Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him. 1stPeter 5:8-9a NIV
I have known some Christians, including some Christian leaders who have shipwrecked their lives. When I say shipwrecked I do not mean they briefly made an ugly mess in one area of their perfectly good life, recovered and eventually moved on to bigger, better and more productive things. When I say shipwrecked I mean they made such an epic mess out of their lives and relationships, there is simply no way they will ever completely recover from their choices this side of heaven.
When a Christian screws their life in an irrevocable kind of a way the rest of us tend to assume the shipwreck occurred as a result of one-great-big-sinful-decision (having an affair, getting addicted to drugs, embezzling money). However, few people ruin their lives all at once. Shipwrecks happen gradually, usually after a lifetime of covering-up and lying about their behavior. The one great-big-sinful-decision that appears to be the cause of the shipwreck is actually just a symptom of much bigger problem.
The Bible has a name for this root problem, it’s called “giving the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27). There are at least a million different ways a Christian can give the devil a foothold. Giving the devil a foothold basically means that at some point someone willingly gave a small area of their lives over to sin, then chose to keep their behavior a secret. Which effectively permitted that area of their life to become the devil’s playground. Over the course of many years the person in question loses their ability to keep their sin a secret. Eventually they get caught and their sin becomes obvious to everyone and their life is shipwrecked (Numbers 32:23).
The key to avoiding these tragedies is prevention. I already stated that there are at least a million ways we can shipwreck our lives, mostly because the capacity of the human heart to dream up clever ways to sin is nearly boundless (Jeremiah17:9). That being said, the areas where the devil attempts to gain a foothold in a person’s life are fairly standard to everyone. The first is:
I have never known a person harboring secret sin who did not pridefully assume that they could handle “sinning a little bit”. At the root of this belief is almost always a sense that they are “different” from other people and don’t need to follow the same rules that all the other people have to follow. If pride is left unchecked it inevitably leads to a shipwreck because it causes people to believe that they are better and smarter and worthier than they really are (Proverbs 11:2, Proverbs 29:23, Obadiah 1:3). This belief cause people to do incredibly stupid stuff guaranteed to be their downfall (Proverbs 16:18).
Coveting is not just about wanting things we don’t have. It’s about wanting things that we should never have and refusing to be content with what we do have. Coveting is dangerous because it always leads to bigger sins. It is not wrong to want a wife (or a husband). However, it is wrong to want someone else’s wife or husband (Deuteronomy 5:21). It is also wrong to want a husband or wife more than we love God (Exodus 20:3). Coveting sex eventually leads to infidelity and/or some kind of sexual deviancy. Money is not sinful, but loving money and craving material possessions leads to fraud, theft, shady behavior and a miserly unwillingness to share what God has blessed us with. (1st Timothy 6:10). Spending an undue amount time thinking about what we wish we had instead of being grateful for what we do have is a huge red flag for this foothold (Hebrews 13:5, 1st Timothy 6:6-7)
Resentment and unforgiveness-
Resentment and unforgiveness are without question the devil’s favorite foothold. These sins always lead to bitterness, cynicism, and offense. A bitter, cynical and offended person can easily justify any and every behavior under the sun (Job 36:13). For that reason, resentment and bitterness must be dealt with quickly and decisively before they take root and defile a person (Hebrews 12:15)
Jealousy is the original gateway sin. It opens the door for every other sin. Jealousy is the reason Cain killed Abel and its why Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. No one in the history of forever has ever done anything in a fit of jealousy that they could be proud of (Proverbs 27:4, Galatians 5:19-21).
Thanks to the internet and a nearly universal lack of self-control in our culture, lust is probably the devil’s most fruitful foothold at this point in history. It almost goes without saying that this one sin has ruined more men and women than any other sin in the history of sin. Lust is dangerous because it is not a difficult sin to hide and it gradually changes the sinner, hardening their heart and making it harder for them to hear from God or to care about hearing from God. When Christians stop hearing from God it is almost inevitable that they will act on the most deviant desires of their heart.
Sinful footholds are preventable. We avoid them by dealing with our sin on a daily basis and walking in the light of truth. Once a foothold is formed there is only one way to break its power: honesty. We get free by coming clean and then choosing to live our whole lives in the light (Psalm 119:9, Psalm 119:5, Hebrews 4:13).