When Your Moral Compass is Broken

Surely you have experienced it. That is, if you are anything like the rest of us. You are caught up in a wave of sin that you once believed you would never commit. Not only do you now find it acceptable, you also find it desirable. Whether this is engaging in pornography or committing adultery or abusing your husband/wife/children, something has gone wrong. Just like a broken compass fails to tell a seaman which direction he ought to go, so your moral compass has broken, and you are left wondering how this could have possibly happened to you.

I know this sentiment well, because I experience it pretty regularly. I also spend time with God every day, I teach classes on both theology and the Christian life, and I disciple many younger believers. Yet there are times throughout the year that I find myself wrestling with God in prayer asking questions like, “God, why did you make me this way? Why do I find that I accept my sin and desire it? What happened God? Why can’t I change? Why can’t I hate my sin and be freed from it?” Yes, even the most respected “Christian leaders” go through bouts where they experience the brokenness of their moral compass.

When your moral compass is broken, sin becomes no different than tying your shoe; it is viewed as an act with no moral consequence.

Often we do not recognize that our moral compass has broken until we actually commit an act we “swore” never to do. Is there a remedy to this problem? What about a 10-step program to “break-free-from-a-broken-moral-compass?” No, in fact, there is not. There is no easy way out; no quick-solve booklet; no therapeutic process to quench the undying flame of sin. Why?

Because the Kingdom of God is about discipleship, not followership.

Here is a story from the life of Jesus to illustrate this point:

“As Jesus started on His way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good- except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

(Mark 10:17-22)

You can see it right here in the very words of Jesus. We know what “to do” and what “not to do” (the commandments). Follow Jesus’ train of thought and you can see what happens. Knowing what to do and what not to do does not automatically equate to obedience. Even though this man followed every “law,” Jesus knew he was missing the point. “One thing you lack,” Jesus, who loved this man, said.

And Jesus is saying the same thing to you and me; “You lack one thing…”

For this man, the weight of his riches prevented him from actually following Jesus; from actually becoming obedient to the one who both gives abundant life and eternal life. The focus is not on the man selling his riches, but instead on the man following Jesus. The point of Jesus’ call in Mark 10:17-22 is obedience, not performance. For, as you can see, performance bears no fruit besides guilt that you can never be good enough, that you can never measure up to how good God is.

Discipleship is about obedience to Jesus, and obedience often has nothing to do with our performance. When our moral compass is broken, we need to listen to Jesus when he says, “Come, follow me.” This does not mean that we set out a list of commands and attempt to perform them perfectly. That’s missing the point and setting ourselves up for failure. Part of obeying Jesus – part of following Jesus – when our moral compass is broken is recognizing that your moral compass is broken. Do you remember the rich man in the story above? Jesus tells him to sell his riches because they are a weight holding him back from following Jesus. For those of us struggling with a broken moral compass, the weight that is holding us back from following Jesus is guilt; we feel a deep sense of guilt that we do not see sin the way we “should.” Jesus is saying to us, “Go, sell your guilt, get rid of it, stop being guilty, stop feeling guilty, and then come, follow me.” We believe our guilt moves us towards Jesus when, in fact, our guilt prevents us from following Jesus.

When your moral compass is broken, do not set up a list of commands to perform. Instead, humble yourself in prayer, let go of your guilt, pick up your cross, draw near to Jesus, confess your struggles, and move on by following Him even in your struggle. A life of discipleship means a lifetime – not an hour, day, week, or year –  of struggle against deeply rooted sin. Do not let the guilt of that take you out of following Jesus. Just. Move. On, by the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the will of the Father, and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

By Kyle Barrington