by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
“I was so obsessed with me and the reasons that I might be dissatisfied that I couldn’t focus on other people… What I trace this to is a certain selfishness on my part.” —Barack Obama
What is it about our painful discomfort that impacts our lives so profoundly? Where does it come from? Why can’t we just deal with it rationally? Why can’t we control it? What does it mean to have control, and why do we place such a premium on it? We need control to best ensure our comfort, or at the very least to minimize our discomfort from being dissatisfied. We have an innate need and desire to be comfortable.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation we are challenged to change ourselves.” —Viktor E. Frankl
What will it take to consider that our ways for trying to figure out our reasons for dissatisfaction are not working? When will we recognize that we are slaves to that which dissatisfies? What will it take before we consider the teachings of Jesus Christ that promises to set us free from our dissatisfaction?
“I can to some extent control my acts. I have no direct control over my temperament. If what we are matters even more than what we do—if indeed what we do matters chiefly as evidence of what we are—then it follows that the change which I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary efforts cannot bring about.” —CS Lewis, Mere Christianity
“Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.” John 8:33-34 (NLT)
Sin is the Bible’s three-letter word to describe our obsession with our self. We are born into the world selfish. Self-centered sin is the primary reason for our dissatisfaction. It’s center stage. It governs how we think, how we feel, what we choose to believe in, and how we choose to behave. The sensibly realistic consequence of S.I.N. is Self-Inflicted N-sanity.
Sin is impulsive, compulsive, and chronic. It is persistent, unrelenting, and constant to our experience. Sin is progressive, meaning that it gets worse. As our thinking becomes more distorted by sin, we feel more and more dissatisfaction and discontentment, and we’re increasingly wrought with discomfort. We continue to sin and are impaired in our ability to demonstrate self-control. Whatever the issue of sin is, we develop tolerance to its effects and strive all the more to resolve our discomfort. We develop a preoccupation with our dissatisfaction and lose our focus. We continue in our sin, even though we are adversely affected by it.
At the core of our obsession with self is a belief of entitlement. I want something, then perceive that I need the thing that I want, then proceed to do what I have to do to get it… and continue to do what I have to do to keep it, and to do what I have to do to get more of it. If I want to feel something (i.e., pleasure, happy) I will do what I have to do. It is the same for eliminating the thing from my life that I do not want. I will do what I have to do. If I don’t want to feel something (i.e., pain, sad) I will do what I have to do. It’s what we do. We can’t help ourselves.
When we understand how the brain works—that there is a relationship between the ‘go’ centers of the brain and the cautionary, judgment centers of the brain, and that the ‘go’ systems are way more powerful than the judgment centers, which by the way are also governed by obsession with self—we can recognize the sensibility—the reality—of selfish sin. This relationship between these functions of the brain shape our values and direct our moral compass, the so-called inner voice.
Our inner voice, what you might say is the inner spirit or conscience of a person, is guided by the matter of selfish sin until we choose to surrender our desires, intentions, ambitions, and motivations over to the care of God. Until then, we are usually deceived by our own inner voice. It’s often said that on one shoulder is an angel and on the other is a devil, and there is this conflict inside of our heads between right and wrong, good and bad (evil). It’s said that we need to listen real closely to the angel so that we can make the good and right choices. The problem we have is that the “angel” inside of our head is also selfish. The other problem is that there is a real devil directing evil that the Bible says, “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). So you look to the right and there sits your trusty angel inner voice, and you in your selfishness inquires as to what it might be saying. Then you look to the left and… “WHAT?” Another angel? Which is which? How do you know which inner voice to listen to?
This is our dilemma with selfishness. Selfishness can help to protect us, even at times for the right reasons. But our selfishness is flawed and prone to repeated mistakes; mistakes driven by ambition and jealousy, resentment and vengeance, shame and fear, betrayal and abandonment. Because of the erroneous automatic thinking patterns of the brain, under the direction and vision of our core belief of entitlement, we our powerless to correct its course. We are absent of control, unable to fix ourselves or anyone else for that matter, and in need of help.
We are in fact obsessed with ourselves, and are thereby enslaved by sin. We are sin addicts. This is not merely my opinion. President Barack Obama, speaking of moral failure said, “What I trace this to is a certain selfishness on my part… I was so obsessed with me and the reasons that I might be dissatisfied that I couldn’t focus on other people…When I find myself taking the wrong step, a lot of the times it’s because I’m trying to protect myself instead of trying to do God’s work.”
