Losing Our Taste for Sin

Ever since we became parents, my wife and I have been trying to eat and live in a more healthy manner. We’ve cut most snacks and junk food from our diet. We’re more active with our daughter, and we’re eating much more home-cooked, unprocessed, and organic fare. It’s been a good change overall, but I’ve noticed something unexpected lately when I’ve let myself slip back into bad eating habits – I simply don’t like the stuff I used to eat.

It’s hard to eat healthy, at least it is when you first start. The junk is so much cheaper, so much more available, and, quite frankly, the junk is addictive. Unprocessed food lacks the sheer amount of sugar, salt, and other additive that make your body crave those french fries, that bag of chips, that Big Mac, or that breakfast cereal. It’s not addictive. Once you adapt, though, it’s rough going back.

Case in point: Our daughter was having a very rough Sunday morning recently and fell asleep on the way home from worship. We decided to take “the long way home,” but we were also hungry, so we stopped by a Wendy’s to grab a couple of sandwiches and drinks. Now, relatively speaking, there are far worse places to eat than Wendy’s, but that didn’t matter. We both felt pretty miserable the rest of the day. More than losing our taste for this type of food, our bodies simply rejected the junk.

The same needs to be true of our taste for sin. In I Corinthians 6:9, Paul begins to list some fo the sins filling the past of those Christians in Corinth, but he concludes verse 11 by writing:

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

At one point, our souls subsisted upon spiritual junk food. We lived in sin, but, upon joining Christ in baptism, we made a promise to reject that past life. Paul goes on in this chapter in I Corinthians to draw a contrast between how we should conduct ourselves and how we may want to conduct ourselves. Starting in verse 12:

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” — and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

Paul is arguing against the idea that these past sins may have been seen as permissible, even beneficial, by their society, but they are not how the spiritual man lives. See also how Paul speaks to the addictive nature of sin: “I will not be enslaved.” Just as additives and sweeteners in unhealthy food can enslave our cravings, so too can the fleeting pleasures of sin ensnare us.

In the end, it comes down to the habits we make for ourselves. My wife and I have reached a point where those unhealthy eating choices make us feel miserable. Sin should do the same for anyone walking in the word of Christ. If we can acclimate our bodies and our minds to spiritual living, those times we slip and fall will be distasteful to us. They will make us feel miserable. Such experiences should only drive us to stay away from sin all the more diligently. I can assure you that Wendy’s will no longer look as appetizing to my family. Likewise, sin should lose its appeal to a Christian.

Put simply, we have to lose our taste for sin. Only then can we avoid returning to it.

 

 

The Reforms of Asa

In I Kings 15 and II Chronicles 15-16, we learn of a king of Judah named Asa. You might remember that the kingdom of Israel split after Solomon because of his idolatry – ten tribes are given to the servant Jeroboam and two tribes to Solomon’s son Rehoboam. Neither Jeroboam or his son Abijah are considered good rulers in God’s eyes, but Asa stands in contrast to his predecessors. He begins a spiritual revolution among his people – one that even draws some from the northern kingdom to worship Jehovah with him.

In I Kings 15:9 and II Chronicles 15:8, Asa begins to reform Jehovah worship in Judah. He repairs the altar and the temple of Solomon. He tears down many of the idols in and around Jerusalem. He banishes the fertility worship of the pagan religions. He even removes his grandmother from public service due to her sinful influence over the people. These are wicked times, but Asa serves as a point of light despite the environment in which he is raised.

Positive Lessons from Asa’s Reform

Asa stands as testament to the difference one person can make. He enters service to a faithless nation where idolatry and immorality had been propagated by his own family. He sets himself to the task, and sets an example to us. His spiritual revolution

  • Reform starts at home. Asa begins by removing the idolatrous influences of his own grandmother. Much like Gideon, his reforms begin at home. He sends a message that he holds himself and his loved ones to the same expectations he would hold the people. In our lives, Jesus has to come first as in Matthew 10:37-39, even if that means correcting our homes first.
  • Reform necessitates morality. I cannot give lip-service to holiness. We have to reform our moral influences to truly reform our spiritual lives. In Matthew 12:43, Jesus uses an example of an evil spirit to encourage us to fill ourselves with good influences after the sinful influences have been purged.
  • Reform necessitates change and repair. Just as Asa repairs the altar and temple, there are some things in our own lives – attitudes, priorities, commitment – that we will have to restore. Luke 13:3-5 emphasizes the need for repentance in reforming ourselves, and Peter reinforces this need in Acts 2:38. We repair our souls through the change of repentance.

