A strange thing sometimes happens when people have been held captive for a period of several days or longer. In certain instances, the captive begins to associate with his or her captors, and in some cases, not only resists rescue, but serves to help their captors in their criminal activities. This is typically called “Stockholm Syndrome,” named after an event that took place in 1973 in Stockholm, Sweden where four captives were taken and held in a botched bank robbery. Six days later, the hostages both resisted rescue and even refused to testify against their captors. The 1974 kidnapping of Patty Hearst by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army. Not only did Hearst’s sympathies run with her captors, but she would aid them in robbing banks. There have been some who have suggested that this syndrome helps to explain a variety of cases where captives become sympathetic to their captors, participation in cults, and even the loyalty that some people feel toward the use of PC computers☺.
It is granted that in kidnapping cases, statistics have found that this particular syndrome is a minority case, but I believe that if we apply the principle more broadly, we will find how remarkably common an experience it happens to be. How often, we stay in a situation that is bad, but has become comfortable. How often do people stay in bad jobs where an employer constantly berates them simply because they have become used to the setting and are made to feel that they would be a failure in any other setting. Women often stay in abusive marriages for the same reasons—their self identity becomes dependent upon the identity of their abuser and thus to abandon the abuser is to abandon themselves. Even children experience this in relationships. How often kids stay “friends” with people who treat them very badly because they feel so insecure outside of even that bad relationship. Teenage girls stick with “boyfriends” who treat them badly for the same reason—their self-identity has become so interwoven with their boyfriend that they cannot see themselves without him—no matter how better off they might be. The emotional and spiritual bondage begins to provide a wall of safety, within which people find comfortable.
It seems that this principle, as we take it broadly, can also apply to habitual sins in people’s lives. Their sins, though grievous, have become comfortable and being without those sins, while perhaps desirous at times, is fearful. Certainly, recidivism rates that are calculated by sociologists and criminologists would concur with this assessment. In Hebrews 12:1, the author refers to sins that are eujperi/statoß (euperistatos), which refers to things that ensnare, constrict, or otherwise bind themselves to you. Yet, the author of Hebrews does not simply allow us to look at those sins and leave them alone—you must put them off, lay them to the side, get rid of them! Why? The writer goes on to say that because Jesus has endured the cross to redeem us from the power of sin and death, we must live lives that reflect that redemption. The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that in Christ we are a new creation—in other words the new order should reflect the death of the old order in our lives.
Every time a Christian chooses to engage in serious habitual sin, that sends a message to those who are watching that the Gospel is not true. Certainly Christians will sin and will stumble into error and certainly we will not be perfect until we are with Christ in heaven. Yet a falter or stumble is not quite the same as habitual sin. In fact, the Apostle John would suggest that the presence of habitual sin may be a sign that the person is not a genuine believer (1 John 3:4-6). These are hard words for some, but for others, they should be words of assurance and empowerment. For in Christ we have been made a new creation—He delivers us from our sin—we are free! Habitual sin for the believer is a willful choice to turn back to the things from which we have earlier been delivered. It is a choice to go back to the slavers and away from the freedom that our Great Liberator—our divine Goel—who has come to take us to freedom. In some senses, we might refer to it as a spiritual form of Stockholm Syndrome, but Biblically we would say this falls under the heading of spiritual warfare. Whenever we are tempted with a major habitual sin, we are given a choice, will we trust the promises of Christ or will we slink back into the dark self-identification with sin that so long has kept us in chains.