Saturday, June 26, 2010

Stopping sin or chasing joy?

I often hear repentance explained as turning from what I was doing and heading 180 degrees in the opposite direction.  My experience is more like my body turns around and starts walking in the other direction, however my eyes stay focused on the original direction I was headed!  Couple of observations here:  1.  that's pretty rough on the ole neck, 2.  it makes it hard to see where I'm going, and 3.  it calls into question whether or not I've actually repented.

Satan has called my Father's character into question such that I find myself believing the father of lies over what I know to be true about my real Father.  Said another way, the Lord tells me to turn to Him, to press on towards a relationship with Him, a relationship for which He designed me before the beginning of time.  The devil says that the pursuit of what I want will bring me true freedom, joy and contentment.  Of the two messages my flesh takes pride in the idea that I know what is best for me.  And so the battle lines are drawn and I fight between what I want to do (good) and what I end up doing (the bad).

I love how the Lord uses His Word to give me examples in the physical world of what is true in the spiritual.  Go back to Genesis chapters 18 and 19 for instance.  Abraham's nephew Lot lived in Sodom, a town that was less than a moral place to live.  God tells Abraham what He's going to do, Abraham pleads for both Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his family are to be saved from the coming destruction and the angels go tell Lot and his family to get a move on.  You remember what happens from here - the Lord rains down burning sulfur and wipes the two cities off the face of the earth.  Do you also remember the instructions the angels gave to Lot (Gen 19:17)?  One of the instructions stands out to me, the one that says ,"Don't look back."  What did Lot's wife do?  She looked back.  What happened to her?  "But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt." - Gen 19:26, NIV.

My repentance looks very much like Lot's wife many times.  I turn from my sin because the Lord tells me too, yet I look back over my shoulder to see that which is familiar to me, that which I don't truly believe I can live without.  Okay, maybe I'm stretching and saying that Lot's wife represents how I repent.  After all I'm pretty partial to destruction and seeing burning sulfur fall from heaven would be a pretty cool sight to see.  I see a principle here, but is there another example of "looking over my shoulder" that confirms what I see with Mrs. Lot?

How about Exodus and the Israelites leaving Egypt?  It takes Pharaoh ten plagues to finally let "My people go" then the Lord tells Moses "watch this" setting up the crossing of the Red Sea and wiping Pharaoh's army out.  You'll also recall that Israel told Moses to leave them alone and quit trying to free them from the Egyptians!  I don't know about you but I say this to the Lord when crucifying my flesh gets difficult.  I tell Him, "Listen, I know You think I'll be better off doing it Your way, however right this minute I don't see the benefit and its tough not doing what I'm used to doing."  I look over my shoulder at the, although ultimately destructive behavior, Egypt I'm used to.

Israel received the word of the Lord that they would possess the promised land.  The direction in which they were headed led to God's promise for them!  Jesus promised me an easy yoke and light burden (Matt 11:30), however I have to follow after Him without looking back to the way I used to do things.  Like Lot's wife I want to look back and see where I was, the sin I'm missing.  Like Israel, although I'm heading to a better place, a place promised to me, a place for which I was made to inhabit, I grumble that the trip is hard and my bird in the hand (my sin) is, at least in my mind, better than the two birds waiting in the bush!

Israel complained a number of times to Moses about going back to Egypt.  They were hungry and said to him, "If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt!  There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death." - Ex 16:3, NIV.  Egypt was not a fun place!  Israel was enslaved for over 400 years.  There were whole generations that new nothing but slavery, and yet the generations that experienced God's deliverance out of that awful place actually looked back saying they'd rather be there!

That's me!  I look back to the pleasures of past sins and say, "Why couldn't I just die in my sin where I didn't have to try so hard?  It was miserable, but I got enough of a pay-off from the sin to at least make moments tolerable."  As I write this I'm amazed at the short-sightedness of my flesh, how quickly I turn from my Father, His promises, His character, the promised land of a relationship with Him, and am willing to trade it for something that I know only leads to death!  Israel said they'd rather die in Egypt without the Father than live in the desert with Him!  Every time I choose my sin over Him I say the exact same thing.  I know the wage for my sin is death (Rom 6:23), that the benefit of doing what I want to do leads only to death (Rom 6:21), and that as I turn from what I used to be and pursue Him, He has holiness and eternal life for me (Rom 6:22)!

So, Talley, stop sinning.  Ah, but there's the rub.  The enemy keeps my head focused on the, although temporary, fleeting, and ultimately deadly, pleasures of my sin.  The enemy says the Father selfishly wants me to serve Him which results in slavery to Him; a slavery that by definition means a joyless existence spent in joyless, toilsome service devoid of pleasure, satisfaction and contentment.  IT'S A LIE!!  I spend all this mental time trying to reconcile what I want to do (sin) with what I ought to do (obey) because I believe the lie that obedience is contrary to joy, peace, contentment!  God is not the liar, Satan is!

So what did Jesus do and why?  Jesus went to the cross because of the joy He knew was waiting for Him on the other side (Heb 12:2)!  His eyes and His body were both going in the same direction because He knew that where He was headed, although unbelievably hard and agonizing, was best.  What does the author of Hebrews say we ought to do?  "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus..." - Heb 12:2a, NIV.  How can I fix my eyes on Jesus if I'm looking over my shoulder at the comforts and pleasures of my sin?  I can't do both, I must do one or the other.  Therefore, stopping sin is not about walking toward Him with my eyes looking back.  I stop sinning because I'm too busy doing His will for my life!  Do you see the difference?  I can't make myself stop sinning; neither could Paul for that matter (Rome 7:15).  What I can do is abide in Him (John 15:4) bearing the fruit (not making the fruit!!) of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), and doing those things He's already planned for me to do (Eph 2:10).  Basically I'll be too busy obeying to have time to sin.

Why in the world would I want to obey someone else?  Am I not entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  How could slavery to Him give me life, liberty or happiness?  Amazingly enough Jesus speaks directly to this.  "If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed My Father's commands and remain in His love.  I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." - John 15:10-11, NIV.  If Jesus obeyed the Father and did so because of the joy set before Him, does it not make sense that I would obey the Father as well?  My joy is complete in obedience to Him, not in slavery to my sin.

Father, please forgive me if I've misrepresented You or Your word in any way.  Please forgive me for my continued trips back to Egypt, for believing the lie that my joy will be complete in the pursuit of my sin and not in obedience to You.  I love You, Lord.  In Jesus' name, amen.


  1. I think you've been in my head and my life. Outstanding illustrations and truth.

  2. Good post...I have to remind myself often of the real meaning of repent: "to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's life". We aren't truly dedicated if we continue turning around looking and mourning over what we have supposedly "repented" from. Thanks for the reminder...

  3. I think this one would preach!!! Thank you for sharing your insights. My former pastor, Adrian Rogers, used to say, " Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay!"