I wonder if you ever find yourself, as I often do, considering how much energy, money and time you devote to activities that eat up a lot of your day and your savings but which yield an insubstantial reward.
I am of course not referring to your job or education, though many of us feel this way at times.
Perhaps, like me, you feel guilty for the amount of TV you watch each night. The fifth plate of food you ate at the all-you-can-eat buffet last weekend. Or even how much money you spend on new clothing, the latest movies or books every month.
Speaking personally, I know what my gut reaction is to this: No more TV. Diet. Saving.
Moving, though not really far at all, to the ‘spiritual’ realm. Often our cure for sin is to buckle down and stop sinning. We make promises to God we won’t do that sin again. Instead we vow to read the Bible more, go to the prayer meeting at church, sign up for some ministry in church, etc. etc.
And these resolutions work for a time. Maybe a week. Maybe a month. Maybe even a year, depending on how disciplined/stubborn you are.
Me, I usually don’t last long.
I wonder if you notice the pattern that has emerged.
When we want to change (and who doesn’t?) our first response is to fix our actions. We either start doing something more (like reading the Bible, praying, exercising, etc.) or doing something less (like watching TV , spending money, ‘sinning’, etc.).
In Northern Ireland we tend to reduce sin to behaviour.
Sin is doing bad things like lying, stealing, looking at pornography, and the plethora of other behaviours we know to be wrong so we treat sin by saying, “Stop doing X and start doing Y.”
While we need to recognise that sin is doing certain things we also need to realise something more foundational to our conception of sin; that sinful actions are only symptoms of deeper sin in our hearts: idolatry (Romans 1:18-25). If sin is solely or primarily bad behaviour our go to answer will always be to change our behaviour. However, if we recognise that sin begins in our hearts we learn to look beneath our actions to what is motivating them. We begin to ask the question, “What am I looking for?”
We are all looking for something.
Something to give us meaning.
Someone to love us.
Something that will make us happy.
Someone who will satisfy us.
Fill in the blank.
Our sinful actions, then, are vain attempts at satisfying the deep longings in our hearts.
Nothing in this world was made to fully satisfy these deep longings because they always leave us wanting more.
We are all looking for something, or rather, someone:
Charles Wesley understood this well when he penned the hymn ‘Come Thou Long Expected Jesus’,
“Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.”
Only Jesus can satisfy the deepest longings of our heart and only in him can we truly enjoy the world he made and all its pleasures.
Jesus is all we need because he is everything we need.
In giving himself to us he becomes our peace (Ephesians 2:14), our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30), our comfort and hope (2 Thessalonians 2:16), he is all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). But first he must be our Saviour (Titus 1:4).
As we realise that the root of sin is in our heart, and not in our behaviour, we begin to see that we are powerless to change and so we must ask God to change our hearts and our behaviour by his grace. We must ask God for strength to change and depend on his power instead of our own. Only then will we “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)
If you would like to explore this important issue further please leave a comment, email us or if you’d like to do some reading I would recommend Redemption by Mike Wilkerson and Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller.