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The Sin of Self-Protection

Dr. Larry Crabb is one of the highly respected counselors of our day, writing extensively on the core issues of man’s needs and guiding many to find satisfaction in their Maker. He is an author who won my eyes, whose books I blindly recommend to read.

Recently, I was reading a portion, from his well-written book, Inside Out. In this Gold Medallion Award-winning classic, he writes, “not everyone is involved in flagrant sin.” Many Christians do not commit horrible sins as such. They basically live honorable and decent lives. But as good as they maybe, there is a sin in which they easily fall and remain unaware of its disastrous work, which Larry calls, “The Sin of Self-Protection.”

What does it mean?

It certainly does not mean protecting oneself from physical assault. Larry describes, “The sin of self-protection to which I refer occurs when our legitimate thirst for receiving love creates a demand to not be hurt that overrides a commitment to lovingly involve ourself with others.” I cannot help myself but agree with Larry’s comment. How that demand for self-protection, that overly preoccupation with oneself to not be hurt by others, hinders people from moving toward others with their well-being in view, thus violating the law of love!

I have seen people (not excluding myself) how good they are in being passionate for God, for His Word, for Truth, for His Kingdom, but at the same time, how poor they are in interpersonal relationships! They are good in talking with God and about God but weak in walking with people. Their good life is not that good enough to get along with others. They shine brighter from afar, when people are good to them, but become darker when facing interpersonal conflicts.

Larry makes the right point, “It seems that when people live blameless lives in terms of the first category of sin (visible transgressions of known standards) and when their way of coming across is apparently commendable (humble, gracious), we’re inclined to wrongly think that sin is no longer a current problem for them, except perhaps for normal temptations with such things as lust. But (regrettably) understanding the second category of sin opens up new doors to dark rooms.”

What is that second category of sin, with which people subtly clothe themselves, living in dark rooms?
  • It is self-protection.
  • It is dissolving from resolving conflicts in relationships.
  • It is being hypersensitive, too easily upset by criticism and disagreement, leading to bitterness.
  • It is becoming frustrated for not getting the attention we think we deserve.
  • It is burying hurtful feelings and living non-transparent lives.
  • It is side-stepping rejection.
  • It is relating to one another with the hidden purpose of maintaining our comfort and avoiding whatever sort of interaction we find threatening.
  • It is being more concerned with how we feel and less concerned with the lives of others.
  • It is being clothed with ‘nice’ conduct, not with an intent to glorify God and to do good to others, but to protect ourself from further frustration of our longings to be respected and loved.
  • It is having the top priority of one’s own protection from the possibilities of pain in relationships.
  • It is getting depressed for not getting the approval from people to feel one's own significance.
  • It is becoming angry when people fail to care about us as they should.
  • It is developing bitterness when people don’t respond to our demands.
  • It is justifying ourself to conceal sins and mistakes.
  • It is clinging to our "right" to protect ourself.
  • It is being a slave to self-concern, allowing self-protection to govern what we say, how we say it and to whom.
These above descriptions of self-protection may not fall into the category of terrible sins, but who can deny the damage these little foxes do to the entire relationships! How many decent people are miserably suffering, even causing suffering to others, for being committed to self-protection! May our sincere desire be to find deliverance from these little, hidden evils and live a purposeful life for the glory of our Creator and for the blessing of His creation.

Everything said (although briefly), but what is the antidote?

It is possible to change our behavior without ever changing our attitude. So Larry exhorts that we need to first change our mind about the best way to deal with our thirsty soul. Genuine change comes from within (inside) and affects without (outside). Nevertheless, it is not easy to recognize, get exposed, admit and give up our commitment to self-protection. As Larry puts it, “Change from the inside out requires that we take a disturbing look at the ugly parts of our soul.” To use a strong word, it is 'excruciating'. We have to face the inevitable tough battle with ourself. Larry explains this struggle, “We resist giving up our self-protective commitment with the desperate strength of a man fighting for his life. To move toward life without self-protection feels like suicide.” In spite of its difficulty, may we recognize and repent of our self-protective commitment.

Secondly, we should stop looking in the wrong places for the relief our soul desires so badly. Let us understand that our thirsty soul finds its security and satisfaction only in the Creator, not in created things. To find deliverance, we are supposed to come to God in our thirst by abandoning our commitment to self-protection. We should turn to God who wants us to trust His love enough to freely love others, not to protect our longing from further injury. We need to stop digging for water (security and satisfaction) in our relationships and drink the living water from the infinite fountain, our Lord Jesus Christ, and share that amazing love with others. What God said to the people of Israel then is still relevant to the people now, "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jer. 2:13).

Says Larry, “When thirst is acknowledged and self-protection is unmasked, then trust in Christ can become more profound and repentance more complete. We can trust Him more when we know how badly we need what only He can provide.” Yes, let us confess our nakedness, our thirst, our hungers, our emptiness, our despair and seek fulfillment from our Maker, the emotional and physical contentment which only He can provide.

Let me close with my personal reflection in Christ - As much as it is exhilarating to experience the love of God through people so much it is exhausting and disappointing to seek love from people. To enjoy life on earth, seek love only from God and share only His love with others.

Larry Crabb, Inside Out (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Navpress, 1988)



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