October 28, 2009

Why didn’t I think of this?

Deceived? Not me. I once thought that no one could pull the proverbial wool over my eyes. I was too discerning, too much a lover of truth, a person who could spot a lie in the darkest places. But I was wrong. If I was that good, I would never sin, and even though I had the audacity to claim I couldn’t be duped, my spiritual pride cannot deny that I am a sinner.

After several verses about the purpose of trials and the nature of sin and it being the result of saying yes to temptation, James writes this as a warning:

Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (James 1:16)
James knew, as all Christians know, that Jesus died for our sins, forgives them, cleanses our hearts as we confess them, and gives us the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome sin. But we still sin and one reason that we do is because sin or some aspect of sin deceives us. If it were not possible and true, then the Bible would not have to say it.

Instead of letting sin deceive me, I need to figure out what is going on and stop it, but too often I feel that way after the fact, and then make wholehearted decisions when it is too late. A simple illustration is the food one (see yesterday’s post). Seeing food is not the sin, nor is wanting to eat a sin. The problem is wanting to eat when I am not hungry and do not need food. So I do it, then say something useless like, “I’m never going to do that again.”

Psychologists say there are lots of reasons for overeating. These include loneliness, repressed anger, sadness, and a host of other things. I notice that when I am really tired, I want to eat, or if I am cold, I want to eat. Whatever the reason, it seems a good idea to deal with the motivating cause. That is, if I’m tired, go to bed. If I’m cold, grab a sweater, and so on. Yet today’s devotional reading offers this more important point: instead of trying to deal with sin at the point of behavior, deal with it at the point of desire!

In practical terms, most people confess bad behavior as sin, but it is better to get to the root of it and confess bad attitudes. The attitude produces the behavior and if the attitude changes, then there is no fruit from it. It is the same for sinful desires. If the “I-wants” are making me do things I should not, confess the desires for what they are.

This works for both before and after the fact. I can confess to selfishness after I sin, but before selfish indulgence pushes me to the frig (or whatever place they take me), I can deactivate these desires before they combine with my weak will and become actions.

For me, this is simple with the “big” sins. I know that if I am angry with a person or if I hate someone, those emotions can easily turn into destructive behavior. I’ve learned that I must confess my attitude long before I let it become an action that hurts people.

As James points out, I must watch that I’m not deceived. Normal desires like eating also can become excessive or indulgent I-wants that turn into sin. If I expose those desires to the bait, whether it is a second helping of cake (or sounding off at someone who offends me), I will find myself doing the wrong thing. Instead of trying to avoid the bait, I need to deal with the desires, particularly those that go from normal to excessive.

I know that sinful desires are put to death only one way — by taking them to the Cross. John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

He is totally right. Jesus gives victory over sin by forgiveness and cleansing. I cannot save myself. I cannot stop myself from reaching for the wrong things because I cannot stop myself from wanting the wrong things. God wants me to chop the problem off at the root by confessing those desires (before they become actions) and let Him take them out of my heart. This is a simple solution and yet one that eluded me — for one simple reason — I let myself be deceived.

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