The Unexpected Blessing of Your Child’s Besetting Sins

Many years ago, when my kids were still toddlers, a seasoned father of six told me, “I’m thankful for my children’s besetting sins.” What?!? The thought exploded in my brain. How could you possibly be thankful for the sins your children struggle with over months, years, or maybe even a lifetime?

He explained that as hard as it was to see his kids mess up repeatedly, he had seen the Lord use those long-term struggles. The longer the struggle, the clearer it became that they couldn’t handle the problem on their own. Their own resources, abilities, and simply trying harder, were not enough to bring victory.  It became painfully obvious that they needed help outside of themselves. They needed a Savior.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you’re grooming a horse for the first time, and the horse stands still while you brush him and patiently allows you to lift each hoof to scrape out the dirt, you probably think, “That was easy. I’m good at grooming horses. I can handle it again, no help needed.” But, if you’re tasked with grooming a horse who nips you when you try to brush him, and stubbornly refuses to lift a single hoof, you would probably call out for help. You would check in regularly with the trainer to be sure you’re on the right track. And you would seek out help ahead of time the next time you have to groom that horse. The struggle would make you more aware of your weakness and your need for help outside of yourself.

The same thing is true in our struggle against sin. The longer the struggle persists, the more acutely aware we become of our need for someone stronger, more knowledgeable, and more capable to intervene on our behalf. We need help to do what we are incapable of doing on our own. Besetting sin exposes our weakness.

Of course, besetting sin alone is not enough. By itself, it leads to despair. When coupled with repentance, however, its unexpected blessing begins to emerge. Daily repentance will grow in us a deep distaste for our besetting sins and a deep desire to turn from sin toward a life marked by growing trust in and obedience to Jesus.

True repentance is a gift of God. His Spirit does the work to change us from loving the sin and seeking more of it, to hating the sin and seeking to turn from it. So we are driven to the Lord in prayer, asking for what only he can give—repentant hearts in ourselves and in those we love.

Yet, besetting sin and repentance alone are also not enough. We need the hope that only the gospel of Jesus Christ can provide. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31–32)

Jesus came for the sick, for those who know themselves to be sinners in need of a Savior. He came for those who continue to struggle and repent and hope in him, day after day, year after year. He knew that saving us was not going to be a “one and done” kind of action, but that we and the people we love would continue to struggle with sin for the rest of our lives. And that those struggles are custom designed to drive us back to him.

John Newton, author of Amazing Grace, prayed the Lord would help him to seek his face more earnestly. He hoped the answer would come in freedom from sin. But the Lord’s answer to his prayer was surprising: 

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

As Newton’s awareness of his ongoing brokenness deepened, he cast himself on the Lord as his only hope.

When Jesus died on the cross as the perfect substitute for us, he took away all the sins, past, present, and future, of everyone who would trust in him. He rose again to show that his victory over sin and death is complete. Victory over some sin in this lifetime is absolutely possible, praise God. But in those times when the struggle with besetting sin continues, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Final victory is guaranteed for those who are trusting in Christ, because Christ has already accomplished it. Eternity awaits, where believers will be free to worship God unencumbered by those sins that so easily entangled us in this life.

So, when your son explodes in anger for the fourth time today, when your daughter self-righteously judges her sister, when your friend confesses that she looked at porn again, when those nagging long term doubts about the goodness of God resurface . . . you have a choice. You can give in to fear and despair, or you can remember the wise words of my friend and give thanks to God for the reminder that our problem with sin is too big for us to handle on our own—we need a Savior. You can pray that God will teach each of us to rely on him to do the work of salvation that only he can do, whether it takes a week, a day, or a lifetime.

Coop Messes Up frontcover

Coop Messes Up

Coop Wheelie is the youngest in his family, and like many little ones, he has a problem obeying the rules—and there are a lot of them! When Coop runs out of gas, his sister, Lucy, tries to help him learn to follow the rules, but finds herself right in the middle of the trouble too. Through Coop’s story, kids will discover that making mistakes can be an important way to learn about forgiveness and the gospel. 

About the author

Sarah Reju

Sarah Reju, MDiv, is a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother living in Washington, DC. She is the author of God Is Better Than Trucks, God Is Better Than Princesses, Jesus Saves, and Coop Messes Up. Sarah and her husband, Deepak, have five children.

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