Recently, a Christian friend of mine picked up the habit of swearing. The words he uses, at least in my presence, would be considered mild obscenities in our society and are quite common. What’s interesting, though, is that this man is a committed believer, not a nominal church-goer. When I mentioned Ephesians 5:4, in which Paul warns, “nor should there be any obscenity”, he just sort of shrugged and kept on doing it. It seems like no big deal to him.
My main concern for my friend is not primarily his word choice (though that matters), it’s what that word choice may portend. It could be a sign that he’s becoming more accepting of the sin around him and thus more vulnerable to falling prey to it. As I discussed last week, one of our greatest challenges in our spiritual walk is not to mistake spiritual callousedness for spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity allows us to face sin with holy power. We become less affected by its pull. Yet we still have a healthy fear and hatred of it.
Spiritual callousedness, on the other hand, also appears less affected by sin, but this isn’t based on spiritual power. It’s due to a growing lack of concern about the danger of sin. Ironically, it makes us more vulnerable to sin’s power. On the surface this feels like no big deal – after all, we’re not doing the sin (yet, anyway), just becoming more oblivious to it. But we’re losing a holy caution and dislike which is meant to protect us.
How can I stay spiritually sensitive and not become calloused by sin?
1. I stay spiritually sensitive when God and I remain close
Our best friends rub off on us. If we actively cultivate and maintain an intimate relationship with God, His attitudes and His sensitivities become ours. Did you notice that I used the word “friend”? While God isn’t just our buddy, He’s still the Almighty One, nevertheless, He wants to be “closer than a brother” to us. He loves us. It’s one reason He made us in the first place. God isn’t just a distant abstract Being to whom we pay homage, or the Great Rule-Giver in the Sky. He’s meant to be our best friend. This closeness can be a challenge to develop since God is usually invisible and silent, but it’s His great gift to us and can be cultivated over time.
2. I stay spiritually sensitive when I stay in the Word
Psalm 1 tells us that the “blessed man” meditates “day and night” on God’s laws. God’s Word tells us how God thinks, what He wants, and what He does not want. It’s often a different perspective than the world’s and we need it freshened in our minds and hearts as we interact with ourselves and with others. It’s not just a question of technically knowing a Bible truth, it’s also about having that truth’s power re-invigorated in our spirits, instead of fading. I find that constant renewal necessary
3. I stay spiritually sensitive when I monitor my input
In Philippians 4:8, Paul says: “8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” I personally would say that these descriptions include more than just the Bible. Anything in our world that celebrates these virtues points our heart in God’s direction. It might be a walk in the woods, a symphony, or an excellent conversation. As an aside, I wonder if we’d do better, at times, to turn off the TV and sit in the front porch rocker observing nature; “the God show”. On the one hand, avoid unnecessarily hurtful or sinful exposure. Some of this we can’t help, since we are still sinners living in a sinful world. But a lot of it can be sidestepped or downplayed.
It’s also not useful pack our minds with too much mental candy – content which may not be morally wrong, but fills our minds with empty spiritual calories – like dumb entertainment or babbling conversation. They squander needed mental space without much benefit in return.
4. I stay spiritually sensitive when I choose committed believers as my closest friends
When Paul speaks, in 2 Corinthians 6, about not being “yoked together with unbelievers”, he’s not saying “don’t have non-Christian friends”. What he means is that we should not get so closely connected, or “yoked” with unbelievers so that their sinful behavior pulls us to follow them, like a yoke kept two oxen moving in the same direction. Our closest friends have significant influence over our spiritual lives. Let them be committed believers who care about becoming holy and are thus not calloused to sin.
5. I stay spiritually sensitive when I learn to hate sin
We’re told in Romans 12:9 to “hate what is evil”. God hates sin (Prov. 6:16-19). This does not mean that we walk around with a sour look on our face all the time, but it means that we become less comfortable with sin as time goes by. We learn to see beneath its apparently harmless or attractive covering that it is a hideous enemy which has done tremendous damage to our world. It’s not cute, or just “human”. It’s a destructive alien invader. It’s deceptive and manipulative. And, if we allow it access, without resisting it, it always does increasing damage to us and to others.
6. I stay spiritually sensitive to sin when I learn to recognize it in myself
As mentioned, sin camouflages itself well. We often don’t recognize it in ourselves. We need the help of the Holy Spirit in our lives. With much patience, and usually gently, if we’re open, He’ll show us the places where sin is still active in us and help us correct them. Fortunately, He doesn’t do this all at once, or we’d be overwhelmed. It’s a slow, but steady process. Looking back, you’ll be amazed at your progress.
7. I stay spiritually sensitive when I deal with sin quickly and decisively
As mentioned in an earlier article on spiritual resilience (#116), a key component in our victory over sin is how quickly we get up when we’ve fallen. If the Spirit shows us a sin and we refuse to yield on it, or even to ask for help, our resistance to that sin weakens. It begins to bother us less. We develop excuses and rationalizations about it. When the Spirit reveals a sin, call it what it is, and, with His help, make it right.
8. I stay spiritually sensitive when I confess my sins to others
This must be done appropriately of course. There’s such a thing as “too much information”. But we need someone we trust to whom we can be accountable, especially for difficult, ongoing sins. Just knowing that we’ll be asked is a deterrent. Furthermore, their prayers, counsel, and support are helpful.
9. I stay spiritually sensitive to sin when I focus on holiness
Have a positive focus. Learn to love what is true, right and pure in God’s eyes. Hunger for it. Soak it in. Seek to be like Jesus. You’ll discover that sin’s attractiveness and benefits grow empty and ugly alongside the shining purity and glory of God and His goodness.