Liberation is self-control: The freedom we find in avoiding sin

“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” 
—Romans 7:19

A common phrase of smokers, drinkers, and dieters is, “I am trying to quit.” If someone is a cigarette smoker and wants to quit smoking but has a hard time doing so, are they free? If someone has a drinking problem and wants to quit drinking but has a hard time, are they free? If someone has a weight problem and wants to quit overeating but has a hard time, are they free? Addiction to sin is quite similar to addiction to tobacco, alcohol and food. “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought” (Pope John Paul II).

When do we lose our freedom? 

Fredrick Douglas said, “I did not know I was a slave until I found out I could not do the things I wanted.” Oftentimes, we would not consider our bad habits, little sins, or even biggest challenges “enslavement.” It is not until we try to change that behavior that we realize we are not free. What is something you struggle not to do but do anyway? I have a hard time not eating bad foods, not swearing, not judging others, and plenty more. We all have something, but when did it start? “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34). Does that mean we are all slaves to sin? Yes, it does. What can we do about it? 

Trying to quit

I have surrendered my freedom in the small things, which in turn has made me a slave to sin and to the flesh. By the grace of God we can all become free, truly free, from sin. Scripture is not a suggestion, it is an invitation to be who God created us to be, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Perfection is a tall order, but through our participation in the sacraments, Scripture, and the Church, we can be who God calls us to be. There are some ways we can avoid falling deeper into an enslavement to sin, as well as finding freedom and breaking free from our addiction to sin. “Like a city whose walls are broken through, is a person who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28).

Detox from sin 

Imagine instead of trying to quit smoking, alcohol, or sugar you want to quit sin. The first thing you do is avoid it, “Awake to righteousness, and do not sin” (1 Corinthians 15:34). You cannot have a sip of alcohol when you are an alcoholic. Once you avoid your sin of choice, you need to make a daily commitment to continue to seek freedom. “Commitment is the foundation of great accomplishments” (Heidi Reeder). Pray daily, without ceasing. Lastly, repent when you fail. “To repent is not to look downwards at my own shortcomings, but upwards at God’s love, it is not to look backwards with self-reproach but forward with trustfulness, it is to see not what I have failed to be, but what by the grace of Christ I might yet become” (St. John Climacus).

If you believe you are free, then be perfect 

“They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19). The concept that freedom is to do what one wants, as opposed to what one ought, is a lie. It is a lie that we, as a curious people, tend to want to discover for ourselves. I would encourage you to consider how it is already a lesson you have been taught. If it is not something you have discovered for yourself at this point, then for this new year “...Go and sin no more” (John 8:11).

Mary Morasso is a mother and parishioner of SS. Cyril and Methodius Parish in Sterling Heights. She holds a bachelor's degree in pastoral theology from Sacred Heart Major Seminary and has taught theology at the high school level.