Jesus said it.
“I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.” John 8:34
And Peter, a disciple of Jesus, said,
They themselves are slaves of destructive habits. For a man is a slave of anything that has conquered him. 2 Peter 2:19 (NKJV)
For every slave there is a master. To be a slave of sin is to be mastered, or controlled by sin. We are in fact addicted to sin. We’re all sin addicts. Sinful thoughts are addictive and destructive, yet we continue the pattern of sinful thinking. Sinful feelings are addictive and destructive, yet we allow ourselves to be controlled by sinful feelings. Sinful behavior is the result of sinful thoughts and feelings, yet we allow our thoughts and feelings to control our behavior. My obsession with me owns me and is at the wheel of what I think, how I feel, and how I behave.
Jesus Christ called us slaves to sin. A slave is submissive to the authority of its master. In every relationship, the power belongs to the least interested party. The one in the relationship that cares even a little bit less has the power and leverage in the relationship. Sin could care less in its relationship with us. It seeks to kill and destroy us. The Bible says that we sin by nature (Romans 2:14). It is in our character—our make up—to sin. Jesus is essentially telling us that we are powerless, compelled by our selfish sin nature to do what is wrong and harmful to ourselves and others, even when we want to do right and good. How sick is that? It is the disease of sin addiction rendering us powerless to simply fix it.
Paul goes on to write that the problem is that “sin dwells” in our human condition. Sin is alive in us (Romans 6:17). Synonyms for ‘sin’ include ‘wrong-doing’, ‘offend’, ‘indulge’ and ‘fail’. That sin dwells in us is to say that it inhabits us, and is alive in our minds, our thoughts and our behavior. Paul is presuming that his and our problem is spiritual, alive and controlling us from within. Paul elaborates on this truth, writing:
“Now if I do what I intend in my will not to do, it is no longer I who does it, but sin that dwells in me.” Romans 7:20 (NKJV)
Our desire, remember is to achieve satisfaction or, at the very least, minimize dissatisfaction through short-lived gratification. Once we deviated from God’s plan for how to be satisfied and fulfilled, we were drawn away by our desire to reverse our ongoing dissatisfaction. Enticed by the problem of dissatisfaction, having become obsessed with it, we turned inward to ourselves to solve this problem. Seemingly unattainable satisfaction gave way to instant (yet temporary) gratification.
In the clinical arena, there is cognitive recognition of something that happened that evoked thought interpreting the meaningfulness of the event. These thoughts feed into a belief about the event, which fuel feelings that drive choices and behavior in response to the event. Behavior then renders an outcome, good or bad (positive or negative). Since the GO system of the brain is selfish, typically overpowering the STOP system of the brain, also motivated by self-interested protective intentions, behavior will ultimately lead to our doom. The therapeutic intervention for this problem is referred to as cognitive behavioral therapy—CBT. Some two thousand years prior to CBT was written a therapeutic spiritual intervention called a relationship with Jesus Christ with a strategy for a new life experience into realized freedom.
Let’s examine how Scripture deals with the problem in a similar fashion to the manner in which clinical minds have examined the human condition. Except, like I said, Scripture had a two thousand year head start.
Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. James 1:14-15 (NKJV)
Drawn away by unsatisfied desire, having interpreted events in our experience, we’ve lost our focus; we’ve lost our way. We believe we can somehow achieve satisfaction in our own way, and will act on our feelings accordingly. We have journeyed onto a path that leads us away from God. The outcome of our independence from God is our inevitable destruction. Since satisfaction can only be achieved in perfection, and we are in fact imperfect, we remain dissatisfied. We must then protect ourselves from the imperfect disappointment and consequence as the inevitable result of sin.
