We’ve all been in this situation, whether in an accountability group or care group time. We are all going around and asking for prayer, and inevitably someone mentions something that they are “struggling with.” It might be that they are “struggling with having patience with the kids at home.” It might be that they are “struggling with contentment.” If it’s a men’s group, one of them might admit they are “struggling with lust.”
I applaud this impulse toward honesty among Christians. It is no mistake that Christians feel a desire to confess their sinful conduct to other believers; it’s been hard-wired into us through the work of Holy Spirit-wrought conviction. However, I say toward honesty because the phrase “I’m struggling with” short-circuits Christian confession before it reaches its grace-infused intended result.
Here is what I mean: “I’m struggling with…” is euphemistic Christianese. I believe it is our best attempt at reconciling our intense like for admission of sin in general, and our intense dislike for admission of sin in particular. As the Holy Spirit works in us, we feel an impulse to divulge information about sins we have committed, but we are embarrassed to be frank and completely honest. So, we cover over the particulars with general admissions about categories of sin that we are “struggling with.”
We are more comfortable admitting, “I’m struggling with patience,” than we are to confess, “I spanked my child out of anger twice this week, and I had a shouting match with my husband on Wednesday night. Please pray for me to find forgiveness.” We are more likely to say, “I’m struggling with lust,” than to admit frankly, “I looked at pornography for an hour on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. May God forgive me!”
A part of me doesn’t want to know what sins you have committed in particular, and I’m sure you don’t want to be let down by finding out the worst things I have done this past week. But how can we extend true forgiveness to one another if we do not first truly confess our sins? James 5:16 states, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
We are a people who want to step into the light, but we just want to make sure that the light is more of a dim mood lighting than the broad daylight of the sun. We are okay with confessing our sin as long as it remains shadowy and vague. We are truly afraid of our sin being exposed to the blinding light of the Gospel. John makes it abundantly clear: “If we say we have fellowship with [God] while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6). The kingdoms do not mingle: it’s either light or darkness. Paul asks us, “What fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14).
Here’s the good news: you have the desire. The conviction that drives you to make “I’m struggling with…” admissions is the work of the Holy Spirit who wants you to experience true forgiveness of sins and true fellowship with other sinners saved by grace. If we will man-up (and woman-up), and make bold confessions of actual sins, here is God’s promise: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Once actual sins are brought into the blinding light of Jesus, then can the true struggle begin. Contrary to common sense, admitting our worst sins to each other actually builds our fellowship. The blood of Jesus is able to save you from more than just vague sins. He wants to save you from that particular one you committed on Wednesday, and not just in a “You’re forgiven, but I know you are going to do it again tomorrow and the next day and the next day” kind of way.
True salvation is a salvation from slavery. We are intended to struggle, but not to struggle with; no, we are to struggle against. Let’s stop using “struggle” language as a euphemism, and start using it to describe the victory we are having over concrete sins against which we fight day after day through the saving power of Jesus Christ and the encouragement of other believers. May we all stop talking about what we are “struggling with”, so that we can begin to “struggle against”!