Two weeks ago, Zach wrote a helpful devotion about how our current, unexpected time of disruption and instability can be a great opportunity to form new habits. Specifically, Zach wrote:
“With all of life currently turned upside down, there’s no better time to build new, simple habits, loaded with meaning, that can deeply shape your life.”
I’ve found that to be true in my life. Over the past few weeks, Olivia and I have spent more time intentionally discipling our children. That includes reading a passage of Scripture each night before bed, praying together, and taking advantage of the Scripture memorization videos Zach has made. Olivia and I have also spent more time reading Scripture together after the kids go to bed.
Zach’s right! Perhaps one of the “silver linings” of our current crisis is that we have more freedom and flexibility than we normally do to form new, beneficial, God-honoring habits (or to rediscover old ones we’ve neglected). This period has the potential to be a season of fruitful growth – provided we make good use of the time.
However, there’s another – darker – side of this coin. Times of disruption, instability, and even freedom and flexibility can also present challenges. Namely, times like these can be ripe for temptation to sin.
There’s an old saying that “a bored man is a dangerous man”. Many of us – with more time at home, fewer available distractions, or reduced hours or a job loss – may find ourselves more bored than we normally are. Add a loss of familiar structure or accountability to the mix, and before you know it, we may find ourselves flirting with new forms of sin that we would not have expected. Old sins we thought we overcame a long time ago may rear their ugly heads.
Maybe it’s lust, with all that time in front of the computer, and no coworker looking over our shoulder. Maybe it’s excessive doubt, as we wrestle with the truths of God’s sovereignty and goodness in the midst of widespread illness and death. Maybe it’s a crippling sense of anxiety or “fear of the unknown” rubbing against our trust in God. Maybe it’s trying to drown our worries with alcohol. Maybe it’s attempting to console ourselves by greedily hoarding more and more material possessions. Maybe it’s “socially distancing” ourselves to a harmful degree, to the point of being utterly isolated from friends, family, or fellow believers who love us, encourage us, and challenge us.
There’s another old saying of sorts (it’s actually an acronym): “H.A.L.T.”. The advice goes like this: when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, you may find yourself more easily led into sin.
Hopefully none of us is particularly hungry right now (if anything, the sin of gluttony may be one of the temptations we need to fight against). However, the last three – angry, lonely, and tired – may be particularly potent at this moment in our lives. We’re angry about all our plans that have been unfairly cancelled or postponed. We’re lonely as we think of all the fun we’re missing with friends and family. We’re tired as we watch and wait for this crisis to come to an end, and for life to return to normal.
Two Sundays ago, we read Mark 9:42-50. In that passage, Jesus challenges his disciples to be vigilant in their battle against sin, using the vivid imagery of cutting off a hand or foot, or gouging out an eye. The point of Jesus’s words isn’t to physically harm yourself; the point is to take radical measures in refusing sin the chance to set up shop in your heart and mind. Kingdom people are called to give sin no safe haven in our lives.
We can trust God’s promise that believers in Jesus are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and that He is sanctifying us day in and day out. We can be confident that, slowly but surely, God is graciously shaping us into more godly people than we were a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, or a decade ago. However, we can also admit that we have failed to resist temptation in the past and in the present, and most certainly will again in the future. Rather than refusing to show sin any hospitality, all too often we welcome it. Rather than relentlessly rejecting sin, we nurture it. That’s true in even the most tame and predictable times of life – and perhaps it’s especially true now.
So, how can we be on our guard against falling into sin during this strange season, when we may find ourselves particularly vulnerable? A few suggestions:
As mentioned above, boredom can often lead to wandering eyes, minds, and hearts. Find good, healthy, God-glorifying things to do with your time. There’s a reason every pastor worth their salt tells you to spend time in Scripture and prayer; it’s because you should! But you can find other things to do as well. Go for a walk. Start a new project. Learn to play an instrument.
Don’t let this temporary time away from the physical presence of fellow believers to lead to deeper isolation. Start a video chat, make a phone call, or even send a text or email. We’re more easily tempted when we’re out on our own than when we’re with our pack. As we’ve said numerous times already, our church’s Elders and pastors want to stay in touch with you.
Keep your eyes on Christ.
In Matthew 4, Jesus is led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. The passage explicitly tells us that in his human nature, Jesus was hungry (it’s not a stretch to assume that he was lonely and tired as well). But Jesus overcame temptation in a way that Adam and Eve didn’t, the people of Israel didn’t, and you and I haven’t. That’s because Jesus isn’t just fully man; he is fully God.
Ultimately, our eternal confidence isn’t that we’ll eventually overcome sin ourselves by our own blood, sweat, and tears. Our eternal confidence is in Christ: the one who is fully man, and fully God; the one who never fell to temptation. Jesus was the uniquely and perfectly qualified Savior of sinners; the one who took our sin on his shoulders, died in our place, satisfied God’s justice, and reconciled us to the Father. It’s because of who Jesus is and what he has done that believers have confidence that one day, we will stand in God’s holy presence, having been made holy ourselves – never again falling into sin.
But until then, may we – by the Holy Spirit’s power – resist temptation. May we flee sin, rather than embrace it. May we put sin to death, rather than coddle it. May we be especially on our guard against sin when we’re bored, hungry, angry, lonely, or tired – or whenever else we may find ourselves particularly susceptible to temptation.
With God’s help, may this strange season of life be a time to pursue holiness, rather than fall into new forms of sin or welcome back old ones.