence of sin hides the true nature of our need from view. In the light of a doctor’s knowledge, a patient’s crude self-diagnosis falls flat. Our Great Physician understands our need. When Jesus went through the villages, He understood the people He encountered. He saw their sinful, distressed, and broken spirits. He saw sheep in need of a shepherd.

What is so impressive about a shepherd? A shepherd understands his sheep. As in Psalm 23, the divine Shepherd knows the whereabouts of His sheep, the dangers they face, the nourishment they lack, and the restoring care they need. The Lord understands the people into whose world He enters.

Not only that, Jesus brings His provisions and resources. By His perfect knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, He not only cared for people’s broken, diseased bodies but also brought help for their souls. Jesus counseled the people who He met in the cities and villages. He taught them biblical truth in their synagogues, and He ministered the good news of His kingdom to their souls.

Ultimately, He brought the people Himself. In the synagogue or on the street corner or house-to-house, Jesus and His disciples didn’t present a program or tool for changing lives. Jesus didn’t create an app for fixing life problems. He brought Himself—His perfect person, His unstoppable power, His eternal promises and purposes. Jesus entered our world, understood our need, and brought to us His power and grace.

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from Witt's book, Diehard Sins.

Notes

  1. ^ “Giant African Snail,” USDA APHIS, last modified June 4, 2018, https:// www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/planthealth/plant-pest-and-disease-programs /pests-and-diseases/giant-african-snail/ct_giant_african_snail_home.
  2. ^ John Owen, The Mortification of Sin (1656; repr., London: Banner of Truth, 2004), 5.
  3. ^ I learned this approach to ministry from my mentor, Robert Jones. He applies it to counseling others; I am adapting it for personal growth. If you skipped over the foreword that he wrote for this book, please read it.