Northwestern University psychologists conducted a study that was reported on by Scientific American in 2010. The article was titled “Why We Return to Bad Habits.” In the study, people who had quit smoking were randomly separated into groups. One group was told that they had high self-control, the other group was told they had low self-control. They were then to view a movie that might make them inclined to smoke. As they viewed the movie, they were to deal with a temptation of their own choosing about smoking. Those who had been told they had high self-control ended up choosing the greatest temptation, while those told they had low self-control tended to take the route of least temptation. Those with “high self-control” ended up lighting up during the movie three times as often as those with “low self-control.”
The point of the study was to look at why people fail to maintain good habits, once they break old, bad habits. The basic conclusion was that as you progress in your fight against that bad habit, you begin to think you have it licked, so you’re willing to expose yourself to more temptation – and then the temptation wins. Isn’t that the way it is with sin in our lives? We think that God has taken care of the problem, so we get closer to temptation and then we fall back into sin. Worse, is presumption upon God. Paul, making the point that God’s grace can cover any sin, said that where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more. The logical conclusion to that would be, let’s sin more so we can get more grace, right? “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2)
Let’s get into the Greek here. Where you see that translation, “by no means!” you are seeing a triple negative in the Greek. It might even be appropriate to translate that as “Are you out of your ever-loving mind?” The problem we have is that sin tends to be disguised as something fun. We tend to glorify the activities of sin as something to be given up and missed when we commit our lives to Christ. The truth about sin, though, is that when we commit our lives to Christ, we’ve died to sin. We realize the lie that sin presents. Sin isn’t fun that God prevents us from engaging in; sin uses attractive lures to draw us into thoughts and activities that keep us from enjoying all the benefits of fellowship with God. This is why Paul reminds us not that we have turned our back on our sin, but that we have died to it.
And that leads to a problem, at least for me. Even though I have died to sin; even though sin no longer controls me; I continue to be tempted by the allure of sin. How do we stop falling to temptation? Perhaps we need to remember how Jesus dealt with temptation: He used Scripture when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness, and He deliberately entrusted Himself to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. How should we fight back against temptation? If we read God’s word daily, and if we commit our lives to God anew each day, that will help. That’s one of the reasons I read the passages you see at the top of the page, and why I write this devotional. I read God’s word and then respond to it, while placing my today in God’s hands. That doesn’t make me perfect – I wish it did. But it gives me strength to deal with the problems of the day. So, take the time to read God’s word. If you have to choose between God’s word and my devotional, I’d rather you read God’s word. Not everything I write is perfect. God’s word will speak to You if you depend on Him and read with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. You still won’t be perfect, but you’ll draw closer to God.
Lord, Your word is perfect. Let Your word mold me so that I can draw closer to You and farther from sin.