Learning from Asa’s Errors

Asa is one of only eight kings described as doing right in Jehovah’s eyes. Unfortunately, we must also learn from the shortcomings of his efforts, so we do not make the same mistakes.

  • What is God’s cannot be used for selfish purposes. I Kings 15:16 begins recording Asa stripping silver and gold from the treasures of God’s house to but off a king allied against him. He takes things devoted to God and gives them over to man. I Corinthians 6:19-20 reminds us that we have been purchased, that we now belong to God.
  • We should trust in God more than self. II Chronicles 16:7-10 records a prophet warning that Asa’s faithlessness will lead to more wars in his time. He reminds Asa of other times God has helped him, but his actions with Ben-hadad lead to an end of peace during his reign. Our plans cannot supersede God’s plans.
  • We need to be able to ask for God’s help. II Chronicles 16:11-12 records Asa being diseased, but he does not call on God for help. He instead relies on the wisdom of man. Peter tells us we can cast all of our care and anxiety on Him in I Peter 5:7, for our God cares about us.

Conclusion

We see the type of effort true spiritual reform takes in the life of Asa – a willingness to start at home, to restore our sense of morality, and to repair the sin in our lives. Reform takes time and effort. Once we reform ourselves, we should be careful to remember that we can always ask for God’s help, trust in Him more than ourselves, and keep ourselves dedicated to His service. Doing this, we can ignite a spiritual revolution in our own lives.

lesson by Tim Smelser

The Voice In Our Heads

Guilt can either draw us closer to God or drive us farther from Him. The same can be true of the absence thereof. We can look at numerous examples in the Old and New Testaments – David, Judas, Peter, the congregation at Corinth – and see these variations illustrated. We feel guilt, for better or for worse, because we have consciences. We speak of having a good conscience, of having a guilty conscience, of having a clean conscience. This quality God has given us plays a large role in our lives.

The Role of Conscience

In Romans 2:14-16, Paul writes that our consciences guide us toward doing what is right in God’s law whether or not we know that law. To an extent, the conscience judges or justifies our actions. In Romans 9:1-2, Paul speaks of his own conscience, bearing witness to his concern for his fellow man. II Corinthians 1:12 speaks of the testimony of the conscience. It prompts us toward obedience or chastens us for disobedience.

In the context of Romans 14, we know that conscience can be a sensitive things, and this chapter concludes that we can sin based on the doubts of our conscience. We often make light of this concept, but God takes it seriously as an instrument to help guide our actions. When we cannot do something in good conscience, we are falling into sin.

Conditioning Our Consciences

Unfortunately, we can train and condition our consciences. In Acts 23, when Paul stands before the Sanhedrin, Paul says he had been living in all good conscience before God, even before he was converted. Remember, as a Pharisee, he would imprison Christians, hurt them, and even put them to death. This is a man who once saw Jesus as a hoax, but His zeal trained his conscience to harden against these violent acts.

We can take this natural guide and turn it into something unnatural. We can train ourselves to see that which is wrong as something acceptable, even praiseworthy. In the first few verses of I Timothy 4, Paul writes that our consciences can be cauterized. It loses all feeling and sensation toward those behaviors we repeat again and again. Our sin my hurt at first, but we slowly callous our hearts until we no longer feel that pain. The ultimate result is in Titus 1:15 – a defiled mind and conscience that denies God.

Reconditioning Our Consciences

The subject of conscience is a serious one. We ought not dismiss it when that voice in our head warns us against our actions. I Timothy 1:5 tells us to love with a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. I Timothy 3:9-10 calls for those who would be spiritual leaders to have a clear and blameless conscience, and Hebrews 9:8-9, in the context of contrasting the old covenant with the new, the author speaks of having a perfected conscience. According to Hebrews 10:22, we can cleanse our consciences by the forgiveness of sin through Christ Jesus.

We should remember tender and pure in our consciences, training it to follow after God’s word, remaining clean of the guilt of this world. We can share our faith with the good conscience of I Peter 3:14-16 if we but sanctify Him as Lord in our lives.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Giant Killing

The story of David and Goliath is a familiar one. In I Samuel 17, Goliath poses a threat to the nation of Israel. He defies the armies of Israel. He defies the power of their God. For forty days, none rise up to face Goliath until David intercedes. Many tell him he is unable to overcome, even the king, but David places his trust in God. In his confrontation, David demonstrates faith and trust in God despite a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. His companions focus on the difficulty, but David focuses on God. His attitude contrasts from those who would shirk away or discourage him. Instead, David seeks to glorify God in facing Goliath, and he takes action. He meets his challenge with God on his side.

