The greatest reassurance in this life is that God forgives. All throughout scripture, He has recorded his mercy, grace, and long suffering patience. He gave humanity His law, and pursued us even when we rebelled against Him. He is so forgiving despite constant betrayal. He loves so greatly, and shows us in the saddening love stories told in the book of Hosea and Song of Solomon. He will always be there. For this, I am so grateful.
Because of this great love and patience, our character, my character, must grow. The spiritual life is one of progress. Sin must cease. The mind must be tamed. Emotions, subdued. While this seems like a lot to deal with all at once, it is more manageable when focus is shifted to a singular point. Tackling all of these simultaneously is possible, but even approaching one of these issues in the development of character can be daunting.
After all, breaking away from a well worn sin seems formidable, most especially if all one thinks about is the wrong doing. In fact, focusing on an unwanted sin presents two problems. One, the act of focusing on sin moves it to the forefront of the mind. If this is what is being thought about most, all sorts of possibilities and opportunities to sin will be brought to ones attention. The second problem that is presented is that the lesser goal of behavior management becomes the desired objective. The end of sin ultimately goes beyond modifying behavior. Additionally, while sin could be reduced to poor behavior, it is difficult to always view it this way. This can get particularly blurry when it comes to private sin that are kept in the inner life. It can be easy to pardon oneself of sin that no one else knows about. The Lord knows, though. Ultimately, focusing only on what one shouldn’t do makes behavior modification difficult, and behavior modification is not the true goal in the quest of holiness and ridding oneself of sin.
Conquering sin is challenging enough. I’ve highlighted some ways that it can be challenging already. So, how is one to tame the mind while working on this issue? Racing thoughts. Sluggishness. Natural limits. All of these things seem to predetermine how each individual can address their mind and thought life. Thankfully, there is wonderful news. The same method for dealing with sin can be used to tame the mind. And, due to the amazing nature of the human brain, everyone is guaranteed to experience success in through implementing this method of character growth in the spiritual life. Some will simply need more time. This is due to neuroplasticity, an innate and uncontrolled attribute of the human brain. The brain will learn and change if the conditions are present. Which, it would so happen, they always are as long as stimulus is present. Fortunately, the guaranteed way of addressing sin in ones life come also takes on the mind by carving out a new form of thought. Breaking free from the path of least resistance without any strenuous effort on an individual, though some discipline may be required.
Surely, though, subduing emotions requires more? Yes and no. Well fed patterns of anxiety may manifest out of one immediate control. Yet, with time, these too can shift as the mind is tamed. What is important, though, is for one to remember that an individual is not their emotions John is not anger, he is angry. Jane is not the embodiment of happiness, she feels happy. If this is committed to memory, than discouragement is less likely to overcome a person while employing a singular method of removing sin, taming the mind, and subduing emotions. Discouragement is an emotional state that makes progress seem elusive. It must be subdued.
What is the singular method of dealing with these three areas of character growth in the spiritual life? It is addressed throughout scripture and taught by Christ. It is simple and time consuming. It is challenging, yet attainable. My personal favorite way that Jesus taught on this is as follows. It should be noted that the apostle Paul expounds upon much of what Christ taught concisely in two separate letters to the early church. I will summarize here, both my favorite way that Jesus taught on character growth and excerpts from Paul’s letters on the matter:
John Chapter 5; Verses 6, 8, and 14:
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”. . .Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”. . .Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”
Galatians Chapter 5; Verse 16:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Romans Chapter 8; Verses 1-2, and 5-6:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. . . For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
The singular method to address sin, the mind, and emotions in the development of character is to run headlong towards God. Pouring over His word and having it seep into the mind will yield the results that so many are striving after. Write it on your heart, and if that proves to be impractical, then write His word on your notebook, your desk, your walls. Give God the same attention that is given to a favorite celebrity, T.V. show, or sin. What ever it is that you desire most, even knowledge of God, count it all as lost, and simply spend time in His word and with Him in prayer. Not in church, though I would encourage people to go or stay involved. Not reading about God and learning from scholars, though it certainly can paint a clearer picture of what was happening historically. Certainly don’t read books on theology before simply pouring over the word of God and spending time in prayer.
God tells us in His Word that we will not gratify the desires of the flesh if we walk by the Spirit. We are also warned that setting the mind on the flesh will bring death, and by walking in the flesh, or acting on the desire of our bodies and minds, our minds will be set, or continue to be set, on fleshly/worldly things that are either sinful directly, or become idols.
What is also great news is that all who follow are free! Sin know longer owns you. “See, you are well!” What then of the individual who still desires to continue in the things they did before Christ became the one they called Master? They should not be discouraged. Emotions can not be allowed to be a ruling force in life. Again, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The existence of a desire is not who a person is. You are free. All who follow (active verb) Christ are. Walk in the Spirit and you will not gratify the sin that is dangle before you. Pour all your focus on God. Recall, I stated that this singular method is time consuming. This is inevitable of anything that is loved. Pour all your focus on God. Not on your desire. Nor on your desire to do right. Simply on God. After all, if there is any interest in turning to the Lord, that shows there are tow desires present.
Galatians Chapter 5; Verse 17:
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
Take heart! The desire for sin may be present, but so is the desire for God! Be free and not discouraged by guilt, shame, or even a desire for wickedness. Instead, pick up your mat, your sin and shame, and walk towards God. Go to Him, and sin no more. If you fall, get up. Don’t ever put your focus on sin again. Do not keep track of sin. Do not entertain sin. Do not excuse sin. Do not think about sin. Don’t focus on sin. Instead, put your mind on God. Accept that He made a way for you. He found you, loves you, and has taken care of sin for you. You are free, your debts are paid! So, now, follow Him! Rest in Him, and experience joy in Him.
Romans Chapter 12; Verse 2:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Let your mind be renewed. Whatever is on the mind most, that is what is loved most. Set yourself to look upon God. Everything else will follow. There are no shortcuts. No way around this. Seek Him, and only Him. No knowledge about Him. Not those who follow Him. Just God. Who is the One at the center of so many debates, questions, and topics? Seek Him. Who is the One that people want to stop sinning for? Seek Him? Who is the one that people learn so much about? Seek Him.
I will close with one last note of encouragement. All of this is available to all. No matter the struggle, no matter the sin, not matter the background. It does not even matter the present consequences of ones actions. God has conquered sin, and set you free. “See, you are well!” Whatever the struggle, keep going and shift your focus on God completely. For some, it simply takes time. Do not worry about others. Be encouraged and go to God. Spend time with Him.
Psalm Chapter 96; Verse 2:
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Psalm Chapter 98:
Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord! Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.