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I love chocolate. In fact, I would identify myself as a dessert lover in general, but if you were to place three desserts in front of me and one of them contained chocolate, there is a significant likelihood I’m going with the chocolate option. One of the disheartening things about a love for chocolate is the reality that regularity in its consumption will lead to an increase in both desire and my waistline.
It’s interesting what studies have discovered about how things like chocolate and sugar impact our brain. An article in the Huffington Post, This Is What Sugar Does To Your Brain, writes:
“When a person consumes sugar, just like any food, it activates the tongue’s taste receptors. Then, signals are sent to the brain, lighting up reward pathways and causing a surge of feel-good hormones, like dopamine, to be released. Sugar “hijacks the brain’s reward pathway,” neuroscientist Jordan Gaines Lewis explained.”
The article goes on to identify some of the problems that result from an excess of sugar including impaired memory and learning skills, increase in depression and anxiety, and even age-related cognitive decline and dementia. So what does sugar’s impact on the brain have to do with ruining your life?
Acceptance and consumption of sinful activity becomes a pathway to spiritual dysfunction.
The reality is that just as sugar has a powerful impact on our brain with various results on our body, there is an even greater threat to your life that you will face each day and if that threat isn’t put to death daily, it will slowly kill you. That threat comes in many forms, but the Bible calls it the daily threat of sin.
Sin is not small
It’s easy to treat sin like chocolate (or any other food you enjoy). We think that small doses over time will have little or no impact on our lives. Not only is this type of thinking in opposition to what Scripture points us toward, but if not challenged, this kind of lifestyle will lead to devastating results whether you are a Christian or not. Just as a regular consumption of sugary foods will lead to a host of ailments, acceptance and consumption of sinful activity becomes a pathway to spiritual dysfunction.
The question then becomes, how do we engage in the daily killing of sin and temptations that can so easily entangle our lives? Whether it’s the temptation to pursue unethical practices in our workplace, engage in unhelpful conversation or occupy our time with activities that would grieve the work of the Spirit within us, each day we choose the level at which we will either fight sin or tolerate its involvement in our lives.
Each day we choose the level at which we will either fight sin or tolerate its involvement in our lives.
If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, Scripture calls you to wage war against sin. The goal is not perfection but direction which means our aim is to be more and more like Christ. And if we are going to break the power of sin in our lives, we must be aware of the strategies the enemy uses to blind us from our sin so that we are ultimately defeated by it.
In John Owen’s book “Overcoming Sin and Temptation,” editor Kelly Kapic provides one of the most insightful definitions illuminating the strategy of sin:
“Sin moves by drawing the mind away from God, enticing the affections and twisting desires and paralyzing the will, thus stunting Christian growth.”
Breaking the power of sin begins by identifying sin’s key strategies
Sin’s key strategy #1: Hijack the mind.
It all begins in the mind. Notice in the article above that even sugar begins by triggering our taste receptors sending signals to our brain. Addiction to sugar is actually driven by the mind! So too does sin begin its quiet, strategic plan to capture our mind.
According to the National Science Foundation, our brains produce as many as 50,000 thoughts a day! They also identify that “your mindset, in turn, governs your actions…” It’s no surprise then that sin initially targets your thinking; because when it wins your thinking, it directs your actions. Sin works by triggering one sinful thought which left unchallenged leads to much more.
Sin is never satisfied with just a little; it will always demand more.
Sin’s key strategy #2: Entice the affections.
Kapic writes that “The goal of the Christian life is not external conformity or mindless action, but a passionate love for God informed by the mind and embraced by the will. So the path forward is not to decrease one’s affections but rather to enlarge them and fill them with “heavenly things.”
Sin is never satisfied with just a little; it will always demand more.
Just as sugar sends reward signals to the brain causing a surge of feel-good hormones, mental and physical engagement in sin triggers our affections. Because we live in a fallen, sinful world, sin will be enticing even to believers. It’s our decision how we respond: entertain those affections or kill them.
