Dealing with sins of speech requires dealing with the problem at the heart level. Behind our critical speech is a critical heart. Behind our complaining is an unthankful heart. So we cannot just seek to create new habits in our speech; our hearts need to change. In our last post we looked briefly at the first two steps of dealing with heart issues. First, we need to pray for God’s help. Second, we need to grow in our worship of Christ. (If you missed the last post, you can find it here.)
Third, we need to apply the biblical model for change taught in Ephesians 4:22-24, which requires putting off the old self, being renewed in the spirit of our minds, and putting on the new self. This means that we need to recognize how the old self is being manifested, what we are thinking and wanting in moments of temptation, when those moments of temptation tend to strike, and what are the godly alternatives that need to replace those things.
A good way to gather this information is to keep a journal for a week or two. Every time we give in to the temptation to use ungodly speech, we should write down the circumstances surrounding the temptation, what we were thinking, what we were wanting, what we did in response to the temptation, and when it all happened. After keeping this journal diligently for a while, we can go back and analyze the information. We may find patterns behind the sinful speech. Perhaps temptation always comes when we are with certain people or in a certain situation. Perhaps temptation tends to come first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. It could be that though there are different manifestations of sinful speech coming out, there is a common thought or desire behind them.
Once the information has been analyzed, we can go to the Word and find out what the Bible teaches about that sin and the opposite godly virtue. Bible Gateway is a great online resource for doing topical searches. It’s a good idea to write down the truths that we find along with the corresponding Bible references. It will be helpful to commit some of these passages to memory.
Now we’ve got all that information written down. What do we do with it? The specific manifestations we’ve written down tell us the specific actions we need to put off. If that specific action is complaining, the godly action that we can seek to put in its place is the expression of thankfulness. So when we are tempted to complain, we stop and pray a prayer of thanksgiving instead or we express thankfulness to those around us.
The thoughts we’ve recorded in our journal tell us what thoughts need to be replaced, or “put off”. Maybe the common thing we are thinking when we are tempted to complain is, “this really stinks. Why does nothing ever work out for me!” We need to construct a biblical thought to replace it, like: “God is using all things, including this inconvenience, to conform me to the image of Christ.” That new thought needs to be written down and memorized.
The desires we’ve recorded tell us what we’re worshiping that needs to be replaced with worship of Christ. If we want convenience or smooth circumstances so much that we will sin to get it or sin if we don’t get it, it’s an idol. We need to recognize it as such and determine that in moments of temptation we will focus on worshiping and pleasing Christ alone. This particular part of the plan relies heavily on our having preached the gospel to ourselves as a habit of life.
The times of temptation we’ve recorded tell us the specific times when we need to prepare ourselves for temptation, so that we can take a few minutes beforehand to go over all this information…the sin that we are avoiding and the godly behavior we want to exhibit in its place…the thoughts we are going to resist and the godly thoughts we will strive to think instead…the idol behind the temptation and the excellencies of pleasing Christ that we will focus on instead. We need to review the relevant Scriptures that we have gathered, pray for God’s assistance in the moment of temptation, acknowledging before God we can’t do this in our own power. Only His grace and strength will enable us to obey as we trust in Him. We need to commit to the Lord that we will strive to be faithful.
We should go through that material every time we are about to go into a situation where we know temptation will be waiting for us. And one crucial part of preparation is having started the day rehearsing the gospel, pondering all the glorious truths of what God has done in Christ on our behalf for His glory. Remember that looking intently at the gospel is what fuels the fire of our devotion to the Lord, giving us the very desire to obey.
Seems like a lot of work, doesn’t it? The apostles were not reluctant to teach that sanctification requires great effort. That’s why Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:5 make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue. That’s why Paul commanded Timothy in 1Tim 4:7, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness. In v10 of that chapter, he says to toil and strive. That’s why Paul writes in Philippians 2:12 to work out your own salvation as God works in you.
We do this trusting in the Lord’s strength, not our own, and focusing on the gospel, but we do have to do something. Isn’t that the spirit of James 1:19-27? Be doers of the law, not hearers who deceive themselves. Look at the perfect law of liberty and persevere. May the Lord grant us victory as we go to war with ungodly speech.
Posted by Greg Birdwell