Sin-Killing Habits: #2

This side of heaven, though God is sanctifying the hearts of His children day by day, we do not have a magic cure to get us out of the daily struggle with our own sin. So what habits can we develop to kill that sin in our hearts and lives?

First, we must recognize the deadly seriousness of our sin and declare war on it. The second habit to develop is this: Flee AND Pursue.

In I Timothy 6:11, the apostle Paul tells the young pastor Timothy to “flee these things,” namely the “love of money” (vs. 10) and discontentment (vv. 7-8). He is to flee from sin. Other places in Scripture tell us the same: “Flee the evil desires of youth” (II Tim 2:22), “Flee from sexual immorality” (I Cor 6:18), and “Flee from idolatry” (I Cor 10:14). Clearly we are to run away from sin. That’s the obvious part–we know that.

But Paul doesn’t stop with that. Right after he tells Timothy to flee from those sins, he also tells him to “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” I think there’s an important principle here: fleeing from sin is not enough on its own to kill indwelling sin. Rather, killing sin requires an active pursuit of righteousness.

We see this principle in athletics all the time. In a football game, if a running back has the ball, his objective is not merely to evade the tacklers, but to cross the goal line. If he were simply trying to evade tacklers, his focus would be behind him and he might run in any direction. But he is not only fleeing from the tacklers, he is pursuing the goal line because his objective is to score. Thus his focus is primarily on what’s in front of him between him and the goal line.

In a similar way, a runner in a 100m dash slows herself down if she is turning her head to look behind her at how close her competitors are–instead she must focus fully on the finish line ahead. This is the imagery Paul uses in Philippians 3:13-14 when he says “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

This is a key strategy for fighting sin. With many sins–sins of lust especially–the more I think about how to overcome the sin or avoid the sin, the greater the hold that sin has on me, simply because I am thinking about it. There is a place for considering the ugliness of particular sins and for strategizing how to defeat them, but I should not linger in that process, but move quickly on to a pursuit of righteousness. Especially when temptation comes, it hardly ever works to say to myself “I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it” because in that my mind is focused behind me on the sin I’m trying to flee from. But if instead, by the mercy of God, I’m able to turn my mind to pursue God rather than thinking about the sin, I may be more likely to avoid that temptation.

What does it look like to pursue righteousness? It may mean turning on some worship music and singing along. It may mean turning to Scripture to study a passage. It may mean calling a friend to hang out or pray together. It may mean starting work on a service project. It may even mean working out at the gym or reading a book or some other seemingly “unspiritual” activity, simply because that activity will help to turn your mind and your affections away from the temptation to sin.

So when sin comes your way, by all means, flee! But as you are fleeing from that sin, turn your focus away from the sin and put it on the One whom you are pursuing. Let your mind and your heart be captivated by His beauty and His glory, that your affections for Him would drive you further and further from the sin that so easily entangles you.


The True Battle

If you are in any way connected with people with special needs, and especially if you are a parent of someone with special needs, I highly recommend a book that was recently published called The Life We Never Expected. This is written by a pastor and his wife, Andrew and Rachel Wilson, in response to the onset of a regressive autism in both of their young children. Though the particular special needs of my daughter are not the same as those of the Wilson’s, I resonated deeply with their story and struggle, and appreciated both their raw honesty and their determined hopefulness.

In one of the early chapters, Rachel writes about fake battles versus the true battle. The fake battles, she says, are all the urgent tasks and struggles that feel vital but are actually peripheral–all the phone calls and researching and filling out applications and pursuing government services that inevitably come into play in seeking to care for a child with special needs. All of those battles, she says,

can distract me from the true battle, which, more often than not, is not fought that way. Frequently, the weapons of the true battle include silence, prayer, thought, clinging onto a recently read Scripture passage with my fingernails, singing through gritted teeth, reading a prewritten prayer out loud, reaching for Jesus through the mist of confusion or unanswered prayer, stilling myself in his presence, and remembering that he is good and faithful and kind…. I love my kids most not by loving them the most but by first loving God. As soon as I take my eyes off him and my attitude falters and I begin to believe that I alone must push for them and control their destinies, the unbearable weight of playing God soon becomes apparent.

I need to be reminded (often!) that it is not up to me to make change happen in my daughter. And I need to be reminded that I can still be loving God even when I’m coming to Him out of exhausted determination rather than joyful devotion. The true battle is to find my joy and hope in God, rather than seeking to find it in therapies and medication and government aid and heroic parenting.