Facing Our Own Giants

We face giants in our own lives. We all come up against obstacles we perceive as insurmountable. These distract us from our service to God; they take our focus from Him; they derail our faithful service. We may be caught up in secular interests that consume our time and our energy. We may be consumed with desire and lust. We may be dealing with discouragement, or we may just lack purpose or focus, not knowing how to move forward.

I John 2:15 warns us against getting caught up in the things of this world, for all of it is temporary. Our time on this world is limited. Jesus, in Matthew 6, reinforces the temporary nature of this world, but we may be like the young ruler who is unable to simply let go of the power his possessions have over him. Luke 12:15 records Jesus warning us against covetousness, for our worth is not defined by our things. From here, Jesus tells a parable of a man who begins to trust in and focus on his material successes. He forgets all else in the face of his possessions, but that wealth does nothing to save him when his time expires.

Regarding our fleshly desires, I Peter 2:11 tells us these battle over our souls. Paul, in II Timothy 2:22, encourages the young Christian Timothy to replace those passions with faith, love, and peace. In Romans 13:11, Paul calls on us to wake up from the desires and immorality that might have guided us in the past. Rather, we should seek refuge in Christ, turning to Him to help us defeat that giant in our lives.

We may battle discouragement, but Isaiah 35:3 reminds us that God can strengthen and encourage us when we are weak or afraid. Acts 11:23 records a man named Barnabas who is well-known for his role in encouraging others. I Thessalonians 5:14 then reminds us that we should be fulfilling that same role. We should be looking for those who need encouragement, and, when we need encouragement, we should be able to know we can turn to one another for edification.

Finding Our Direction

One more obstacle is one of focus – or the lack thereof. Returning to I Samuel 17, David finds purpose in defeating Goliath. He discovers the rewards the king will bestow upon the one who defeats Goliath, and he also seeks to glorify God in removing the obstacle of Goliath. David sees a goal; he prepares for the upcoming conflict; and he runs toward his challenge. He identifies the giant in his life, but he does not hide from it.

We sometimes talk about what we should do, about what others should do. If we have the faith found in I John 5:4, if we have the trust we read of in I John 4:4, if we have the humble attitude we find in Philippians 2:5-8, and if we are able to put our faith into action as in James 2:15-18 – then we can rise up like David and face down the giants in our own lives. Philippians 4:13 assure us we can do all things through Him who strengthens us. David brings down Goliath with God’s help. We can face those giants in our own lives with Him.

lesson by Tim Smelser

The Myth of Progress

That which hath been is that which shall be; and that which hath been done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

The past two hundred years have been a blur of technological development. Few are the aspects of life that have not been radically altered by recent innovations. Automobiles and airplanes have entirely changed how we transport ourselves and goods. The telephone, the computer, and the Internet have changed how we communicate with each other and how we are able to work. Heaters, air conditioners, stoves, ovens, microwaves, washers, dryers, and other forms of electronic equipment have made the daily activities of life that much more efficient. Advancements in medicine and science have led to better quality of life and a more enhanced understanding of the world (and the universe) around us.

When seen in terms of the whole of human history, all of these advancements have come in the blink of an eye. Ways of life that existed for hundreds or thousands of years have been irretrievably changed. These changes and advancements have led most in society to take an overly optimistic and rosy view of human potential. This has led to the myth of progress – the idea that our advancements in the arts and sciences are making us into wiser, better people than our ancestors.

In fact, we have become downright snobbish about ourselves. Consciously or unconsciously, we believe that we are superior to our ancestors. We judge all things by the standard of our own belief systems and cultural prejudices. We think and/or speak rather patronizingly about our ancestors: “they did not know any better.” “They did not have x or y technology that we have.” “We have come to a better understanding of these things.” In short, all of these statements betray the idea that we think we have progressed so far in the past few generations and thus we are superior. That which was accepted in earlier times was “primitive” or “old-fashioned,” and those terms are not used affectionately! How many young people out there believe that their parents are ignorant fossils – after all, isn’t 2009 so radically different and more advanced than, say, 1979 or 1989?

But there is an uncomfortable question we must consider: are we really progressing? There is no doubt that we are becoming more technologically sophisticated. No one will argue against the idea that our technology is allowing us to have a better understanding of the world around us. But does that mean that we as a species are really moving forward?

