Monday, February 23, 2015

Attack the Base

"You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." - Jesus, from Matthew 12:34

Typically we tend to think of our sinful actions as just that: bad behavior. The solution then seems pretty simple: STOP it. But the Scripture provides unique resources in our fight against sin. As we read the Word, we find it presents the idea of the "heart".

Our culture says to "follow your heart", but the Bible objects. Jeremiah writes in 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" Rather, we need to be guarding our heart and watching out for danger in it. Proverbs 4:23 warns, "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life."

What is the heart? It's not just what we feel. It's not just our romantic dreams. The Bible defines the "heart" as the seat of the affections and the will. The heart is the driver of the person, and from the heart flows our behavior and actions. Consider the words of Jesus in Mark 7:20-23, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." The Scripture further elaborates and corrects our thinking on the source of our sin, in James 4:1-3, "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions."

Usually porn or cutting or drugs or alcohol or sinful eating are just SYMPTOMS of a deeper problem. Using these substances is usually a means of anesthetizing whatever deeper pain and difficulty is being experienced. If you can figure out what that pain is, and find your ultimate comfort in Jesus, the behavioral escapism might just go away. See, the problem is not just the BEHAVIOR, you need to get below the surface and focus on the heart. The heart is the source and working on the behaviors without addressing the heart is like mopping up water from a running faucet. You have turn off the faucet first! So to make real progress on our sin, we have to go deeper and address the heart. To put it in military terms, we need to "Attack the Base" instead of merely fighting on the battle front with the endless waves of enemies. In real-time-strategy video games, if you destroy the enemy base with the unit producing structures, victory is inevitable.

But wait! Before you rush off in your attack, one important clarification is needed: Knowing the source of your sin is useless unless you have the power to destroy the source. In ourselves, we have no weapon to blow up the home base of our sinful hearts. It's NOT good news that the source of our sin is OURSELVES. That's even worse! What we need is a heart transplant. We desperately need to be transformed from the inside out! Here's the good news: This is PRECISELY what the Gospel of Jesus Christ offers us. God promises in Ezekiel 36:26-27, "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." At the moment of the new birth  (John 3:3-8), God begins an inside-out work of change.

Therefore only the regenerated Christian can begin to fight the heart, because of the nuclear weapon of the gospel. Practically, here are a few steps to addressing the heart:
  • Realize you're rejecting God's comfort: Jeremiah 2:12-13 says, "Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water." Our sin is not an isolated behavior without consequences. Ultimately it's a heart decision of turning AWAY from the Lord as our comfort and satisfaction, and turning to our favorite sin. 
  • Repent Deeper: You may have only been repenting of the behavior. When we realize that the behavior is flowing out of a bad & sinful HEART, it necessitates a much deeper repentance. Instead of saying "God, please forgive me for looking at porn" we're instead saying, "God, my heart is filled with lust and selfishness, and last night it bore the fruit of looking at porn. God please forgive me for my lustful heart!" And then remember & believe the gospel in a deeper way. Rejoice! God is changing your heart! 
  • Figure out what the sin is promising: Our sin is making a promise of what it offers. Perhaps cutting offers release. Porn offers pleasure amidst our loneliness. Alcohol offers distraction from the worries in our lives. By unearthing the false promise, we can replace it with TRUE promises from God. The key is to ask, "What's the lie?"
  • Believe that Jesus is BETTER: Allow the sin & Jesus to go toe-to-toe in a fight for who is greater. Is sin offering comfort? Jesus' comfort is BETTER. Is Sin offering pleasure? Jesus' pleasure is BETTER. To learn more, read the blog post: Jesus is Better.
  • Cultivate a superior satisfaction in Christ: We can't merely believe that Jesus is better. We have to put it into practice. We have to cultivate an affection for Him through reading the Word, singing, and talking with Him in prayer. To learn more, read the blog post: The Counter-Attack.

May God help you to repent and grow, not just in your behavior, but from the deepest places of your heart.

Attack the Base,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Counter-Attack

You've fought hard against sin & temptation. You've even won a few battles. But this onslaught keeps on coming, and you're getting tired defending off these attacks. Something has to change. It's time to go on the offensive.

A good offense might be better than a continual defense in the fight against sin. Better to keep the enemy so busy and weary from your constant barrage that they have no time to attack. In fact, let's say you successfully defend against all the temptations. Does this mean you've grown in holiness and glorifying Christ? Not necessarily. Unless we are worshiping Jesus and exalting Him, it doesn't matter if we are sinning "less" in the sins of commission. Behavioral purity without affection for Jesus is worthless. That's no better than the Pharisees to whom Jesus said, "Hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence." 

What is this offensive counter-attack? It's fighting FOR joy in Christ. It's the second part of repentance: turning FROM the fun of sin TO the better delight of Christ. It's cultivating a superior satisfaction in Jesus so that the allure of sin decreases in its attractiveness. Proverbs 27:7 says it well, "One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet." Consider: Who wants to eat a stale granola bar when they just finished a meal at Shady Maple Smorgasbord? Who wants to watch a dumb cat video at the top of Mount Everest? Who would pull out their phone to check the latest celebrity gossip on Twitter at their own wedding reception? See, when we are satisfied with great pleasures, we aren't even tempted by small pleasures. The goal is to glut yourself on Christ so you're always satisfied. 

The Scriptures give us several strong arrows in this counter-attack. Use these weapons to consider Christ as BETTER:
  • Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 
  • Psalm 84:10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. 
  • Psalm 73:25-26 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
  • Hebrews 11:24-26 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 

How do we do this? Primarily by meditating on the beauty of Christ, found most clearly in YOUR rescue through the gospel of redemption. Here are several practical applications: 
  • Read the Bible: Commit to a time, a place, and a reading plan. Consume large quantities of Scripture. Carefully pick through passages in depth. Search out truth that will make your heart sing. 
  • Worship Jesus through song: Worship corporately with large groups of other Christians. Worship in small groups. Worship by yourself. Saturate your mind and heart with songs of His grace. Songs for the Cross-Centered Life is a good place to start. 
  • Talk with Him often through prayer: How are you going to grow in affection for Christ if you aren't talking with Him every day? Do people fall in love by ignoring each other? Speak with Him. Share your thoughts, fears, dreams, ideas. Ask Him for help, for comfort, for encouragement, for forgiveness. Pray for others in their struggles. Pray relentlessly.
  • Read solid Christian books:  Learn satisfying truths about Jesus through solid books. Some great ones to get you started: The Glory of Christ by John Owen, Who is Jesus? by Greg Gilbert, and When I Don't Desire God by John Piper (see book review on TRF)
  • Biblical preaching: Be convicted, challenged, encouraged by passionate sermons about Jesus. Here are a few to get you started: Sex and the Supremacy of Christ (part 2) by John Piper, and Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ (conference sessions) also by John Piper. 
  • Local Church: Be deeply involved in a local community of believers (church) who will help you in all these things (Bible, worship, preaching) and keep you accountable if you slack. If you're not involved in a church, do you really think you can go it alone? 

Don't be discouraged if you aren't feeling deeply satisfied right away. Cultivating affection for Christ is kinda like exercise. It takes some time to see the results. Keep at it! Endure. This is worth it. Keep pressing in to Jesus and wait for Him to bring the joy.

The Relentless Fight.