A difficult reality for me to accept is that no matter how much “good stuff” I do, I still want to sin because sin is what comes most easily for me. I don’t have to work at it at all. That is why no matter who you are, we can all be seconds away from an affair. We can all be seconds away from theft. We can all be seconds away from cheating or dishonesty. We can all be seconds away from hurting someone else. We are all seconds away from doing lots of damage to ourselves or to someone else. No matter how long or short you’ve been a Christian, no matter how much good stuff you try to do … we can’t get away from the fact that our natural bent is toward sin.
The Bible calls us to live a Christ-like life, but how can that even be possible with all of the daily challenges around us? Temptation is right there with me from the moment my alarm goes off in the morning … am I going to get up or am I going to be lazy? At breakfast … am I going to lose my temper when things get a little crazy with the kids or am I going to respond in a Christ-like way? When I get on the high way … how am I going to respond to the guy that just cut me off? And, I’ve barely been awake 3 hours at this point!
There is always, always, always something just waiting to ensnare me and entangle me and capture my heart. Worries, emotions, relationships, struggles, financial problems, marriage problems, perhaps an addiction … with everything going on in and around us it’s so easy to be too tired, too frantic, or too lazy to even consider a closer relationship with Jesus, let alone to live like Him. (Lane)
But, if the Bible is true (and I believe it is), the very hard-to-accept reality is that the change most needed in our lives isn’t change in our situations, circumstances, or relationships, but in us—in our own hearts. (Tripp) Most of the time what we focus on is change from the outside in … we focus on our actions … doing what is right and not doing what is wrong. It’s easy to feel like if we can just spiritually discipline ourselves enough, then we can straighten ourselves out and manipulate God into being happy with us. Most of us are taught that “More Right Behavior + Less Wrong Behavior = Godliness.” The problem with that, though, is the focus of our relationship with God becomes either do, do, do or don’t, don’t, don’t. If we are doing, doing, doing … God is happy. If we are don’ting, don’ting don’ting … God … not so happy.
In my own life what I found happening was that, instead of equaling “Godliness” … “More Right Behavior + Less Wrong Behavior = Emptiness.” And, it’s a strange thing because there’s nothing wrong with more right behavior. That’s a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with less wrong behavior. That’s a good thing too. But something … or better yet … Someone was missing from that equation: Jesus.
You see, the major difference between Jesus and “religion” is that religion is all about what I do. What must I do to be good enough or feel good enough? The problem is you can never sacrifice enough things or do enough good to have your sins taken away. Only Christ’s surprising sacrifice for us can bring the holy God so close that He never leaves. (Welch)
If we want the life that God wants for us, it will never happen from the outside in. And the reason for that is because all ungodly behavior grows out of a heart that has been captured by something other than Jesus. (Lane/Tripp)
So, the key to overcoming temptation is asking the question, “What am I allowing to capture my heart?” Is accountability good? Sure. We need people to confess too. Are boundaries good? Absolutely. I set up boundaries on my computer. I will not drive alone with a woman who is not my wife. If I’m meeting with a woman, I let at least two other people know. That’s not legalism. That’s wisdom. Set up boundaries to protect yourself, definitely. But, unless my heart is completely captured by Jesus, I will always find away around my boundary or I’ll just find another sin to habitually give myself too. Sin will always cause my heart to replace God with something else and only love for Jesus can defend my heart from what is seeking to capture it.
So, I need to preach to myself every day. I need to remind myself of who Jesus is and what He has done and that there is nothing I could ever do to make Him love me more and nothing I could ever do to make Him love me less. I need to remind myself that grace doesn’t mean I can just go and do what I want. But, grace does mean that God always offers forgiveness when I don’t do what He desires. Always. I need to remind myself of who He says I am in the Bible … that even on my worst day I am still a holy and blameless child of the Living God because the life I should have lived … Jesus has lived it. The punishment I should have … Jesus has taken it. The rightness with God I think I need to earn … that is freely given to me. When I rely on Jesus’ finished work on the cross, I no longer have to wonder if God is happy with me or satisfied with me because my identity is no longer anchored in what I do. It’s anchored in Jesus’ accomplishment, not my own; Jesus’ strength, not my own; Jesus’ track record, not my own; Jesus’ victory, not my own. (Keller)
And, I need to pray. I need to pray for God to work in my heart and give me a greater love for Him and a greater desire TO love Him. He knows where I am and what I am struggling with. He knows my weaknesses and is always willing and able to offer His strength when, in humility, I express my need for it. And, as I reflect on all of this, I see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with me. And, that His kindness is intended to turn me from my sin and lead me to repentance. (Romans 2:4) The more I remember what Jesus has done and the more I remember that He is for me, the more I find that He replaces my selfish, sinful nature with His divine nature. And so the more I allow my heart to be captured by Jesus, the less opportunity it has to be captured by something else.