What are you practicing and perfecting?
For the first time, my son is running on his track team at school. Each day after school he runs and runs and runs and then, occasionally, he furthers his regimen by strength training in the weight room. Currently he’s a rapidly growing 13-year-old who is stretching to great heights. At this point in time my son is fairly lanky, but with some practice on the track and in the weight room, he may bulk up and gain some real strength.
While my son’s hard work will not result in “perfection”, he will be changed. Doing something over and over again changes us. It creates a new pattern. When I used to work with people who endured traumatic brain injuries, I would help them learn new patterns of thinking in order to compensate for the old patterns that were devastated by the injury. This process took time and much repetition. It took new ways of learning to do things, things that used to be very commonplace, such as following a morning routine or taking turns in a conversation.
Every day we do things over and over again. We create patterns and follow those patterns day in and day out. This is true of physical and mental activities; this is also true for us spiritually. Each time I respond with frustration over my daughter not catching on quickly to math I create a pattern of response. When my husband leads us in one direction and I resist him again and again, pattern of response. If I worry, fret, and fear then I will learn this pattern and automatically respond in this way every time bad news is received or any time I feel out of control.
Our sinful natures are excellent students. When we practice sin, it becomes a deeply-grooved response in every situation. So, how do we teach ourselves new ways of doing things? How do we compensate?
And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him. 1 John 2:28-29
1. Be a willing student
When one of my former patients with a brain injury was unable to remember instructions or control his impulsive behavior, he was dependent on my help and others to teach him new ways of responding. Are you soft to others’ help? Do you study the Bible so you can know God and His ways or do you prefer the well-worn paths of sin you’ve been following? We all have these paths; no need denying that (1 John 1:8). So, what will we do about getting out of them? Maybe it just takes a prayer for God to soften our hearts so we are willing to learn His ways instead.
2. Be willing to change directions
How easy it is to take the same route to a familiar place. No thinking involved, just put on auto-pilot. It takes very little work for me to worry about a fearful situation or to get angry about an injustice or to become hurt by an offense. Practicing sin is like being on auto-pilot. But it’s time to wake up to our sin and change directions.
How often might we read about those who practice sinfulness and assume this doesn’t apply to us? How often do we immediately go to the “big sins” and ignore those sins we practice each and every day, like anger at the car who pulled out in front of us, jealousy over the woman who was asked to do [fill-in-the-blank] instead of us, lying because we want to cover up and look better to another person, bitterness because she hurt me…
We must wake up to where we are practicing sin and creating deep ruts. Because of Jesus’ great love for us, we no longer need to be ruled by these sins. When we abide in Him, He steers us in a new direction!
3. Be willing to put in the practice
Once we are made aware of the direction we are headed if we continue practicing sin, we now must be willing to practice righteousness instead. While my son might have to strive day after day in his own muscle strength to become successful in track, we get to actually rest when we practice righteousness. Don’t get me wrong, we will have to choose to make the right response when faced with the temptation to sin, but the power to do this is from God (2 Peter 1:3-4). Isn’t this reassuring?! Rest in His strength.
God will always give us a way out of temptation, a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). This is a promise! So, every time you are tempted to lust, choose righteousness instead. Every time you want to blow up in anger, choose God’s way. When you get hurt? God gives you a way out-forgiveness, and covering the hurt, the other person’s sin, with love (1 Peter 4:8). What if I become jealous of someone? I can remember Jesus’ example of humbly preferring others to Himself (Philippians 2:3-8) and I can reject my selfish ambitions. Every single time we want to practice sin, God gives us an alternative so we can practice righteousness.
The fact that each of us are sinners and we are living or interacting with other sinners means that this blog post applies to each one of us. We all will have daily opportunities to practice responding in new-righteous-ways to sin. If I don’t get cut off in traffic today, then maybe I’m the one who inadvertently does the cutting off. Or if I don’t get jealous myself, maybe I’ll be the cause of jealousy in someone else. Practicing righteousness brings about unity. When we think about how much we want others to be gracious with us, perhaps we will respond with that kind of graciousness to others.
Because Jesus was perfectly obedient to the Father, and He made us righteous in Him, we can stand and live in this identity. As we surrender our ways and follow His ways, as we abide in Him, we will be conformed more and more into His image. We will practice righteousness.
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21