Sitting side by side in a worn out inner city building are Joe’s Tavern and Sparky’s Adult Books and Novelties. For the bar, weekends are the busiest times, with intoxicated patrons coming and going, laughing, swearing and sometimes fighting. By contrast, the next door neighbor’s clientele slip discreetly into the smut shop, commit their spiritual atrocities, and quietly steal away into the night.
These two businesses perfectly illustrate the “deeds of the flesh” outlined in Galatians 5: “immorality, impurity, sensuality… drunkenness, carousing, and… those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (vss. 19-21)
In biblical terminology, the word “deeds” simply refers to the things people do, while the term “practice” represents the things people do habitually. As John said, “the one who practices sin is of the devil… No one who is born of God practices sin…” (1 John 3:8-9)
At the Point of Despair
Simple enough, but what about the believer who cannot seem to stop his sinful behavior? On numerous occasions, he has really tried to mend his ways. He has thrown out his magazines, installed a filter on his computer and made himself accountable to a buddy. And yet, he finds that there is an irresistible force pulling him back to this seedy part of town. Time and again he caves in to his lower passions. Now he is at the point of complete despair. If he is truly a child of God, why is real victory so elusive?
The secret is found only three verses prior to the list of Galatians 5, where the apostle Paul boldly promises: “If you walk in the Spirit, you will not give in to the lusts of the flesh.” (v. 16) I want to pause and testify that during my 30 years of ministering to men in habitual sexual sin, I have found no evidence to dispute the truth of this statement. Of the thousands of men and hundreds of pastors I have ministered to, not one had truly been walking in the Spirit prior to his fall.
Turning A Corner
Let’s return now to our inner-city metaphor. Just upstairs, on the second story of this dilapidated structure, is a Christian coffeehouse named, appropriately enough, “The Upper Room.” There you will find worshipful music filling the air with a heavenly Presence. Earnest saints are studying God’s Word, while others are on their knees, interceding for lost souls.
When a struggling Christian purposes to spend time in such a godly environment, he may still face temptation, but it will become increasingly easier to do right than wrong. To “walk in the Spirit,” means that the person is establishing a spiritual atmosphere in his inner life every day. “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you…” Paul proclaimed elsewhere. (1 Cor. 6:19)
Yes, down those stairs are still all kinds of alluring temptations—things the man has practiced for years. In his own strength, he does not have the power to overcome those habits. However, by spending an hour everyday in the Upper Room of worship, prayer and Bible study, he finds growing within him a spiritual energy to help him when he himself is weak to temptations.
It is exactly what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) In essence, the key isn’t so much resisting temptation as much as it is establishing new habits in the basic spiritual disciplines. Being connected with God everyday increases one’s love for Him and, at the same time, weakens the attraction to sin.
Of course, establishing a new habit typically takes two or three weeks. But once it is in place, it becomes increasingly more desirable. He soon discovers that the more he prays, the more he wants to pray.
The world will always present intoxicating, seductive diversions like Joe’s Tavern and Sparky’s Adult Bookstore. Your flesh will always be attracted to such places. Rather than fighting a losing battle on enemy turf, why not make it a habit to spend time in the Upper Room everyday? As you do, you will find yourself becoming increasingly uninterested in what is going on downstairs.
Steve Gallagher is the Founder and President of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and leading Christians into the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.
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