Philadelphia Zoo members know that the best time to visit the zoo is in the winter. With no crowds of tourists or school field trip groups, you’re free to visit all your favorite animal friends in peace. You might even have a close encounter with a baby gorilla or a get a “kiss” from a lion!
But there’s one exhibit that’s a little eerie in the winter: The Reptile & Amphibian House. When you’re alone in this dimly lit building, decorated with a floor-to-ceiling size stone cobra head, surrounded by creepy-crawly sharp-toothed (or poisonous) creatures, you get a little jumpy.
One day last year, after Anna and I were done “aww”-ing over the cuteness of a swimming Pig-Nosed Turtle, we turned to our right only to come face to face with this:
I swear these guys hang there, perfectly still, with their heads above the water, just waiting to catch unsuspecting turtle admirers off guard, and make them jump!
But the best part is the sign next to them that says this:
If you do the research, you’ll find that yes, there is in fact a market out there for pet Caiman. Although experts advise against bringing these dangerous reptiles into your home, many people convince themselves they are up for the challenge. As babies they may appear to be “manageable,” but the problem is that they grow – and so does their bite!
From the beginning of time, sin has been a creepy-crawly, sharp-toothed, poisonous presence in the lives of human beings. God, as the Creator of all that is seen and unseen, is the ultimate Expert – He put every system into place, so He knows how it’s all supposed to work in the best way possible!
But, even with full knowledge that we are only creations of the Creator, we get it in our heads that we know better than Him. Instead of loving and caring for each other, we put ourselves and our own agendas first. Instead of following God’s guidelines for relationships, we do what “feels right” to us. Instead of giving and sharing what we have to help others, we remain content in living “above” them. Instead of adoring God with our whole hearts, we make things and people what we desire.
Sin seems so harmless at first and we’re sure we can handle the consequences (if there even are any), so we take it in as a pet. We give it a cage to try to contain it, feed it a little here and there, and expect it to stay under our control. Unfortunately though, like Caiman, sin has a tendency to grow – and so does its bite. Before we know it, we lose control and end up hurting ourselves and others in the process.
In Romans 8:11-14, Paul writes that “the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.”
Although the spiritual consequences of my sin have been so mercifully removed from me by the sacrifice of Christ, sin still lurks at my door on a daily basis. I know I’ve been forgiven, but that doesn’t mean sin is something I want in my life – as a follower of Jesus, the last thing I want to do is cause pain in my own life or the lives of others!
In Romans 8, Paul suggests that we “put to death” the deeds of our sinful nature. In other words, it’s time to go to battle! For this battle we need more than just effort – we need a strategy. Unfortunately, most of time time we choose a weak one.
First, we try to convince ourselves about our sin. Temptation to do something we know (or at least suspect) isn’t God’s best for us presents itself and thoughts such as “It’s harmless” or “I can handle it” pop into our minds. Soon we’re engaging in dialog with these thoughts, allowing our hearts and minds to be persuaded by our own sinful hearts and minds that this is “not a big deal”.
But God has given us a much more effective strategy! As believers we have the Expert of all experts living inside of us – and one of the Holy Spirit’s main roles is to “convict” us or “convince [us] with solid, compelling evidence”* about sin. It’s only “by the power of the Spirit” that we have any hope of putting sin “to death” and we only access that power when we’re listening to His voice, engaging in dialog with Him, and letting Him be the expert!
Even when we’re convinced, though, many of us fall into a second weak strategy: We know our “pet” was a bad choice and it’s time to get rid of it, but instead of continuing to listen to the Expert, we try to overpower it on our own. We mistakenly believe that putting sin to death requires us to remain in the room with it and somehow not indulge.
But the “power of the Spirit” is not some sort of supernatural boost in willpower! The power of the Spirit is His wisdom in guiding you into better decisions so you don’t end up in the situation in the first place. The power of the Spirit involves Him drawing you to spend more time understanding His character, making Him more desirable than your sin. The power of the Spirit is accessed when you follow His leading to ask for help and accountability from other believers in your life. Having “no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do” doesn’t happen in the moment of temptation – it happens in the days, weeks, months, and years before the temptation as you let the real Expert be the expert in your life.
We’ll never eliminate sin from our lives this side of heaven, but we can choose better strategies in putting it to death. Our hearts and minds are always going to try to convince us that sin is manageable, but we have Someone greater than our hearts and minds inside of us!