Paul, a godly man intending to do the will of God, writes…
“For what I am doing I don’t understand. What I will to do, I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. But now it is no longer I that do it, but the sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to practice what is good I do not find. For the good I will to do, I do not do, but the evil I will (intend) not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but the sin that dwells in me.” Romans 7:15-20 (NKJV)
Ambivalence is wanting things equally that are in direct opposition to each other. It is having the same motivation to pursue things that means to have the one thing means losing the other thing. Game shows and reality shows on television always involve risk. The contestant has won enough money to be comfortable for a long time, but can risk it for more money to be comfortable for life. Even though the odds are stacked against the contestant winning the jackpot, he considers risking everything he has already won to win it all. He has to weigh what he has to gain against what he has to lose. This is ambivalence. Those who are thinking about cheating on a test or on their spouse wrestle in much the same way. Cheating spouses will put their marriages and families on the line for temporary self gratification.
Giving in to ambivalence means the risk of losing everything for a shortcut to perceived happiness. The same can be said for risking the provision, peace and joy that comes from a life surrendered to God’s will versus those fleeting moments of indulgent self-gratification. Ambivalence is resistance to recovery from selfish sin God’s way. It will go a long way toward fueling the belief of entitlement at the core of it all.
The difference between gratification and satisfaction may appear to be subtle, but there is a clear distinction. Gratification is the feeling that comes while receiving something; has an ambitious quality to it, and is often short-lived. Satisfaction is derived from healthy give and take, and has a gracious loving quality to it. There is no jealousy or resentment in true satisfied contentment. Ingredients of satisfaction include mercy, peace, and joy. There is often pain and suffering involved, perhaps even death of some kind, leading to the recovery of something that was lost and is then found; something that was broken is then restored. There is reconciliation and even a kind of resurrection, transformation, rebirth, or renewal.
Our minds, however, are not easily interested in the attainment, or pursuit, of satisfied contentment. Rather, we tend to settle for gratification for the “15 minutes” of it that we get to enjoy. Then, it is back to the grind of our perpetual struggle to find what we think that we want and need, searching desperately for another glimpse of heaven in our day-to-day life, which when we see it, is usually a counterfeit; a picture painted by selfish desire (and influenced by evil disguised as something positive) of how good our life can look when we do things motivated by selfish ambition.
For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. James 3:16 (NLT)
Apostle Paul understood this problem. Even those of us trying to be godly in relationship with God, struggle everyday when we buy into the lies of our selfishly ambitious motivations. He speaks in Romans of our intention to do that which is right and appropriate in the sight of God. The problem is that each of us has this addictive sin nature. Even the Apostle Paul, someone who encountered the risen Christ, someone who owed Jesus his life after persecuting God’s people, someone who suffered a great deal for the sake of the gospel, someone who wrote scripture after turning his life over to God, struggled with the ambivalence because of his addiction to sin. Paul loved Jesus. He fully comprehended that to surrender to the will of God meant putting an end to his constant struggle with inevitable failure and eminent destruction as the consequence of indulgent sin. Paul had experienced so much peace and fulfillment in his life surrendered to God, yet had times when he gave in to his selfish desires that resulted in bad choices with destructive consequences. We can love Jesus and yet still we sin.
Paul wrote that even though he intends to do what is right, he continues to blow it. He suggests that this issue of self-obsession resulting in addiction to sin is sick. He suggests that the addiction to sin is so strong that we are powerless against the control of sin dwelling in us provoking us. This begs the question, “I thought Jesus said if we follow his teachings we are indeed free?”
Jesus referred to sin as sickness and referred to himself as a physician for those who are sick. He came for sick sinners in need of a physician.
“Those who are well have no need for a physician, but those who are sick have need; for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Matthew 9:12-13 (NKJV)
The point is this, though we are sick with the disease of sin and cannot heal ourselves; there is one in Jesus Christ with power and authority over the sin disease. As we are forgiven of our sin, the Bible says we are healed of its consequences. The law of sin can no longer defeat us. We will still experience its effects as long as we’re on planet earth—life happens—but we are no longer owned by the will of sin. We may not always feel free, but we are free from the eternal consequences of sin when we are submitted to the will and care of God.
The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
James 5:15 (NKJV)
Turn away from the selfishness that comes natural to you and turn toward the one that can take you way beyond settling for the short-lived gratification that has a whole lot of pain attached to it, into a place of satisfied contentment, where you can know by experience mercy, peace, joy and freedom from generous beautiful God who loves you and wants to fellowship with you in relationship with the Sympathetic Savior, Jesus Christ.
The follow-up to “Addicted to Me” is “Biochemical Warfare: Moral Sabotage“.