I think it would be beneficial for everyone to learn a competitive sport, sometime in their life. The reason I say this is not primarily for the sake of fitness or social maturity, though both are good. My primary reason is that a competitive sport teaches you a valuable way of thinking. In my own sport, that of fencing, I was trained to see failure as a lesson. One was not allowed to see loss as a reason for pity or frustration; you learned from it and you moved on. This had a basic four-step process: admit the loss, discern what factor caused or allowed the loss, plan a counter-measure to that factor, execute counter-measure.
Let’s look at an example from fencing. Loss: I got hit. Step one: “ok, I got hit.” Step two: “Why did I get hit? Well, when I attacked, my tip was pointed too high, such that I missed over his shoulder and ran myself into his tip.” Step three: “I need to lower my tip.” Step four: I lower my tip. If that correction worked, great! If not, I go through the process again; maybe I missed something.
This is a helpful method of thinking all through life, not only in sports. Because we wage a constant battle with our old sinful nature, the Christian would benefit from a tactical way of thinking.
We sin constantly, whether we are conscious of it or not. But let’s say there’s one particular sin you struggle with regularly and are highly conscientious of. Here’s how the process would be helpfully applied. Step one:confess your sin. Always, always, always go first to your baptism and the forgiveness which God promises to you, in Jesus. Step two: discern the circumstances of the sin. What stimulates it? Is it a situation, a location, an image, a word, a place, a state of mind? You may wish to ask if there’s a pattern to where it occurs or even when. Step three: how will you avoid those stimuli in the future? Step four: execute your avoidance plan.
I have utilized this pattern for years, as I find it a practical tool in day-to-day affairs. I have had that same amount of time to study my temptations. Using this competitive mind frame, I have observed every conceivable pattern and developed countless avoidance plans, some of which have even worked. After years of tactically struggling with the same sins, I have accomplished … nothing. I sin just as much after as before. There are days when my avoidance plans don’t work, when I’m unprepared for the temptation, when my will is too weak to resist, when I just really want to sin. It does not get better. At the end, I don’t need aid, I need good news.
This, then, is why the Theology of Glory will always fail: because you are a sinner and nothing in this life will change that. You will ruin every good thing that comes your way because you are ruined. Therefore we cry as Paul does, “who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
This, then, is why the Theology of the Cross is so essential: because you are a sinner and Christ shared in your suffering. “We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but was tempted in every way in which we are yet was without sin,” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus makes no empty promises that it will get better or that it will get easier, for Jesus “knows what is in man,” (John 2:25). Instead, He took upon Himself your sin—that sin that you struggle with, that sin that you cannot resist, that sin that you enjoy committing—and suffered what you never have and never will. And now, risen, He promises a time when we shall no longer struggle, fall, or love to sin. When He returns “we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is,” (I John 3:2). Therefore we wait for His return with eager expectation and with groans of longing. For though we suffer now, when He returns we shall suffer no more.
But while we wait, He has not left us without comfort. Through Word and Sacrament, He feeds us with the forgiveness we desperately need to survive. Therefore always, always, always go back to your baptism wherein God promises to you forgiveness of your sins, now, and, in the future, a life with Him of eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus,” (Revelation 22:20).