Christians of every age often speak of their struggles with sin and the flesh. I, for one, must admit that far too often I have found myself in the trenches, doing what feels like hand-to-hand combat with “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16 nasb).
As a young believer, I thought that at some unexpected moment God would just show up in His shining armor, and every temptation would be gone.
As I got a little older and the battles raged on, the thought that the struggles were totally mine to be won or lost began to consume me. I found myself turning to the rollercoaster of legalism. As I set stringent rules of conduct for myself and others, high moments of celebrative victory and pats on the back way too quickly gave way to very low feelings of despair when I found myself sliding back into the same old deceptive entrapments of sin.
I remember the mental weight of this spiritual struggle being so great on one particular day that I literally threw myself on the floor, banging my gripped fists into the carpet. My mind kept reverberating with the thought that somehow I must be able to do better for a God who had done so much for me.
The frustrations of up-and-down Christianity continued to imprison me until one day, by God’s marvelous grace, the Spirit of God literally lifted the weight of guilt off my shoulders and closed behind me the prison door of legalism and performance-based righteousness. How did this happen? The Spirit opened my understanding to a very basic biblical truth!
He revealed to me that through the saving work of Christ, God set me free from sin and now expects me to walk in a close, love relationship with Jesus. In the intimacy of this relationship, He fills me with His Spirit, the One who empowers me to turn away from sin and keep the commands of Jesus (Galatians 5:16). When I am walking in the Spirit, turning away from temptation and sin is a great way for me to demonstrate to Jesus just how much I truly love Him.
I have also discovered how quickly I mentally default to walking under the law if I am not walking in the Spirit. A number of believers in Colossae evidently experienced the same struggle.
Paul wrote to them asking, “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to … things destined to perish … in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?” (Colossians 2:20-22). He went on to tell them that “self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body … are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (v. 23).
He then gave them liberating advice when he said, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (3:2). In other words, he was telling them to get back to walking in the Spirit, where their focus was on Christ and His moment-by-moment lordship over their lives.
So what motivates someone in love to continually turn away from sin? Love itself is perhaps the greatest motivator anyone could ever experience. It was love that moved God to sacrifice His only Son so we could become His children, and it is love that keeps Him caring for us day by day.
I remember when I first got married that my overwhelming love for my wife moved me to constantly adjust my ways and deeds. I so wanted to please this one who had entered into a covenant of marriage with me that whatever she asked was easy to do, even if it required sacrifice. No request was too large.
Paul certainly was motivated by love when he said, “The love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
If I am going to live for Jesus instead of myself, I have to keep visualizing how He shed His blood on my behalf. And if I am going to love Him as I should, I must purpose to no longer trample through His blood by sinning against Him (Hebrews 10:29).
Just being aware of Christ’s presence in my life motivates me to turn away from sin. After God’s presence shook Mount Sinai, Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:20).
When I was growing up, it always seemed easy to obey my dad while I was standing in his presence. Knowing that the Spirit of Jesus lives within our hearts and never leaves should also make it easier to say no when temptation comes our way.
How wonderful it is to feel the pleasure of Jesus’ smile when we turn away from sin and obey His commands!