As the second wave of Coronavirus overtakes our city, Melbournians are being forced back into isolation. Other than for four specific reasons, it is officially unlawful for us to even leave our homes. These restrictions might be frustrating but they are necessary. Extreme times call for extreme measures. Staying home saves lives.
But while our homes may be places of physical safety, they are also places of spiritual danger because sin thrives in isolation.
Our homes may be places of physical safety, but they are also places of spiritual danger because sin thrives in isolation.
As the preacher of Ecclesiastes observes: “two are better than one … for if either falls, his companion can lift him up” (Ecc 4:9–10). Our great danger in this prolonged period of solitude is to fall into sin with no such companion by our side.
We lack the weekly rhythm of physically gathering as a church. We are unable to meet even one brother or sister to pray together. And with the loss of a daily routine and structure to our lives, we may have also lost our discipline to fight sin and pursue holiness. As we self-isolate in our homes, we may be physically safe but in spiritual danger. So here are three ways in which we can guard against sin as we endure another round of isolation.
1. Stay Connected as the Church
The Apostle Paul describes the church as God’s temple which is marked by holiness and cleansed of sin (1 Cor 3:17; 5:9–13). Indeed, as the church assembles, it is called to deal with unrepentant sin among its members (5:4–5). In this sense, the gathered church is ground zero of our sanctification.
The loss of our ability to gather therefore leaves us less able to deal with sin and more vulnerable to the attacks of the world, the flesh and the devil. In isolation, it is all too easy to both hide our sin and feed our sin in secret.
Church life is stripped back to an online service and mid-week Bible study. The incidental but indispensable moments of discipleship are lost. And as Zoom fatigue takes its toll, no one—not even the pastor—wants to plug into the artificial reality of online church.
All these challenges make staying connected an exhausting effort but they also make it an essential need. For without the support of fellow believers, we are fighting a spiritual battle all alone. God’s prescribed treatment to the deception of sin is the daily encouragement of other believers (Heb 3:12–15). And if we are overtaken by sin, God gives us one another to carry our burdens and restore us with a gentle spirit (Gal 6:1–2).
Even though we cannot physically meet, it is still possible to carry one another’s burdens in some way. In fact, it’s precisely because we cannot physically meet that we need to stay connected as the church. If we are to meaningfully help each other slay our sin, we need more than mere connection. We need deep relationships of mutual accountability. We need to take the initiative to confess our sins to one another, to ask each other about our battles with sin, and to even lovingly rebuke one another for ongoing sin.
Sin spreads in the dark and as children of the light, we must not tolerate each other’s sin but expose it with the light of Christ (Eph 5:8–14). Sin thrives in isolation so we must stay connected as the church.
2. Discipline our Bodies
A friend recently told me that he is most tempted by pornography when he is tired and bored—such is the banality of sin. In fact, as I read his Covenant Eyes report, the most telling statistic is not the sites he visits but the hours he’s awake. His worst weeks of viewing pornography almost always coincide with him being online late at night. Isolation disrupts our daily routine and destroys our personal discipline. Over the last few months, Australians have been exercising less, drinking more and sleeping later. The warning of Proverbs 6:9–11 has never been more apt:
How long will you stay in bed, you slacker? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the arms to rest, and your poverty will come like a robber, your need, like a bandit.
Our “poverty” and “need”, however, may be far more serious because our physical laziness leaves us spiritually vulnerable.It sounds so basic but one of the most effective measures to overcome an addiction to pornography is the discipline to sleep early. Indeed, the young man of Proverbs dies for lack of discipline (5:23). He wanders too close to the house of the forbidden woman and fails to recognise what CS Lewis warns of in the Screwtape Letters:
[T]he safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
Just like the young man who flirts with the forbidden women, the young Christian who stays up late playing on his phone “doesn’t know it will cost him his life” (7:23).
The pervasiveness of pornography and the dangers of isolation make the perfect storm for temptation to sin. It’s no surprise then that Paul calls the Corinthian church to “flee sexual immorality!” (1 Cor 8:18). In isolation, our loss of relationship leads to a lack of discipline, and our lack of discipline leads to an indulging in sin. Sin thrives in isolation so we need to discipline our bodies.
3. Meditate on the Cross
Notwithstanding the very real dangers of isolation, it does present us with an opportunity. While sin thrives in isolation, so too can our godliness. We can use this time to not feed our sin but slay our sin and grow in godliness.
Indeed, growing in godliness is the surest remedy to slaying our sin. So not only should the thief “no longer steal” but he should also “do honest work with his own hands” (Eph 4:28). It is not enough to simply say “No” to sin, we must say “Yes” to Christ. We must replace greed with generosity, lust with love, and idolatry with worship.
It is not enough to simply say ‘No’ to sin, we must say ‘Yes’ to Christ. We must replace greed with generosity, lust with love, and idolatry with worship.
And the key remedy to slay our sin is to meditate on the cross. In Deuteronomy, the Lord called Israel and their children to meditate on their exodus out of Egypt as the motivation for obedience to the Law (Dt 6:1–25). And as Christians, we must meditate on our exodus which Jesus won at the cross as our motivation for living in the Spirit. For Paul, the most effective remedy against indwelling sin is deeply meditating on the cross of Christ.
We are free to live by the Spirit because we know that in Jesus, we have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 6:24). And we can walk in newness of life because we know that “we were buried with him by baptism into death” (Rom 6:5). The more deeply we meditate on the cross, the more truly we realise our union with Christ, our death to sin and our new life in him. In The Mortification of Sin, John Owen enjoins us to:
Let faith look on Christ in the gospel as he is set forth dying and crucified for us. Look on him under the weight of our sins, praying, bleeding, dying; bring him in that condition into thy heart by faith; apply his blood so shed to thy corruptions: do this daily.
If, in this prolonged period of isolation, we are to slay our sin and grow in godliness, it is not enough to simply stay connected as the church or discipline our bodies. We must deeply meditate on the cross of Christ and realise that we have been crucified with him, and so we no longer live but Christ lives in us.