Sin vs. Attachment to Sin: A Critical Distinction
In yesterday’s On the Culture essay (Entering the Kingdom of God: What Does This Mean?), I cite several passages in St. Paul’s letters which indicate that certain classes of sinners cannot enter the Kingdom of God. But we are all guilty of at least some of the sins Paul identifies, and yet the Kingdom of God is not empty.
The solution to this seeming contradiction lies in a critical distinction. It is a distinction which absolutely must be understood by all of us, and especially by those struggling against deeply ingrained habits or even addictions of any kind, including today’s common addictions to pornography and sexual license.
There are of course many who are committed to the use of their freedom to enjoy sex or other sins as much as they please; these will not turn to a God who sees their hearts. But there are many others who have responded to God’s call and do want to change; they have turned to God and seek His aid. For these, continuing actual sins are a source of deep (and sometimes even dangerous) sadness.
The difference is that their wills are not attached to their sin: Their bodies, perhaps, or their psyches, what St. Paul calls “the flesh”, but not their wills. They do not wish to cling to the sin. They yearn to be free of it.
Our Lord paid the full price for all of our sins. No matter how often we fall, the debt is paid in full. Our part is to receive so great a gift, to accept Christ’s Kingship freely, and to strive to serve Him—rather than to reject Him because our wills prefer something contrary to His. This acceptance enables us to grow in grace through the power of the Holy Spirit, gradually replacing our weakness with God’s strength, learning to love as we are loved.
Though we may have to repent frequently, we are willing to do so because we are defined by our attachment to God. But in rejecting God, we reveal that we are defined by an attachment to sin. It is only this attachment—and not our willing struggle to escape the habit of particular sins—that prevents us from entering the Kingdom of God.
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