My kids and I were window shopping in downtown Chicago last week (window shopping is where you look, but don’t buy). We were looking at all the cool things in the Apple store on Michigan Avenue when my wife came up after finishing a doctor’s appointment. She said she had seen a man outside in a wheelchair who was asking for money and who wasn’t looking too good.
She didn’t have much to give him, but she gave him what she had, a little pocket change and a prayer. When she asked if she could pray for him, he said:
“Yes! Pray that God will give me a girl. I think about making love (he used another word for it) with a girl all day long and I can’t get the thoughts out of my mind. I’m just so lonely and I can’t stop thinking about making love with someone.”
After getting her thoughts back together, and refraining from trying to immediately cast something evil out of him, she began to pray for him, asking God to give him what he needed, even if it wasn’t the thing that he was asking for.
What was going on in that man’s mind reminded us of the verse that we’re looking at today in the book of Romans. The verse says:
“… do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 13:14b).
Paul knew that even just thinking about gratifying the desires of the sinful nature could lead to doing them eventually. As the apostle James said in his book:
“… but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).
Just as good thoughts can lead to good actions, sinful thoughts can lead to sinful actions. And sinful actions, when pursued in full, can lead to all kinds of destruction, even death.
It doesn’t take much imagination to think about what could happen if this man in the wheelchair did get a girl and was able to do with her whatever he wanted. But the truth is, the thoughts that he expressed are not so far removed from the thoughts any of us have from time to time. And if we don’t keep them in check, all kinds of things could happen if we were to follow-up on our thoughts as well.
I was talking to another man this week who said he was having similar thoughts, although he said them in more palatable words. He said he was just standing there admiring the beautiful curves of a woman he had seen when he realized what he was doing. Before he let those thoughts overtake him, he reminded himself that he had died to his old sinful nature when he was baptized into Christ. He was lonely, too, and longed for a lifetime companion but he knew he couldn’t gratify the desires of his sinful nature in the way that he was thinking. So he took control of his thoughts, brought them back under the authority of Christ, and was able to walk away with a victory in his mind instead of a defeat. What a blessing that was for himself, and for others he spared from potential destruction.
What he was doing was “putting on the armor of light” and “clothing himself with the Lord Jesus Christ,” as Paul described in the following words. Paul said:
“So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in org – – – and drunkenness, not in se – – al immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 13:12b-14. Note: I’ve deleted a few letters from some of the words in this passage so this whole message won’t get stopped by certain spam filters).
It really is possible to take control of your thoughts. When you do, you’ll be blessed and so will those around you.
And if you look back even further in this passage, you’ll see why Paul was so passionate about helping people get control over their thoughts:
“And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (Romans 13:11-12a).
Paul wants us to wake up from our slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. For years, people have been saying that Jesus is coming soon, just as Jesus said Himself almost 2,000 years ago. And the truth is, His coming is closer now that it’s ever been! As Paul said, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here!” What a great thought, and what a great motivator to do what’s right!
Don’t let the darkness overtake you. Don’t give in to dwelling on thoughts that could lead to your destruction. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Jesus isn’t coming back soon, because He is. As Jesus said to the Apostle John:
“Yes, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).
Jesus wants you to live your life to the fullest, and the best way to do that is to live your life in the light. This isn’t to say that it’s easy to overcome temptation. But it is possible, and more than that, God will help you to do it. As Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians:
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
You may have tried various ways to overcome your temptations. But Paul mentions something in this passage that we’re looking at today that may give you some extra help as you try to break free. If you look back just a little further in the passage, you’ll see that Paul says instead of focusing on our sinful desires, we should focus on how we can express God’s love to others instead:
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law”
There’s a big difference between lust and love. Lust, at its core, is all about selfishness and doing whatever you want to others. Love, at its core, is all about selflessness, and doing for others what you would want them to do for you. Instead of thinking about how we can gratify our own sinful desires, Paul says we’re to put on the armor of light, and think about how we can express God’s love to others.
I’ve shared before about my aunt who got some great advice from her doctor when she was going through some days filled with dark depression: he suggested to her that she think about ways she could help other people. By focusing on blessing others instead of wallowing in her own thoughts of despair, she was able to pull herself out of the darkness by focusing on others. She began to bake food for friends, bringing them cakes, cookies, pies, or anything she thought they might enjoy. She was able to get out of the pit she was in, and to this day, she continues to bless those around her, now from a place of victory rather than near defeat.
The same can happen for those who struggle with sinful desires, which can bring on the same kind of darkness. When tempted to dwell on thoughts that are potentially destructive to yourself or to those around you, you can take those thoughts captive and replace them with other thoughts. Reach out and put on God’s armor of light, and let the light of Christ shine through you instead. Replace your selfish thoughts with selfless thoughts, and you’ll see God begin to turn around situations that you may have thought were hopeless.
Take a meal to a friend. Write a letter to someone who needs some encouragement. Put a check in the mail to someone who could use a financial boost. Call a parent or an aunt or an uncle or a brother or a cousin or a friend who you may not have talked to in a long time. It may seem like hard work at first, but soon you’ll find that the darkness is fleeing and the light of Christ is flooding into your soul.
Clothe yourself with Christ this week. Let His light shine through you. Let Him use your hands and feet, your words and actions, to those around you who could use a touch from Him. Let your mind wander about ways you can love your neighbor as yourself, instead of ways that you can gratify the desires of your sinful nature. If you need some extra encouragement to do this, just remember the words of Paul, who said:
“And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now that when we first believed.”
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for promising that You will come for us soon. Help us to keep that at the forefront of our minds as we consider how to bless those around us instead of how to gratify our own sinful desires. Help us to take our eyes off ourselves and to focus on those things that You want us to do in the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
P.S. If you struggle with temptation, I’d like to point you to some passages in the Bible that could help. I’ve listed several below, and I’ve also included a link to a recording on our website where you can listen to each of these scriptures, read by my wife Lana to some beautiful music. If you’d like to get this recording on a CD, which includes over half an hour of readings from the Bible six other topics as well, I’d be glad to send you the whole CD for a donation of any size to our ministry this month. Your gifts truly help us get the word out about Christ every week to over 35,000 people around the world, and we’re glad to send you this beautiful recording of God’s Word set to music as our way of saying thanks. To read these verses for yourself, just click the links below:
– Hebrews 4:13-16
– Matthew 4:1-4 and 11
– 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7
– Hebrews 2:18
– Psalm 119:9
– 1 Corinthians 10:13
– Proverbs 1:10
– James 1:13-15
– 1 Corinthians 6:18-20
– Matthew 6:9-13
To listen to Lana’s recording of these verses online, please visit:
What God Says About Temptation (MP3)
To make a donation and get a CD that includes these verses and many others set to beautiful music, please visit:
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To follow Lana’s blog about her own walk of faith during difficult times, please visit:
Questions for Reflection
1. Read Romans 13:8-14. Why does Paul say that we should let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another?
2. How can loving others help us to overcome sinful thoughts and actions in our lives?
3. What are some practical that you could show your love to others, instead of dwelling on how you could gratify the desires of your sinful nature?
4. What are some other ways that you might “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ”?
To read more from this series, Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind,please visit:
The Romans Study
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