by Pastor Tim Burt
When I was a young Christian just learning the Bible and trying to understand this new world of God that my eyes had been opened to, I had a goal. It was a naïve goal. It was an unrealistic goal. It was in truth, an impossible goal. I had the thought that it might be an impossible goal yet I wanted to pursue it. My goal was to live perfectly for God. In pursuit of this goal, I told myself that I would learn all of God’s ways and never sin again. I was going to conquer every sinful area of my life and get rid of them. It was the least I could do. I was motivated. I loved Jesus so much and felt so grateful to Him for giving His life for me, I wanted to do this for Him! I wanted to somehow pay Him back for what He had done for me. I loved Him and I wanted to prove it. As I said, it was an extremely naïve goal of a young and naïve new Christian.
It took no time at all before I was in trouble. I sinned. I watched an inappropriate R-rated movie that contained profanity and some sexual scenes. Prior to Jesus, I loved almost any kind of movie including the inappropriate ones. Now my heart convicted me and I was learning the strength of my carnal flesh. I would immediately repent.
After one of these occasions as I was on my knees praying and asking God to forgive me, God spoke to my heart and said, Tim, you can’t turn me on and off like a light switch. We can’t have fellowship that way. You are pushing me away and tuning me out whether you realize it or not. And, if you continue this way, it will harden you heart over time and eventually become callous to this sin.
I could have cried when I heard the Lord say this. I’d think about the pain and suffering Jesus went through out of His love for me and yet I couldn’t turn off a movie? I had no idea that my flesh was so entrenched in committing sin! And now I was learning the struggle of choosing between my sinful nature and the path God wanted me to take. For a long time, I felt like I was part of a last place football team—losing much more than winning. I’d sin knowing it was wrong and then ask for forgiveness. Something had to change. I’d think about my goal to live perfectly for God—learning all His ways and never sinning. What happened to that goal? That dream was quickly falling by the wayside. And Satan would mock me for it and try to get me to give up on my faith!
In time, I learned ways to draw strength from God. Galatians 5:16-18 (NLT) “So I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict. But when you are directed by the Holy Spirit, you are no longer subject to the law.”
These verses were telling me that as long as I lived on the edge of playing with and doing what I knew was wrong, my life would be sin conscience—full of do’s and don’ts—the law. I would never defeat the feeling of the law nor win overcoming my fleshly sinful desires. I discovered that God’s freeing strength from the desire of sin came to me when I thought about the purpose and love of God for my life—about being an influence for Jesus. Strength would come when I would meditate on having an influence for Jesus—upon my family, friends, and co-workers. Strength would come when I focused on being a light and example to others. Strength would come when I would pray for those around me to come to Christ or to draw closer to Christ. Strength would come when I’d pray for God to use me to be a touch of His love to those in my day. Strength and great joy would come when I helped serve others in my church. There were so many ways strength would come when I thought about living out my purpose. From that place, my life and thoughts increasingly focused on good things. Inward strength and godly desires replaced the fleshly desires and temptations. I took on commitments of serving others in church! I started teaching new believers some beginning basics in their new walk with God. Those commitments strengthened me because my life and thoughts were focused on serving God and His plan just as the Apostle Paul instructed in Galatians 5:13 (NLT). “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.”
I also got involved in a men’s Bible study. The richness of the atmosphere of studying together with other men who loved God was strengthening and rewarding and been a regular part of my week for 40 years now. Renee and I started working in children’s ministry to teach four and five-year-olds God’s Word. Working with those children became eight of the most precious years of my life. I loved those kids and loved learning to communicate Bible stories in the most simplistic fashion to them. It actually helped me become a more effective communicator of the truths of God! All of these combined focused my heart and mind and I was growing and being strengthened in the Lord.
Every time I purposed to serve and be in community with other believers, I gained strength over areas of sin that had previously held me in bondage. I wasn’t just giving time and love. I was getting it! The freedom to serve one another set me free from my sinful nature. It lost its power over me!
It didn’t take long to realize how futile my goal of living a perfectly sinless life in my own strength was. I couldn’t just will myself to not sin. The strength to stop sinning came out of a sincere love for Jesus, my desire to live a purpose-filled life for Him, and through experiencing the “freedom to serve one another in love.” It came from the Holy Spirit as I followed His direction and let my love for Jesus permeate my every thought and action. It was and still is the source and activator of my strength over sin! It is God’s plan for us all to walk in strength and victory over sin again and again!
Psalms 37:17 (MSG) “For the wicked are moral weaklings but the righteous are God-strong.”
In His love,
Pastor Tim Burt
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