For the practicing Christian, the only thing that matters in life is getting to heaven. However, for those who truly want to overcome their faults and make the previous statement possible, it can be utterly defeating to commit the same set of sins over and over again. Seriously…when am I ever going to overcome these struggles?!

Whatever your set of sins may be (trust me, none of us are that original), I’m sure many can relate to the experience. Though I recognize that God’s grace is sufficient, there does seem to be more that can (and should) be done on my end. Like a good engineer would tell you, in order to understand the problem, you have to really dissect it in piecemeal. In terms of our sin, where does the process start, and at what point in that process do I fall?

It All Starts with a Conversation

The devil is very real and he tries very hard (oftentimes successfully) to engage with us in our lives.

When it comes to sin, it’s always good to start in the beginning…literally. Think of Eve in the garden (it’s a bummer that Eve always gets such a bad rep when any of us probably would have done the same thing; she did represent the human race after all!); more importantly, think of the first sin. There’s an element to this story that she couldn’t control: the serpent was there, and not only that, he was talking to her! Unfortunately, this reality isn’t any different for us in our lives today. The devil is very real and he tries very hard (oftentimes successfully) to engage with us in our lives. So what’s a girl, Eve in this case, to do? After all, he was asking her a question: had God really told her not to eat of any tree from the garden? If you pause for even a minute at this part of the story, you realize how absurd that question is. Of course God hadn’t said that! Eve was probably munching on a peach from another tree in that same garden (and doing just fine) when the serpent asked the question! The devil, the ‘Father of Lies,’ cannot speak otherwise. That is how, if we keep vigilant, we know it is him – lies are his trademark and he speaks them every time. So where did Eve fail? Up to this point everything seems pretty much out of her court, when did the ball make it to her side and in her hands?

When she responded.

To understand why this was a mistake, let’s consider a more familiar situation. If you have kids of your own or any experience working with young children, you understand the deadly mistake of trying to negotiate with them. Though I’m sure there are plenty of child-development experts out there who would disagree with me, engaging with children in a questioning manner is the first mistake. Sure, it’s not a problem for a child to pick if he wants a green or orange cup, but it is a bad idea to let him think he has say in already decided issues such as naptime, length of timeouts, and if he gets a popsicle before bed. The reason is that by allowing questioning and debate, the child realizes that he has some weight or say in the outcome of the event rather than the understanding that, like it or not, he simply is going to take a nap now, sit with his nose against the wall for 5 minutes, and forgo the popsicle. All of this simply because you, his caregiver, said so. And if you falter in your authority, even giving an inch, he’ll take it a mile (just like we would in that situation), and you’re left with the decision to either wait out the temper tantrum or indulge him with a popsicle to keep the neighbors at bay (as well as your own sanity).

Sometimes the Best Offense is Refusing to Play

We can’t change reality, but we can change the way we respond to that reality.

What does this have to do with sin? You may not have kids, and even if you do, occasionally letting them have their way isn’t a sin! That’s not the issue. However, the scenario described above does provide an excellent analogy to our own process of engaging in sin. Just as we compromise our authority when we allow a child to negotiate their naptime, so too do we compromise our ability to withstand temptation as soon as we engage the devil. Of course, not engaging the devil doesn’t mean that he disappears; unfortunately, the devil is always going to be there. We can’t change that reality, but we can change the way we respond to that reality. Don’t engage! You’re not speaking with a rational adult who wants your best good, you’re conversing with a master con-artist who is seeking your demise!

So don’t go there. Don’t even think that you’re strong enough to go there. Know thyself and keep an honest man honest. If you struggle with materialism and spending money imprudently, don’t go to the Mall of America (if you live in Minnesota you know how real the struggle is). If you battle lustful thoughts and the new song by Rihanna doesn’t help, as soon as you hear the first few notes play out on the radio, switch the station. If you just laid on the couch with a fully charged laptop, fresh bag of chips, and your Netflix account open, don’t think for a second that you’re only going to watch one episode.

Ignoring the Whispers

Don’t dialogue with the devil.

By steering clear of the situations where the devil’s temptations are prevalent, you’re a lot less likely to find him at your side, whispering questions and temptations in your ear. And even if he does, when he attempts to engage you, don’t engage him. Though sin can be hazy and sometimes we don’t realize how we got from our best intention to the low place of regret and remorse, if we simply stay aware of the lies, and the situations that those lies continue to play themselves out in, then we can hold our ground.

Don’t dialogue with the devil. Eventually he’ll get tired of the one-way conversation and come your way less and less as you move to a life without him.