The Unholy Double Standard

I think anyone who is diligently pursuing the spiritual life of repentance knows the frustration of losing the battle to sin on a daily basis.  Many of us have habitual sins that we cannot seem to break.  We fall into sin, we feel dirty and unworthy, we ask God to forgive us, and then we get up and try again.

However, if we are to be honest, many of us sometimes feel at least a hint of hopelessness.   We wonder if God really wants to take us back.  If we’re constantly falling into the same sin over and over, will God justly become angry with us and refuse to accept our repentance?

The devil would sure like for us to lose hope.  But here is the double standard: when repenting of a sin, and then being tempted to fall into it again, I have never said to myself, “No, I might as well give up on sinning.  After repenting so many times, I don’t think the Devil will take me back.”

The idea is laughable.  Has anyone, desiring to sin, found it difficult  because the Devil is fed up with his persistence in repentance?  Of course not, but why not?  Because the Devil hates us and desperately wants to see us destroyed with him in the end.  Ultimately, the Devil hates God, but because he cannot directly attack God, he attacks those whom God loves, trying to turn the creation against the Creator.

On the other hand, God loves us unconditionally and desires to see us live eternally with Him.  Both sides strongly desire to “win” us over.  The Devil is motivated by hate and envy, God is motivated by love and mercy.  As much as the Devil hates, the strength of his hate is not even a fraction of the strength of God’s love.  The motivations the devil has for destroying us are not nearly as strong as God’s motivation to save us.

THE SINFUL YET REPENTANT MONK

There is an ancient story told by St. Amphilochios of Iconium (+394) regarding a monk who perpetually fell into a fleshly sin.  Everyday he committed this sin, and then everyday he would run to church, fall down before the icon of Christ, and beg forgiveness for committing the sin.

This cycle of sin-repentance went on for quite some time.  One day, God opened the eyes and ears of the repentant monk to see what was happening in the spiritual realm.  The Devil showed up and began arguing with Christ, “Where is Your justice?  How can You be called the Just Judge when You immediately take back those who repeatedly fall into the same sins?  I committed one little sin and was thrown out of heaven.  Yet this monk sins constantly and You keep taking him back!”

God replied, “You, when he turns again to sin, do not turn him away, but receive him with joy, neither chastising him nor preventing him from committing sin, out of the hope that you might win him over.  Yet I, Who am merciful and love mankind, Who counseled My laudable Apostle Peter to forgive sins seven times seventy (Matt 18:22), do I not show him mercy and compassion?  Indeed – simply because he flees to Me – I will not turn him away until I have won him over.

“Furthermore, I was crucified for sinners and for their salvation; My immaculate hands were nailed to the Cross, that those who so wish might take refuge in Me and be saved.  For this reason then, I neither turn away nor reject anyone, even if he should fall many times a day and many times return to Me; such a person will not leave My Temple saddened, for I came not to call the righteous, but to call sinners to repent.”

The Devil heard all of this and stood trembling before the Lord.  God then continued, “We have heard from all that you say, O Seducer, that I am not just; to the contrary, I am just beyond all.  In whatever moral state I find a person [at death], in that state I judge him.  Look at this man, who a few moments ago repented…with a sincere resolution to abandon sin, and thereby having conquered you.

“Therefore, I will accept him immediately and save his soul since he did not lose hope in his hard toil for salvation.”

At that moment, the repentant monk breathed his last and the angels escorted him to Paradise while a fiery tempest fell upon the Devil and scourged him for his insolence. [1]

THE MORAL

I think the point of the story is quite clear: just as the Devil is quick to take us back when we desire sin, so the Lord is even quicker to receive us when we sincerely repent.  Our Lord and the angels in Heaven are cheering for us, eagerly looking for excuses to help us and bring us into eternal life.  There is nothing holding us back from running to the Lord except our own stubbornness and the deceptions of the Devil.  So, let us be like the monk who, during his life, was never delivered from his sinful addiction, but nevertheless ran to God on a daily basis asking for forgiveness.  In this way, let us find salvation.


End notes:

[1] Paraphrased, abbreviated, and quoted in part from The Departure of the Soul, St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, 2017.  See pages 149-152 for the full account.

I included the icon of St. Marina beating the Devil as the main photo for this post because, while we often feel like the devil is whipping us during this life, if we continue to repent and do not give up, we beat him in the end.

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Jeremiah

Growing up in non-denominational churches, I became weary of many practices in the church. I decided it was time to find a church that enabled me to grow in my faith and talents, but that was also theologically deep. I was drawn to the Eastern Orthodox Church for several reasons. Check out my blog which details my journey into this ancient faith.

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