Music, movies, and literature articulate truths about God in profound and beautiful ways. They illustrate those truths that we may already know, and make them tangible enough to affect heart change. The author need not intend to write gospel truth, because their creativity itself already reflects their Creator. The Holy Spirit will gladly use these unwitting prophets to instruct and encourage His people.
In his book Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace articulates a rather ugly truth when he draws on firsthand experience to describe drug/alcohol addiction:
...and then you're in serious trouble, very serious trouble, and you know it, finally, deadly serious trouble, because this Substance you thought was your one true friend… your mother and lover and god and compadre, has finally removed its smiley-face mask to reveal centerless eyes and a ravening maw, and canines down to here… You see now that It's your enemy and your worst personal nightmare, and the trouble It's gotten you into is undeniable and you still can't stop. Doing the Substance now is like attending Black Mass, but you still can't stop, even though the Substance no longer gets you high. You are, as they say, Finished. You cannot get drunk and you cannot get sober; you cannot get high and you cannot get straight. You are behind bars; you are in a cage and can see only bars in every direction. You are in the kind of a hell of a mess that either ends lives or turns them around.
Wallace vividly describes addiction’s march from a pleasant interlude to a cruel slave master. Addiction is enslavement to sin writ large. It’s our fallen nature on display, unfiltered and unpolished. But even so, I don’t actually believe that my sin is all that serious, and perhaps you don’t either. We often see our sin with a “smiley-face mask,” and we believe that we have it under control. Perhaps we’re near to being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
John Owen wrote that “He that hath slight thoughts of sin never had great thoughts of God.” Jesus himself communicates the gravity of sin in Matthew 5, when He equates anger to murder and lust to adultery. As a church, we would be well-served to open our eyes to sin’s “ravening maw” and begin to treat it as a bona fide threat so that we can more fully experience the glorious grace of God. Scripture flatly refutes a small view of sin, calling God’s people to “flee from youthful passions" (2 Timothy 2:2), to “put to death what is earthly" (Colossians 3:5), and to live “worthy of [our] calling" (Ephesians 4:1, Colossians 1:10). Sin must be put to death in the church because we have been commanded by a loving Father to be holy as He is holy. We are His image-bearers, and when the church reflects His holiness, the world gets a glimpse of His glory.
Perhaps we ought to fight our sin with the devotion of an addict fighting addiction. The first of the 12 Steps is to admit powerlessness over our sin. Likewise, we must recognize that we cannot free ourselves from sin because it is part of our very nature as children of Adam (Romans 5:12-14). We need the grace given to us through Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf (Romans 6:6-11). This grace is not received at the point of salvation only—alcoholism does not end after the first AA meeting, and our sin does not end the day we trust in Jesus. Rather, the Christian life is marked by growing up “in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ" (Ephesians 4:15), which is a constant acceptance of grace, a constant war on sin.
Like holy gunslingers, we may be tempted to wage this war in our own strength, but we mustn’t attempt to finish by the flesh what was “begun by the Spirit” (Galatians 3:3). Our only victory over sin is by Christ’s victory on our behalf. Our Father adopted us when we were His enemies (Romans 5:10), and He promises to sanctify His children (Romans 8:29, Philippians 1:6). He has sent His Spirit to intercede on our behalf, encourage, convict, and change our hearts (John 16:7-8, Romans 8:26). He has also given us one another, His Church, for our growth, instruction, and holiness (Ephesians 4:11-16, Colossians 1:28-29, Hebrews 3:13). Yes, we must fight sin, but we do it together, and by the power of the Spirit. When we trust Christ for our victory over sin, we take hold of gospel truth and enjoy a taste of God’s promise to restore all things and welcome us into perfect communion with Him. We have the privilege of welcoming the world into that promise of future grace, and the more seriously we take our sin, the more beautiful that promise will become.