by Ninos Hadjirousou
How do I know, if I am being captivated by the things in this world which are sinful?
Paul describes our former fallen state in Ephesians 2:3 as followers of the “lusts of our flesh,” that is, we had an ongoing longing and a graving desire, to have what we can get from the world. The world would seduce and entice us to commit foolish crimes against God, making us choose to follow our own desires which were fallen by nature, to wilfully hate God. Paul wrote that we were “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind;”. That is, we were determined to hold on and fight for those things in the world. We made them as our main goal and purpose in life. It came out from the desire and mind of our fallen nature. Those were the very things which disqualified us from entering into the Kingdom of Heaven. For the things we produced were fleshly and ungodly (Galatians 5:19-21).
Let us examine this carefully.
Watching a football game once a while or looking on YouTube a certain football player that you like for example: Ronaldo or Messi; is not a sin in itself. Indeed they are athletes to admire. In fact, we could use their example of athletic discipline, as an example for our spiritual discipline as the Apostle Paul did by using mental athletic discipline as an illustration of spiritual discipline. If we do so, that is fine. However, let us remind ourselves that we live in a fallen world. And the root of worldliness is enmity against God. So if the tree of the world, its root, can produce fruits, it might become a ‘lust’ to do evil. Can football or an athlete become a ‘lust’ or the categories we mentioned in 1 John 2:15-16? Yes. It can become either the lust of the eyes or either the pride of life.
Christian, if it does make us think more on football rather than what God desires, it is harmful and does not edify us.
Here is the reason why.
Your conscience is designed by God to be your alarm system that warns you if you are morally doing something that you shouldn’t be doing. And this is not only for Christians, for all men have it (Romans 2:14-15). The role of the conscience is to excuse you or to condemn you. It produces both pain and joy. It can become your best friends or your betrayer and nemesis. But the role for the Christians conscience is to train it, by providing the right information. The information that the Christian needs to have is the Word of God (John 17:17). And so we need daily to be feed with God’s word and apply them to our lives, especially when it comes to separating ourselves from worldly influence (Romans 12:1-2). So this is the role of the conscience in the Christian mind and life, to warn you. That is, unless it has the right information.
But let’s say you’re in a liberal church that takes sin and calls it ‘ok’ ‘not a problem’ and ‘good’. If your conscience is trained under that sort of teaching, it will affect the way you see things which are sinful or things which have the potential to become evil. Bad theology might be for example someone telling you that football is ok, it is amoral (not evil or good), it’s harmless. Thus it is safe to watch it most of the time. They could even find a reason to make everyone think that football is God’s will and means for sanctification.
So, are you being fed with the right doctrine daily? Paul said that the old ways of men was following the desires of the flesh and of the mind (Ephesians 2:3) (emphasis needed). Is your mind constantly being fed with Spiritual food?
If every single day you watch football games and highlights of games and look and listen to football players talking about the importance of the game and the goals they score and neglect your spiritual responsibility, to edify yourself and feed yourself with the word of God (John 17:17), serving your local church and fellowship with your brothers, then you are becoming worldly. You may think it is edifying you inwardly, because of the bad theology you might have heard. Yet in reality your soul is empty and meaningless. Because the words you take in daily, hour after hour, minute after minute, are empty. They do not edify. If the sport you are watching has profane language and violence, making football or tennis or any other sport sound like a holy thing or a religion, then it is mocking God and it is idolatrous. If it takes up so much time of our day to go and watch a sporting event, then it is bad for us. Because we could have spent more time on doing spiritual things for the service of the Lord. This breaks the first and second command, to love God with all your soul, might and strength and not to worship anything other than God alone!
So the more you spend time on this, entertaining yourself with it, the more your conscience is trained in your mind to allow it. Some actually believe that the conscience is actually the law of God or part of our Christian liberty. You might believe that, but Scriptures does not teach that. If you are indulging in sinning through the things of this world, then it is not a matter of Christian liberty, but of the conscience. Your conscience can become corrupt and harmed by false theology if you desire to do so.
In fact, there are two ways to destroy the conscience:
First, a way to destroy the conscience is to either corrupt the word of God, to try and justify what is evil as good.
Second, we could silence it completely. Like a clock alarm, that wakes us up in the morning at 6:00 am and we take the billow and cover its noise so it would not be heard.
This goes with everything else also in general. Music, sports, art, dancing, television, all things are not unlawful, but they can become evil if we do not know how to resist our temptation, to unlawfully use them or abuse them.
Where does temptation come from?
It comes from within us. James says “every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed”(James 1:14).
The temptation comes, to tempt us to abuse the things of the world and waste time in them. You take a small sample of it and then you stop, then you take a little bit more. Later you say ‘well, just a little bit more..’. And if you are not resisting the devil’s enticements and lies, you find yourself completely falling into his lie because you have followed what your feelings told you ‘to have more of it’ because ‘I am not satisfied’. You see, this starts little by little and then it escalates. Hence, when the desire grows and the habit continues on, it becomes harder for you to stop it until you are becoming captivated by it and consumed by it. And as we read in James: “when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death”(James 1:15).
It does not matter how many times you do it, the question that must be asked in your heart is: do I really have a longing/graving after the activity or the thing that I desire to use?
You see the problem is not on how much you do or how less you do. Otherwise, you could easily use your outward ‘holiness’ as a cover up. That’s hypocritical. Because the problem and the battle, must be fought on the inside. The mind.
So ask yourself: am I longing for that thing more than spending time in prayer and study, in communion with the Lord?
You might notice that after a while, your Bible reading, in terms of how you feel doing it, becomes simply a dull thing. It does not motivate you and does not excite you. You find it boring and burdensome.
Do you find prayer a burdensome thing to do?
Do you find joy and excitement and fulfilled in the simple reading or study of the Bible, or watching a sermon and making your thoughts focused upon Christ? Do you find it a delight and a joy to speak about spiritual things with other Christians? Or are they becoming not ‘cool’ enough for you?
Or do you sense it becoming a burdensome things for you? Do you see your life of time spending in deed and thought on spiritual things; or things of this world?
Are your desires slowly becoming a reflection of the world’s desires? What makes you different than other sinners who are not Christian? Do you talk what they talk and think what they think?
Such questions might be helpful in your self-examination, to see whether you are being influenced by the world or not. That is the role of the conscience, to help us reflect our soul, to examine and re-examine our motives and intentions behind things we do or say or think. It checks everything, it ticks everything. In John Bunyan books it is known as the ‘Recorder’, it keeps files after files, report after report of what we have been doing.