It was St Augustine who famously prayed: ‘Lord, make me chaste…. but not yet.’ The reason for the ‘not yet’ part of the prayer is that for many of us, life seems dull compared with the enticement of sin. We know sin is wrong, but we cannot imagine having joy without it. So it causes us inner turmoil.
As I increasingly become caught up in the joy and wonder of living in the highly fulfilling kingdom of God, and more keenly aware of my sacred worth, sin becomes less interesting. Setting my heart and mind on the goodness and beauty of God makes sin, in turn, seem ugly.
The best way to deal with sin is to give it no place in our lives. There is a very strong word used in the King James translation of Colossians 3:5: ‘Mortify your members which are upon the earth.’ To mortify means ‘put it to death’. The way we do this is to refuse to let it enter our minds and hearts by keeping them on things above. This does not mean we live every waking moment in a religious trance, but rather that we make a clear decision that sin is not something we want in our lives, and that when we see it coming, we will not let it in the door.
A teacher said to me recently, ‘I just struggle so much with gossip in the teacher’s lounge.’ I said: ‘Pray before you enter the lounge, and when you first hear gossip, as far as you are able, redirect the conversation to something positive. If you cannot, then slip away.’ A few weeks later she said: ‘You know what, that really worked. Thanks! I never knew it was so simple.’
The key is to kill temptation early. Think about a sin that consistently troubles you, and the occasions in which you most frequently face this temptation. Then think about ways you can simply cut sin off before it reaches you. Temptation becomes sin only if we let it in.
If I set my mind on the things of God, things of earth grow strangely dim, which allows me to cut off sin the moment I encounter it. Sin can only overcome me if I enter into dialogue with it. Today I will not even think about it.
Lord, help me to see the areas in which my old self and its habits need to be put to death, and give me the strength and courage to do it even before it arises.
What are some of the culturally acceptable forms of sin that we allow in our lives?
How could we avoid those temptations?