I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought of self-control as a matter of do’s and don’ts: If you can do what is right and avoid what is wrong then you have the virtue of self-control. End of story.
Well I stumbled onto a verse the other day that has challenged me to think of self-control in a whole new light. It comes from Proverbs 25:28 and it reads as follows:
A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. (ESV)
At first I thought this was a surprising comparison. A city without walls? According to this analogy, self-control is about more than acting rightly. It is a mode of self-protection. Like a city without walls that is left vulnerable to any kind of attack, a lack of self-control leaves us vulnerable to the temptations and pitfalls of this world.
But what I found even more telling was the following portion of the verse: “a city broken into and left without walls.” This verse points to an exact moment at which the walls came down. There was an initial invasion, an original penetration of the walls, and because of that invasion the entire city was left open to attack.
As soon as I read this, I knew exactly what it was referring to: gateway sin. Perhaps a more familiar term is “gateway drug,” which refers to the use of “softer” drugs before moving on to more serious habits of addiction. A person starts out using pot, thinking it’s no big deal, but eventually moves on to harder substances as the desire for a bigger high gets stronger.
It is the same with sin. We start out with a small sin, thinking it’s no big deal, but it leads us to into more serious habits. This kind of struggle can range anywhere from lust, to gambling, to pride—as soon as you indulge your temptation, it’s much easier to do it again.
And that is why Proverbs 25:28 is such a perfect description of self-control. As long as you haven’t indulged a sin and you haven’t tasted its sweetness, it’s much easier to stave off attacks. You have built up momentum that you need only maintain, so the walls more readily stand firm. But once you give into it, the walls come crumbling down.
Why? Well there are two reasons actually. The first is that you feel less guilty recommitting a sin that you’ve already done before. There’s a lot less at stake the second time around. The second reason is that you now yearn to experience the pleasure again. In the same way that I will not crave a dessert I’ve never tasted, it’s easy to resist a sin we’ve never experienced. But once I have a bite of that molten chocolate lava cake, it’s very difficult to resist having another.
In this way, the initial breach of your “wall” is the most crucial point to guard against. Once you allow the behavior into your life, it’s exponentially more difficult to keep it out. It’s much easier to maintain a wall than to completely rebuild one.
So don’t believe the lie that a small sin is no big deal. It may actually be a gateway sin that tears down your walls and leaves you vulnerable to even greater temptations. See sin for what it really is. No matter the size, it is all spiritually fatal.