In Sunday's message, we noted that both man and God have a role in the process of sanctification – we are called to obey knowing that God is working in us to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13). We pursue holiness as God works within us to make us holy. It is a daily battle of the heart to die to self and to live for God.
We've seen many times in the past that sin is a matter of the heart. This is likely not new information for most of us. However, it bears revisiting, especially after a message like the one on Sunday. When we here a call to strive for obedience, it is very easy to automatically focus on behavior modification, in which we simply try to stop doing the things we shouldn’t and start doing the things we should. This is dangerous because it fails to address the issues at the heart of the matter. Jesus said in Mark 7:21-22, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”
If I am sinning in the area of gluttony or anger, I can stop those behaviors and still have the same corrupt heart inside me that may manifest itself later in these same sins or in completely different sins down the road. God is not satisfied for us to just have clean hands – He wants us to have clean hearts as well (Jas 4:8).
We need to understand that all sinful behavior comes from our hearts. My heart has intense desires and when those desires become greater than my desire to please God, sin results. James 1:14-15 says, But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. We tend to associate temptation with factors outside of ourselves – other people, circumstances, the devil, and even God. But this verse from James points out that it is our own desire that lures and entices us to sin. It is that desire in my heart that gives birth to sin. That is why I can’t truly deal with the problem without dealing with my heart.
Every sin has an inward desire at its root. When I address sin in my life, the question I need to ask and answer is, “what did I want (desire) that enticed me to sin?” Sometimes that’s a difficult question to answer. It requires that I look at the issue through the lens of Scripture, while praying for discernment.
That root desire in my heart doesn’t even have to be an inherently sinful desire in order to result in sin. The key is that at the point of sin, that desire, whether inherently sinful or not, was more important to me than my desire to please and glorify God. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:9, So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. And in Colossians 3:17 we read, And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. The highest aim of our lives should be to please and glorify God. All else should be subordinated to that. Otherwise, we have ceased to worship Him with our lives and instead have worshiped that idol of the heart, the desire that lured us into sin.
You see, any desire - even a desire for a good thing - can become sinful if it supersedes the desire to please and glorify God. There is always an idol of the heart at the root of sin. The objective is to find out what that idol or desire is, and deal with it. Do we want to stop the sinful behavior? Certainly. But if we fail to address the idol of the heart – the real heart of the matter – we are simply treating symptoms, not killing sin.
What issues are you dealing with in your life right now? Poor stewardship of your time? Lustful thoughts? Impatience with your children? Anger toward your spouse? Whatever it is, spend some time trying to answer the questions, “what is it that I want that is luring me into sin? What desire is more important to me than pleasing God?” You must know the answer before you can truly deal with the sin.