Friday, January 14, 2011

Replacing Bad Habits With Christ

I am on the leadership team for a group called The Well. It is a ministry through our church that focus's on people in their 20's and 30's. Last term we studied Tim Keller's Counterfeit Gods. It was a solid book, (though I think A Reason For God is still his standout), and below I've included an excerpt that I think encapsulates the book pretty well. I have found during my period of discernment that if Christ takes up my free time, then I really don't have opportunity to sin like I used to. On my own, if I have a choice to go back to old habits, will power isn't enough to prevent the slide in that direction. But a focus on Christ keeps me off the track towards a mistake. 

My wife and I avoid what we call 'step one' when it comes to interacting with the opposite sex. If 'step two' is classified as some sort of cheating or infidelity, then a good way to avoid step two is never getting to step one. For example, exchanging email addresses or cell phone numbers with someone you know is interested in you could be step one. Going out on a business lunch that you know is more than just business could be step one. How do you avoid step one situations from even arising? Fill that time with your family. I don't go to happy hour after work with young hottie attorneys anymore. Why not? Because I'm replacing that behavour with something much more productive. Time with my son and wife. There is no possible way I'm even running into a step one opportunity when I'm with my family.

Same thing with Christianity. I am much less tempted by worldly seductions, when my free time is spent contemplating my reward in heaven. The opportunity for step one to open the door to a mistake is not going to happen when I'm in the midst of prayer. In Paul's letter to the Colossians he exhorted them to 'put to death' the evil desires of the heart, including 'greed, which is idolatry'. 

But How? Paul laid out the way:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Keller writes:

Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God. Thiscannot be remedied only by repenting that you have an idol, or using willpower to try to live differently. 'Setting the mind and heart on things above' where 'your life is hid with Christ in God' means appreciation, rejoicing, and resting in what Jesus has done for you. It entails joyful worship, a sense of God's reality in prayer. Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol. If you uproot the idol with sheer force of will, but fail to 'plant' the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back.

Rejoicing and repentance must go together. Repentance without rejoicing will lead to despair. Rejoicing without repentance is shallow and will only provide passing inspiration instead of real change.

Indeed, it is when we rejoice over Jesus's sacrificial love for us most fully that, paradoxically, we are most truly convicted of our sin. When we repent out of fear of consequences, we are not really sorry for the sin, but for ourselves. Fear based repentance (behaving to avoid hellfire) is really self pity. In fear based repentance, we don't learn to hate the sin for itself, and it doesn't lose it's attractive pull. We learn only to refrain from it for our own sake. But when we rejoice over God's sacrificial, suffering love for us-seeing what it cost him to save us from sin-we learn to hate the sin for what it is. We see what the sin cost God.

In essence, what most assures us of God's unconditional love (Jesus's costly death) is what most convicts us of the evil of sin. Fear based repentance makes us hate ourselves. Because that kind of repentance never offers real, heart change. Joy-based repentance makes us hate the sin, and love ourselves- in Christ.

Much Love. Jess