A man came to see me. It was the beginning of Lent, the original "40 Days of Purposeful Repentance."
"Pastor," he said, "I want to confess my sins." And in tears, he spoke honestly and openly about the sin in his life—nothing illegal, most known only to him, yet serious, and he wanted to turn away from it. We talked and prayed together, and he left.
Forty days later, he came back.
"How are you doing?" I asked.
"I haven't made much progress," he admitted, his eyes unable to meet mine.
In his agony was a question I've often asked: "Why does sin so stubbornly remain in our lives?" He and I both want to change more than we have and more than we do.
I've heard many answers, ranging from "You just haven't gotten serious enough about turning away from your sin" to "You need an experience of greater or entire sanctification" to "You need an accountability partner" to "You need to let go and let God." All helpful, to a point, but they didn't seem to fit this man hunched over in front of me.
So I read several classic books of spiritual devotion. Their answer was not what I expected; in fact, it was the opposite.
In the first book, Francois Fenelon, a Christian spiritual adviser in the 1600s, wrote a letter that included a phrase that stopped me: "Sometimes [God] leaves people with certain unconquerable imperfections … " Really? God does this? What good end could God possibly have in mind for leaving unconquered areas in our lives? Fenelon continued, " … in order to deprive them of all inward self-satisfaction … Self-reliance, even in the matter of curing one's faults, fosters ...