Why Do People Continue to Do What They Know is Wrong When They Know it’s Hurting Them?


It’s the age-old question and it puzzled me for years: Why do people continue to do what they know is wrong when they know it’s hurting them?

There is a huge class of sin that falls in this category. The obvious one, given this venue, is pornography. But there are many others that fit the description as well:

  • Overeating
  • Failing to exercise
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Failure to see a dentist

Most of these vices come with an immediate payoff in the form of self-gratification… or at least pain avoidance.

In Romans 6:19-23, the apostle Paul lays out the freedom from sin that is available to us through Jesus. He asks, “What benefit did you reap at that time from the things which you are now ashamed of?” It’s a rhetorical question of course; there was indeed a benefit. It was pleasure—a completely positive experience, but a fleeting commodity.

But we also reaped guilt, shame, and fear… and these things, unlike pleasure, seem to persist.

In my own case, I mainly reaped fear—the bitter aftertaste of sin.

That secret I was hiding… why did I hide it?

Fear is the reason:

  • Fear of being caught
  • Fear of the embarrassment and shame
  • Fear of the consequences of my actions
  • Fear of ruin

We all know in our hearts that sin only leads to bad things, just as we know we rob ourselves of the benefits that accrue from making wise choices.

We also know what we need to do: drop the charade, own up to our failures, expose our sin, ask forgiveness, and repent.

But why don’t we do that?

Once again, it’s often fear that keeps us from experiencing the freedom from our sin that Paul promises us.

The Antidote to Fear

Faith is the first half of the antidote for fear. We must decide that God can be trusted; that he will forgive as fully as he promised.

The hardest part is often believing he loves us unconditionally. That is an amazing statement we hear so often that we don’t always appreciate the significance. But hear this: the God of creation, of galaxies and nebula, of microorganisms and subatomic particles, is head over heels in love with you.

I’m surprised that he even knows my name, yet I’m told he knows everything from the hair on my head to the things I have done. He knows I’ve seen porn and sneak a second serving of ice cream and he continues to love me anyway.

By trusting his love for us, we realize he has our best interests at heart. Fear begins to crumble as we embrace this truth. We start to believe that we can face the consequences of our sin knowing Jesus is with us.

The second half of the antidote is Grace: God’s work through Christ that nullifies our sin. Guilt and shame are easy targets for grace, gone in the blink of an eye. Maybe that’s why grace is so hard for us to accept. In human terms, we don’t merely forget an offense and act like it never happened. If you come to accept God’s grace though, that’s exactly what happens to all your offenses in the eyes of God… instantly.

Sin + Faith + Grace = Life

Sin + Fear + Guilt + Shame = Death

This is how faith and grace work together to simultaneously break the bonds of sin—and both are the free gift of God.

2012-10-18 07.02.05John Allen is a Life Coach and lives in Seattle. He works with entrepreneurs and emergent leaders to help them pursue their visions and live fuller, more meaningful lives. He has a special interest in Christians who struggle to turn over every part of their lives to Jesus, to go “all in.” You can find out more at www.allencouraging.com.

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