Struggling against Sin

Seeking the Kingdom takes force and violence.

Columbanus (24)

During his stay in Milan, [Columbanus] resolved to attack the errors of the heretics, that is, the Arian perfidy, which he wanted to cut out and exterminate with the cauterizing knife of the Scriptures. And he composed an excellent and learned work against them.

  - Jonas, Life of St. Columban[1]

Thence we now force the kingdom of heaven by strength and violence, and this we snatch somehow, as it were, from amidst our enemies hands in the middle of the field of strife, and as it were in the blood-stained soil of battle, while we are to hardly assailed not only by our foes but by ourselves, while each loves himself ill, and in the act of loving hurts himself; for loves well who hates, that is, disciplines himself savingly, but he who makes terms with his foes is not said to love himself aright.

  - Columbanus, Sermon X[2]

You who love the LORD, hate evil!
He preserves the souls of His saints;
He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous,
And gladness for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the L
ORD, you righteous,
And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.


  - Psalm 97.10-12

Jesus used the language of force and violence to describe our calling to seek His Kingdom and righteousness (cf. Matt. 11.12; Lk. 16.16). He had in mind the kind of struggle against sin which Columbanus mentioned in Sermon X. The law of sin remains active in us, though we be ever so advanced in our sanctification, and unless we “hurt” ourselves by denying sin any place in our soul or body, we will not continue to increase in the Lord. We love ourselves aright, Columbanus insisted, when we hate the sin that remains in us and seek the light of the Lord unto righteousness.

Finally arrived in Italy, Columbanus might have been tempted to believe that his struggles were over. Theuderich,Theudebert, and Brunhilda were dead, and Chlotar ruled all the Merovingiaan lands in Gaul – precisely as Columbanus had predicted. He had pressed on to Italy, leaving the royals to sort out their differences in their own way. All that conflict with the powers-that-be was behind him now, and Columbanus might have looked forward to his remaining years as a time of rest and retirement from the struggles of the Kingdom.

Except that he was not naïve about sin, either in himself or in the world. So he was doubtless not surprised when in Italy he was forced to address the lingering heresy of Arianism.

Arianism was a fourth-century heresy which denied the eternality of Christ. Jesus earned the status of Son of God by His good works. And so, by implication, can we. The Church condemned heresy in a series of councils in the fourth century, but by the time that work was complete, the center of the Roman Empire had moved to Constantinople, and Arian Christians from beyond the Alps had drifted into Italy and set up shop. These Germanic peoples had been won to Christ by Arian missionaries Ulfilas and Ajax. Now they ruled the area around Milan, and their heretical views held sway among the people.

Enter Columbanus. As much as he hated the moral sins of the Merovingian courts, and the sin in his own soul, he hated the sins of false teaching, and would not sit by and allow them to flourish unopposed. At great risk to his own wellbeing, he composed a treatise (now lost) against Arianism, which was so thorough and impressive, that the Arian rulers of northern Italy allowed him to stay, and allowed him a foundation at Bobbio.

Sin is sin, and believers must hate and oppose all sin, even when everyone else seems content to allow it to continue, or when the sin appears in the teaching of church leaders. We must never “make terms” with the enemy, not even in the smallest of ways accommodating his agenda in our souls, lives, churches, or world. We are a people at war with sin, and we must learn to hate sin or we will never truly learn to love the Lord.

Our violent, forceful struggle against sin continues throughout our lives. Make up your mind that you are going to resist sin wherever it appears and in whatever manner, beginning in your own soul and extending throughout your life, your Personal Mission Field, and our world (Ps. 119.112).

Psalm 97.9-12 (Darwall: Rejoice, the Lord is King!)
All you who love the Lord, 
Despise sin’s wicked ways!
Praise Him Who guides us by His Word
Through all our days.
Refrain, v. 9
Beyond, above
All gods and nations be exalted, God of love!

Give me determination, Lord, that I may struggle against sin, especially as…

Seeing Jesus
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe PsalterScripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1]Jonas, p. 35

[2]Walker, pp. 103, 105

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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