Despite all of this advancement over the past two hundred years, people in 2009 are still asking the same questions as their forefathers did in 1999, 1899, 1499, and 99. Who am I? Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with my life? Why do people suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does evil exist? You would think that if we have really advanced so much over the past few hundred years that we would have made some progress on these questions. Yet the range of answers given are little different from those presented by the Greeks 2400 years ago or the Israelites 3000 years ago.

Furthermore, what are the moral challenges of our day? They do not involve people engaging in “ancient superstitions” as much as the same moral hazards that humans have suffered for generations. Drunkenness remains as much a problem today as was in Solomon’s day (cf. Proverbs 20:1). The pain and misery that results from adultery and other forms of sexual immorality is acutely felt today as it was in previous days (cf. Proverbs 5:3-14, 6:23-35). Divorce ruins homes like it did in the past (Malachi 2:16, Matthew 19:9).

We may not want to admit it, but our technological advancements have not led to that many moral advancements. In fact, our technological advancements have highlighted human tendencies toward sin. Computer technology was harnessed early and often to peddle pornography. Advancements in healthcare give excuse for a lack of self-control and self-discipline in dietary habits. Humans still hate each other, desire to hurt each other, and kill each other, and now get to use more sophisticated technology to kill more people more effectively.

As it has been said, “the more things change, the more things stay the same.” The Preacher is right: there is nothing new under the sun. He is not arguing that people cannot discover new technologies or learn new things. He is simply stating a truism: in matters of existence, each generation follows after the past generation, and there is little real advancement. We can see clearly that despite thousands of years of human wisdom accrued by experience, each generation still has to go out and make many of the same mistakes as their fathers. And just as their fathers pleaded with them and warned them, so they will plead with and warn their children, and will likely have the same result!

Ever since the Tower of Babel, humans have wanted to believe that they are going up (cf. Genesis 11:1-4). In reality, humans are the same as they have always been. They are the fallen creation of God who require His love and mercy to be esteemed (cf. Romans 5:1-18). Let us keep a proper view of ourselves, and look to God who knows best!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

Choosing Our Path

The prayers of little children are quite revealing in their innocence and their frank honesty. One such prayer is, “Dear God, let the bad people be good and the good people be nice.” How true this is in a world where things God would consider good are held as bad and upholds evil as good. In our lives, we have two choices – between good and evil – and God reminds His people time and again of this choice in various ways, between life and death, between good and evil, between righteousness and unrighteousness.

This choice begins in our hearts. Proverbs 3:3, 4:4, 4:21, 6:21, 7:3 – these verses and more in that book of wisdom point out the importance of our hearts. Jesus would later say that the contents of our hearts are revealed in our lives. The condition of our hearts determines the conditions of our lives, and those decisions will dictate the paths of our lives.

The Paths of Good and Evil

Proverbs 4:19 parallels living in sin is like stumbling in the dark. Chapter 13:9 says those who live this way have knowingly put their lamps out, and Proverbs 12:21 warns that these will be filled with trouble. Chapter 10:28 and 11:19 cautions that living in evil brings misfortune and death. God’s word makes it clear that ungodly living leads to a life of trouble and misdirection.

In contrast, Proverbs 11:19 and 21:21 claim the righteous obtains life. Chapter 4:18 says the path of the righteous is as the dawn’s light, making their path clear. Proverbs 10:28 calls the hopes of the righteous joyful, and chapter 29:6 states the godly may sing and be glad.

Understanding Our Choice

Children have a pretty clear understanding of choices. They know the difference between making good choices and bad choices. We’ve read of the path presented by two choices, and the worth of each path is very clear. Not only does Proverbs make these differences clear, but the New Testament clearly reinforces this principle.

  • Romans 6:23 contrasts between the consequences of sin and the mercy found in Christ. The writer of Hebrews says He is the author of salvation to those who obey Him.
  • Galatians 6:7-8 admonishes us to not fool ourselves into thinking our actions do not bear consequences. We choose between spiritual life and death.

Consider the direction of your life today. Can you sing and be glad in the Lord, or are you stumbling in darkness? In Deuteronomy 30:15 records Moses telling the people that they have two choices – goodness and life or evil and death. He calls heaven and earth as witness to their choices, and he challenges them to choose life. We have the same choice today, and that choice begins in the heart.

Matthew 5:8 blesses those who are pure of heart, for they will see God. Will our hearts be calloused to God’s word, or will we tenderly submit to His will and choose the life of His salvation?

lesson by Tim Smelser