There’s one piece of chocolate cake on the counter.
I love chocolate cake. But I’ve already had something sweet today, and I want to save that last piece of cake for my husband. So I am resisting temptation.
There’s nothing inherently sinful about chocolate cake. But a lack of self-control is sinful. And chocolate cake tests my self-control.
If I start thinking about the cake, I’ll think about how good it tastes. Then I’ll think about maybe taking a sliver of it. Then half. And then I’ll think, “Well, it’s just this once. It’s not like I feast on chocolate cake every day.” I might even talk myself into eating the whole piece: my husband doesn’t know it’s there, so he isn’t expecting cake when he comes home.
Each thought is like laying kindling to the initial flame of temptation. Instead of feeding that flame, I need to stomp on it, douse it, dump sand on it.
That’s the kind of thing that comes to mind when someone talks about killing sin.
Romans 8:13 says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Colossians 3:5 says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you” and then names several wrong desires.
When something is killed, it’s . . . dead. Unresponsive. Not going to bother us any more.
But the problem is, wrong desires don’t stay dead. The next time chocolate cake is here, I’ll face the same temptation. So does that mean I didn’t “kill sin” in the first place?
Same with selfishness, probably my most besetting sin. Have you ever tried to kill selfishness in your life? It doesn’t stay dead. We might resist it one moment, but then it’s back soon.
So how can we kill it? I’ve supposed that the Bible means we kill sin in the moment. When I am tempted to sin, instead of entertaining the idea, I should look for ways to resist. God promises that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” 1 Corinthians 10:13). Too often I look for an excuse to indulge instead of the way of escape.
Instead of indulging the desire, I resist it–strangle it. Am unresponsive to it. It may come up again tomorrow. But for now, it’s slain.
Still, I wrestled with what it really meant to kill sin. Like the old slogan that promised Raid “kills bugs dead,” how could I kill sin dead?
A passage in Jen Wilkin’s book, Ten Words to Live By: Delighting In and Doing What God Commands, helped shed some light. The book is about the Ten Commandments, what they mean, how they apply today. In the seventh chapter on honoring marriage, Jen brings up Jesus’s command to cut off one’s eye or hand if those members cause us to sin, because “it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30). Jesus is obviously using hyperbole, exaggeration, to make a point.
Jen points out that even if we could cut off any body part that causes us to sin, we’d still have a problem in our hearts. Jesus made the same point when He said it’s not just committing adultery that’s a sin, but lusting. Jen goes on to say:
We need a better blade than any formed by human hands, one aimed at ridding our hearts of disordered desires.
Praise God, we have one. The blade that slays the beast is the word of God, made living and active by the Spirit of God, dividing thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). By the word of God we learn to delight our hearts in the Lord, and the outcome is that which the psalmist predicts: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4) (p. 106).
Then Jen shares what was for me a light-bulb moment:
As we confess and repent, God puts to death our disordered desires and gives us rightly ordered ones. And our eyes and hands and feet and lips and tongues and noses begin to serve at the pleasure of a heart that delights in him.
“If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light” (Matt. 6:22). The antidote to the lust of the eyes is not self-inflicted blindness, but seeing as God sees (pp. 106-107).
Being tempted is not sin. Jesus was tempted, yet never sinned. He resisted Satan with the Word of God. The more we know God’s Word, the better we’ll be able to resist sin.
But we put sin to death in our lives not just by resisting temptation in the moment, but by exposing ourselves to the blade of the Word of God, by delighting ourselves in the Lord and letting Him change our desires.
Killing sin doesn’t mean that I’ll never be tempted by a particular thing again or that all outward influences to sin will die. I wish. That won’t happen until heaven. But by God’s grace, I am supposed to kill sin in me. Sin lost its power over me at the cross. But I have to learn to live in newness of life—a process called sanctification, which won’t be complete until heaven. As I grow in the Lord, take in His Word, delight in Him, He changes my desires, and sin loses more power.
Scripture describes the Christian life as the source of such great joy that temptations lose their appeal. Like the feeling we have after Thanksgiving dinner, we should be so full of Christ that we don’t have room for sin!…Does obeying Christ mean saying no to sinful pleasures? Sure. However, saying no to sin in favor of Christ is like saying no to a scooter in favor of a sports car, or no to peanuts in favor of filet mignon. Life with Christ is a feast, not a famine (Chris Anderson, Gospel Meditations for Women).
One of Jen’s discussion questions at the end of this chapter says, “If you believe that the sharp blade of the Scriptures can put [sin] to death and reshape your desires, what regular practice of gazing on them do you follow?” (p. 110, emphases mine).
May we continually make time for God’s Word and grow in our love for Him.
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