From the time I was so little in Sunday school, I was taught to run away from sin. Back then running away from sin meant that I should resist the temptation of stealing powdered milk, peanut butter and sugar. It meant I should not say bad things to my friends, my family or anyone I met. It meant I should not skip to say good morning to my parents and every other adult in my life every morning. I was taught to run away from sin and for as long as I remember, I was trying to run away from sin by trying to do good things to cover up for the bad things I would have done.
I would be extra kind to a friend as a compensation of a sin that I would have committed to another friend. As I am growing up, the degree of sin I commit is maturing as I am maturing as well. I was taught to flee from sin, to fight sin and as much as I know from the word of God that sin separates us from God our perfect father who loves us, I still find it difficult to fight sin. I grew up thinking temptation was where sin came from, but we only get tempted by the desires of our hearts (according to the word of God), meaning the source of sin is not the temptation but our hearts from which the desires are coming from. Temptation does not exist where desire does not first exist. The bible tells us “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire”
There are so many beliefs of what to do when you want to stop doing a sin. Do you try to deprive yourself of something, keep away from tempting situations or try to destruct yourself with more innocuous activities? You have probably already learned this through practice, but none of these techniques will ever work. You cannot deprive yourself, ignore your desires or beat your will into submission. Why? Because your mind and will aren’t the centre of your decision making process, your heart is. If you don’t love something you won’t do it and if you don’t hate something you won’t leave it alone.
In the world that we are living in now, there are many different solutions of how you can stop sinning, in self-help books, from motivational speakers, religious leaders’ etc. There is always some new found wisdom of how to stop bad habits and start good habits, many of them treat sin like a diet. Starve out the bad and feed the good habits, the only problem is deprivation cannot change the heart any more than starving yourself can get rid of hunger.
Paul is going up against similar religious tactics of his time and he is trying to help his audience fight indulgences of sinful flesh. But before he tells them how to do it, he tells them how not to do it.
“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world do you submit to regulations. “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (referring to the things that all perish as they are used) according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body but they are of no value in stopping indulgence of the flesh.”
1 Timothy 4:7-8
“Have nothing to do with irreverent myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way as it holds promise for the present life and also the life to come.”
I thought that it all comes down to the decisions we make e.g. if you set your mind on doing good you will and if you set your mind on doing bad you will. You may be thinking like me, but Jesus teaches us that the real source of our actions lies much deeper than our minds, it’s the heart. Whatever is in your heart ends up in your life. What you treasure, value, glory in and enjoy will result in what you do. If you treasure good things in your heart, then you will do good, if you treasure evil in your heart then you will do evil.
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Only when we focus on our internal desires instead of our external temptations, will we be addressing sin at a deeper level. Only when we look at what we want and not just what we do, will we be getting nearer to where the battle of sin is truly taking place. So how exactly do we change what our hearts’ treasures? The answer in Jesus’ words is different than we might expect. We might expect a list of disciplines, habits or meditations that would change our hearts value. However the condition of our hearts are not based on what we do, but they are changed by who we are. Jesus taught that a good tree can’t bear bad fruit and a bad tree can’t bear good fruit.
What lies at the bottom of our sins? Throughout this piece, we have seen that the heart plays a central role in leading us into sin or holiness. But what exactly affects the heart to have good desires and not evil desires? How can we change our hearts? How can we fight sin according to the word of God? This will be covered in part 2 of fighting sin. Jesus has provided everything we need in the gospel so that our hearts will begin to run from sin and towards God.