When I was a young boy growing up in the hills of West Virginia, there were few things I looked forward to more than blackberry season. We had whole hillsides full of them. My sister and I would come home many days with pink fingers and big smiles. There was just one problem. With the presence of blackberries came the interest of other small animals who also enjoyed the fruit. And with a good supply of small animals came the interest of another crafty creature, the snake.
My father, big and strong as he was, was deathly afraid of snakes. And our property had plenty of them to be afraid of. I did not inherit my dad’s fear of these reptiles and enjoyed the occasional mischief of killing a snake and placing it in a location where my dad would be sure to find it. There was, however, one kind of snake that always gave me a sense of fear: the snake I could not see. As long as I could see the snake and be aware of where it was and what it was doing, I was fine with being around it. But to walk through those blackberry bushes with the knowledge that snakes were probably among us and not be able to see them was scary.
Men and women do not normally fall deep into sin by plunging into the depths of their depravity. They usually fall by trying to scale the heights of their own self-righteousness and self-glory. You do not fall into a pit by looking down but by looking up. Adam reached up and was plunged into death. Cain offered up and was exiled to wander the earth. The people of Babel built up and were brought low and scattered. We are always reaching up and falling down. Proverbs 14:12 tells us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”
Sin in its ugly, rebellious, disfigured form does not knock at the door of our hearts. Sin will send desires and false promises to knock. When the Devil comes knockin’, he looks like an angel of light. Rarely do we open the door for obvious sins. John Calvin writes,
“…the intellect is very rarely deceived in general definition or in the essence of the thing; but that it is illusory when it goes farther, that is, applies the principle to particular cases. In reply to the general question, every man will affirm that murder is evil. But he who is plotting the death of an enemy contemplates murder as something good. The adulterer will condemn adultery in general, but will privately flatter himself in his own adultery. Herein is man’s ignorance: when he comes to a particular case, he forgets the general principle that he has just laid down.”
The Devil’s in the details. We grasp for fruit that has not been given to us and we get the snake along with it. What are you grasping for today that has not been given to you or promised to you? What are you grasping for today because you do not have the faith to believe that it will one day be put into your hand by your Heavenly Father?
Behind every act of sinful disobedience is an act of sinful obedience. Sin does not happen in a vacuum. For every “no” there is a “yes”. Eve could not say “yes” to the serpent without saying “no” to God as her King.
How do we rule over sin? By submitting to the rule of the serpent-crushing King. Sin’s power comes when we are grasping rather than receiving. We may feel at times like sin has the greater power, that we are helpless to its rule. But God has promised us the power to rule over it through His Holy Spirit. Christ has crushed sin so that we may no longer be slaves to its tyrannical rule. It is a serpent without venom. One day it will not even be able to entangle our feet or choke out our joy. We will be free from both its presence and its power.
We rule over sin by submitting to and delighting in Jesus Christ. We do not fight by grasping but by receiving.