When sin is entertained in our lives, we become more infatuated with the darkness and less transformed by the light.
Sin’s key strategy #3: Twist the desires.
Simply put, sin twists definitions so that evil is now good and good is evil. When sin is entertained in our lives, we become more infatuated with the darkness and less transformed by the light. Paul outlines in Romans 1 the result of entertaining sin instead of actively pursuing righteousness. Instead of desiring the good things God has for us, we desire the opposite. Our desires and affections, therefore, become twisted making it very difficult to distinguish good and evil.
Sin’s key strategy #4: Paralyze the will.
When our will becomes paralyzed, although we want to say no to the double fudge brownie, we lack the willpower to say no. In our Christian walk, we no longer experience a driving force to become more like Christ. Sometimes we even become numb to the things of God. We lack his presence and power in our lives. Our desire to know him and experience him becomes dangerously lacking.
Embraced sin makes spiritual growth nearly impossible.
At this point we have filled our lives with things in such opposition to Him, those things begin to control our thinking and actions instead of God’s presence. Instead of being full of the Spirit characterized by love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), we become overly critical, negative, fearful, pessimistic and lack inner peace.
If you don’t commit to breaking the power of sin in your life, sin’s power will eventually break you.
Sin’s ultimate aim: stunting Christian growth.
The end goal for sin is complete destruction of a person both physically and spiritually. Embraced sin makes spiritual growth nearly impossible. And if you don’t commit to breaking the power of sin in your life, sin’s power will eventually break you.
The good news is that we don’t have to let sin control our lives. The Bible provides a beautiful solution for how we are delivered from temptation and freed from the power of sin.
Combat strategy #1: Guard your heart and mind.
The Apostle Paul instructs us to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5b). Paul doesn’t settle for some thoughts but recognizes that if every thought is not taken captive, we will be defeated. It begins with your thinking and what your mind engages in. This is determined by what you feed your mind. Both the Proverbs and the Apostle Paul provide the solution for breaking the power of sin in our minds:
Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. (Proverbs 4:23)
Affections are a gift from God. They are not to be suppressed, but rather expressed rightly.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8)
The Proverbs instruct us to guard our heart – because this is a battle and we must be prepared to fight sin. Paul then tells us how to fight – taking control our thinking and focusing on the right things.
Either you determine your affections or sin will determine them for you.
Combat strategy #2: Pursue right affections.
Affections are a gift from God. They are not to be suppressed, but rather expressed rightly. Here is how Jesus instructs us to pursue right affections:
“You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
The Bible often interchanges the language of heart and affections. The first area we are to love God is with all of our heart…in other words, our affections should be most enticed by our love for God. We are most excited about God’s way of doing life. Because the reality is that either you will determine your affections or sin will determine them for you.
Combat strategy #3: Fill your life with the right things,
Ephesians 5:18 instructs us: “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Winning the battle against sin will be determined ultimately by what you fill your life with, and Scripture calls us to fill our life with the Holy Spirit.
The Bible provides a way for us to escape the entrapment and devastation sin brings and it’s not simply a strategy, but the person of the Holy Spirit. God desires to help any person who will look to him. Here is how Paul describes this truth in Romans 8:13:
“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
The key then to putting sin to death each day in our lives is walking closely with the Holy Spirit.
The key then to putting sin to death each day in our lives is walking closely with the Holy Spirit. Paul unpacks this principle further in Ephesians 6:17:
“Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
The weapon that is used for killing is the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. We kill sin by filling our mind and our lives with the word of God. Because according to Hebrews 4:12,
“…the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”
Therefore, as we engage in God’s word and pursue the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, our minds are drawn to what pleases him, our affections are rightly developed, producing godly desires and our will is to become more like Christ, thus exploding Christian growth.
Regardless of what sin you need to kill today, know that God is fighting with you, and with his help, you will be victorious over sin!