Dale Hays, in the periodical Leadership, 1989 says this: “On a recent trip to Haiti, I heard a Haitian pastor illustrate to his congregation the need for total commitment to Christ. His parable: A certain man wanted to sell his house for $2,000. Another man wanted very badly to buy it, but because he was poor, he couldn’t afford the full price. After much bargaining, the owner agreed to sell the house for half the original price with just one stipulation: He would retain ownership of one small nail protruding from just over the door. After several years, the original owner wanted the house back, but the new owner was unwilling to sell. So the first owner went out, found the carcass of a dead dog, and hung it from the single nail he still owned. Soon the house became unlivable, and the family was forced to sell the house to the owner of the nail. The Haitian pastor’s conclusion: ‘If we leave the Devil with even one small peg in our life, he will return to hang his rotting garbage on it, making it unfit for Christ’s habitation.’” I can think of no better illustration of the truth of this verse.
Now, the context of this verse is important. The previous verses have been talking about anger. So the first application of this command relates to our anger. As we saw last week, there is such a thing as righteous anger. However, it is so easily corruptible into sinful anger. If we let it go too long, then we have crossed the line into sinful anger. If we direct our anger at the wrong thing, then we are sinning. If we are too keen on standing up for our own rights, and we let anger show in that situation, we have also crossed the line. Anger lets down our defenses so easily. And when our defenses are down, then Satan strikes.
However, this command not to let Satan have a foothold can certainly be applied to more situations than just anger. Anytime we are contemplating sin, and we let that fantasy roam, we are giving the devil a foothold. This can be related to any number of sins. For instance, the sin of gossip is very prone to this kind of gradual slipping. We think that people have a right to know what is going on in other people’s lives, and so we share just one little juicy tidbit. That is giving Satan a foothold.
Pornography and lust very definitely works this way. It is a very slippery slope that leads down to darkness. One look is sometimes all it takes. And I don’t mean one look as in seeing a beautiful woman. I mean one look where the possibilities come to mind. That gives the devil a foothold.
Of course, all the sins that Paul mentions in this entire section can happen this way. Lying can start with “little white lies.” They aren’t little, and they certainly aren’t white. In the next few verses, we will learn about stealing. Just taking a little package of bubble gum can lead one to a life of crime. I remember one time I actually stole a package of bubble gum. I think I was about 8 at the time. My parents, thank the Lord, were very much aware what that meant. I really got tanned on that one! Then I had to go back to the store and apologize to the manager. My parents knew what it meant to give the devil a foothold. Jesus’ own words also point us in this direction: those who are faithful with little will also be faithful in much.
Our culture has the opposite attitude towards little sins. They don’t see small sins as being that big of a deal. Surely God will overlook such a small offence, says the world. But that is not the case. The smallest sin condemns a person to hell. And when Jesus came to earth to take on the guilt of our sins upon Himself, it was all the sins, not just the big ones. You need just as much forgiveness for the little sins as for the big ones.
The reason for this is that God is an infinitely holy God. To illustrate this, compare three situations: in the first, you slap your brother; in the second you slap a sheriff. In the third, you slap the President of the United States. I’m sure that you can recognize that the consequences change according to the dignity of the person you slap. And I picked slapping, because that is generally reckoned one of the smaller sins. But what is the consequence of slapping the God of the universe, who created you and sustains you? God is infinitely beyond the President of the United States. Therefore the least little sin is infinitely heinous in the sight of God.
One other point needs bringing out here. And that is that, over the course of the Christian life, our consciences become more and more tender. Things that didn’t seem like sins before are now sins. This is quite normal. Many Christians get discouraged at this point and think that they are going downhill fast. That may not necessarily be the case. It may be that the Holy Spirit is making your conscience more sensitive. You should desire this sensitive conscience, since it is a huge part of personal holiness. You should cultivate this tender conscience by reading the Word, which spells out all sins in excrutiating detail. You should pray to the Lord that He will tenderize your conscience. You should partake of the Sacraments. After all, how can we slap the Lord of the universe in the face, when we have just partaken of Christ’s body and blood?
So, are you leaving a peg for the devil to hang all his garbage on? I tell you, he will hang as much garbage as he can on the size peg you leave for him. You can count on that. Of course, none of us are sufficient for getting rid of the footholds. We all leave footholds for the devil. However, what we need to do is ask God for His help. He will give it, so that you can have increasing victory over that sin. In your own strength, you cannot even get rid of the foothold. But what is impossible with man is possible with God.