Another of the reasons why our growth in the Christian life can appear imperceptible at times is because we do not deal drastically with sin. We toy with it. We coddle it. And we do this especially with particular sins that seem to “fit” us better than others do. I am convinced that we all have these kinds of sins in our lives, because we all have different personalities, gifts and abilities, experiences, educational opportunities, and family backgrounds. Even though we may share a great deal of similarity with other people, we are nonetheless different, and we have different experiences. Those dissimilarities affect the way that we experience sin. I may struggle with gossip (I don’t, by the way) but have no trouble at all resisting materialism or anxiety. You may struggle with materialism or anxiety and have no trouble at all dealing with gossip. Each of us is distinct and, because of that, sin affects us distinctly.
The particular sins that seem to “fit” us are the ones we find hardest to put to death. But they are also the ones that we most need to mortify. The differences between us ought to be a source of encouragement and accountability rather than a source of pride and division. Instead of looking down our noses at brothers and sisters who struggle in ways that we do not (“I can’t believe that he or she struggles in that way!”), and cutting off fellowship with them, we should use our respective strengths to build up and bolster one another. In that way, we “[b]ear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
The fact that we all have particular sins that are “suited” to us is yet another reason why our growth in grace can appear slow or even non-existent to ourselves. We see the continual struggle with the same sins in many of the same ways, and we grow discouraged. We don’t see the growth that is happening in other areas because we are focused upon the specific areas of acute struggle. Just as “the squeaky wheel tends to get the grease,” so the greatest struggles tend to receive the focus of our attention. We miss the things God is doing in other areas of our life because we are so attuned to the one or two places that we struggle with most. That doesn’t minimize the importance of maintaining the struggle against these sins, but it should give us encouragement in the midst of that struggle to keep on fighting against them until the Lord returns or calls us home.
Alongside of this, we are also to cultivate what Rutherford calls “holy affections” or what we might call a deep-seated love for Jesus, for who He is and for what He has done. When you and I see that Jesus really is the “pearl of great value,” we will sell everything in order to secure Him for ourselves (Matt. 13:45), which means that we will freely let go of our desires for “lesser” things—even those lesser things that seem to “fit” us so well.
Our problem, as CS Lewis, pointed out a couple generations ago is that we are “far too easily pleased.” We settle for “lesser” glories when the Lord has something far greater in store for us.
“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
This is why Rutherford preached the “loveliness of Christ” the way that he did. He wanted to hold before all who heard him the “one pearl of great value” in such a way that they all saw it for themselves. The same is true for us. When we see the loveliness of Christ, then and only then will we make progress in dealing with particularly stubborn patterns of sin—the ones that suit our personalities and experiences—and begin to see some evidence of our growth in grace.