Sin-Killing Habits: #1

I Peter 2:24 says: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” So how do we go about killing the sin that “clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1)?

As long as we are affected by this flesh and living in this world and tempted by the devil, there is no silver bullet that will easily or quickly kill off the sin we struggle with. Therefore rather than searching for a once-for-all quick fix, we must develop daily habits of killing sin. Here’s the first one: Declare war!

In the intro to his sermon titled How to Kill Sin (Part 2), Pastor John Piper says this:

Until you believe that life is war — that the stakes are your soul — you will probably just play at Christianity with no bloodearnestness and no vigilance and no passion and no wartime mindset.

Thinking rightly about sin and its consequences is absolutely vital–we must see sin as a mortal enemy which we cannot merely ignore or make peace with but must destroy. Tim Challies, in his book Sexual Detox: A Guide for Guys Who Are Sick of Porn, says:

Every Christian guy who looks at porn wants to stop, but many of us want to stop just a little bit less than we want to keep going. The problem isn’t knowledge–it’s desire and ability. And so sin prevails. Here’s a promise. You will never stop until you begin to see the monstrous nature of the sin you are committing. You will never stop until the sin is more horrifying to you than the commission of the sin is enjoyable. You will need to hate that sin before you can find freedom from it.

And so the first sin-killing habit we must develop is a mindset of hatred for sin and an all-out determination to declare war on it. What does that look like? It means taking measures that others might ridicule as radical. It means being willing to live without some good things, in order to keep yourself away from the bad things. It means following Jesus’ crazy-sounding advice of cutting off or plucking out things of great value in order to keep from stumbling into sin (Matt. 18:8-9). Later in the same sermon quoted above, Piper exclaims:

There is a mean, violent streak in the true Christian life! But violence against whom, or what? Not other people. It’s a violence against all the impulses in us that would be violent to other people. It’s a violence against all the impulses in our own selves that would make peace with our own sin and settle in with a peacetime mentality. It’s a violence against all lust in ourselves, and enslaving desires for food or caffeine or sugar or chocolate or alcohol or pornography or money or the praise of men and the approval of others or power or fame. It’s violence against the impulses in our own soul toward racism and sluggish indifference to injustice and poverty and abortion. Christianity is not a settle-in-and-live-at-peace-with-this-world-the-way-it-is kind of religion. If by the Spirit you kill the deeds of your own body, you will live. Christianity is war. On our own sinful impulses.

Ed Welch, of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), in his book A Banquet in the Grave, sums it up well:

When we want to grow in [self-control], not only do we nurture an exuberance for Jesus Christ, we also demand of ourselves a hatred for sin. . . . The only possible attitude toward out-of-control desire is a declaration of all-out war. . . .

So today, declare war! Tomorrow, declare war! The next day, declare war! Your life is at stake. Others’ lives are at stake. Fight!


No Formulas in Parenting

Love + discipline + Godly instruction = good kids. Is that your expectation in parenting? I think it tends to be mine–not explicitly, but functionally.

According to Julie Lowe of CCEF (Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation), this formula is a “faulty, unbiblical approach” to parenting because “children do not come to us as blank slates, but with their own personalities, strengths, weakness, desires, and temptations towards particular sin.” Therefore, though we as parents certainly have a huge role in shaping and shepherding the hearts of our children, we do not ultimately control the outcome.

This has been a challenge for my wife and I especially in attempting to parent our adopted daughter with Down Syndrome. I don’t know how many times I’ve said with great exasperation to my friends: “We’re trying everything, but nothing is working! Nothing seems to be changing in her.” In other words, I’m doing the love plus discipline plus instruction, but I’m not getting a “good kid” as the result. The formula isn’t working.

The two things Julie suggests in place of this formulaic approach are: 1) “Evaluate your motivation,” and 2) “Remind yourself of what God calls you to as a parent—no more, no less.” I was greatly convicted and challenged in thinking about what motivates my parenting of my special daughter. And I was greatly comforted in being reminded of what God calls me to, and what is His part alone. Julie says: “Though God expects you to parent with consistent love and wisdom, he does not hold you responsible for results that are driven by the child’s sin or rebellion.” Or, in our case, God does not hold us responsible for results that are driven by what was cemented in our child through her formative years in an orphanage. It is not up to us to undo all that has been formed in her through her history. It is up to us to love her, model Christ to her, and respond with wisdom and grace to her struggles.

[You can read Julie’s blog post on the CCEF website.]