Device 7: Making the soul bold to venture upon the occasions of sin
Says Satan, You may walk by the harlot’s door though you won’t go into the harlot’s bed; you may sit and sup with the drunkard, though you won’t be drunk with the drunkard; you may look upon Jezebel’s beauty, and you may play and toy with Delilah, though you do not commit wickedness with the one or the other; you may with Achan handle the golden wedge, though you do not steal the golden wedge.
The seventh device Satan uses to lure us into sin is to convince us we can play along the lines of transgression without actually falling. Thomas Brooks’ remedy against this lie is simple: Resist.
Remedy 1: Keep distance between yourself and sin
The germ theory of disease is a relatively recent development in human history. It has only been about 150 years that we have known conclusively of the presence and pathology of microorganisms. Before that, the miasma theory of disease was predominant.
It focused on the presence of foul odors as evidence of “poisonous vapors” containing decaying matter that led to the spread of diseases. This was the prevailing theory about illness in Thomas Brooks’ lifetime.
While it is archaic now, the miasma theory made perfect sense. Illness tended to appear in areas of high population density where there was poor sanitation. Remove the sources of bad odors and you generally saw disease rates fall. Prior to the early 1800s, there was no way to prove the existence of the real culprits: viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms.
So, consider how Brooks approaches this first remedy against dancing on the fringes of sin. People would shut their doors when dead bodies were carried past their homes. The Jews would not use their own word for “pig” because God had called them unclean. To touch a rag soiled by bodily emissions meant one was barred from corporate worship until a priest could verify their ceremonial cleanliness.
Brooks and his contemporaries in the 17th century avoided diseases according to incomplete information. But they did so for the correct reasons. Today, science reveals the true enemies of a healthy body. Just so, the revealed Word of God reveals the true enemies of a healthy soul.
You may wonder, if we are to so fastidiously avoid the mere presence and appearance of sin, how can we proclaim the gospel to sinners? How can those who most need the life-giving news about Christ hear it if we can’t come near them for fear of being “infected” by sin?
This is where the difference between being in the world and being of it becomes important. As Psalm 1 says, we are blessed when we don’t “walk in the way of” sinners. We can be in the midst of the world without reflecting or mimicking its values. And we can befriend and love those who need to hear the gospel without taking upon ourselves their practices and habits that evidence their distance from God.
Jesus was a friend of sinners. But he didn’t have sinners for friends. (Unless you count his imperfect disciples, of course.) The Lord did not seek companionship, solace, comfort, advice, and guidance from sinners. His reasons for consorting with tax collectors and prostitutes was not to adopt their lifestyles but to awaken them to the hope of life in Him. That should be said of us, as well.
Remedy 2: Resist the invitation
Saying no is difficult. When we tell a person “no” it can feel like a personal rejection. We want to be helpful and available. But sometimes our schedules and priorities demand we decline a request.
It’s hard for a business owner to say no to a potential client when it’s clear she can’t meet expectations, because it means lost revenues. It’s hard for a parent to turn down a child’s request that is not in their best interests, because we want to give our kids good gifts. And it’s hard for us Christians to say no to something when we know saying yes would allow us to indulge our most tempting sins.
But for a believer in Christ, “no” must become a discipline – a way of life. This means we will sometimes be excluded, marginalized, and even mocked. But those are acceptable losses when a clear conscience and intact witness are the benefits.
The world tells us that self-denial is a loss of freedom. But the child of God knows it is really a release info freedom. Within the boundaries of our personal restrictions against temptation, we are free to enjoy good gifts from our heavenly Father. And we can rest in His grace without guilt or fear, and with the gathered strength and experience to face greater future temptations.
“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7, ESV).
Remedy 3: Aim high
I have never ridden on a motorcycle, nor do I plan to. But I have spoken to bike owners. One rider explained to me the principles of safe riding. On maintaining control of the motorcycle, he said: “The bike tends to go where you’re looking. If you’re making a sharp turn, you need to look ahead to where the turn ends. And that’s where you’ll end up.”
The way he described riding sounds almost like magic. Just “look” and somehow your vehicle will arrive where you want it to go. Of course we know there’s much more to the process. Internal combustion provides motion. The rider’s arms and body weight make small adjustments that cause the turn. Inertia creates balance that helps the bike remain upright.
However, it is both focus and intent that provide direction toward the destination. In the fight against sin, Christians can focus on those faithful saints who have gone before us. We can look to their forward progress in holiness and borrow their intent, so to speak, to point us toward home.
Think of how many of our heroes of the faith stumbled, even fell, to some degree, but proved to be faithful in the end. Abraham lied about his wife – twice. Moses angered God with his outburst. David murdered, then stole the dead man’s wife. Peter denied Christ. Paul continually struggled with sins, both of omission and commission. And yet they all ultimately proved God’s counting them as righteous.
In your life you may know an older, more mature saint whom you can emulate. When my family and I moved across the country years ago I had to say goodbye to a close friend and brother in Christ. At our last gathering I told him that, on my way to becoming more like Christ, I would be happy to at least say I had become more like him. Even Paul told the Corinthian churches, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1, ESV).
Remedy 4: Display God’s grace in resistance
We extend the grace of God to others when we treat them as we want to be treated. We do it when we put their needs first and sacrifice our priorities for their good. Have you ever considered that resisting sin also portrays God’s grace?
When we say no to sin, we communicate the motivation of a force that lies outside ourselves, and yet that of a Person who dwells in us. We put flesh on the words of Paul in Galatians 5:1: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Instead, the yoke to which we submit is now the easy, light yoke of the Lord Jesus, whose commands are not burdensome.
Our resistance to sin is evidence of God’s grace. It is confirmation that His power is at work within us. To indulge in sin, then, is to disconnect from that power and turn our backs on grace.
As Thomas Brooks aptly admonishes, let us hold that grace as precious, choose to honor it when we are tempted, and imitate the more godly among us.