Consider two scenarios involving a person addicted to, say, smoking. In the first, a friend who wants to help the smoker break the addiction gets the person to agree to an unpleasant consequence if they continue to smoke. The consequence is painful and immediate, but lasting, so it outweighs any short term pleasure gained from a cigarette. The second scenario involves a couple considering marriage. But for that to happen, the non-smoker requires the smoker to stop.
Clearly, the two scenarios illustrate two methods of habit breaking. One applies negative motivation, the other positive—pain versus benefit. And those two approaches underlie our thinking about temptation and sin. Most often we hear about the deadly “wages of sin”, or sin’s consequences. We (perhaps aided by an accountability partner) shame ourselves for falling and failing.
We are told that Jesus was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). So how did Jesus resist temptation and stay sinless? Did He threaten Himself with consequences or punishment? Was it shame-avoidance that steered Him through the minefields of temptation?
We get some idea from the two records of His temptations, one at the beginning of His ministry, the other near the end of His life. In the wilderness He resisted Satan using Scripture. In Gethsemane He submitted to the will of God. We can do the same.
But I think there is another important positive motivator that colors the entire life of Jesus—His love for the Father. This is the one that we hear little about but that can change our lives by changing our view of sin. The clue is in Paul’s teaching about the Holy Spirit in Ephesians.
You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge (arrabon in the Greek) of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (Eph. 1:13-14. See also 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5.)
Later Paul warns about grieving the Spirit, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). Those words come in the middle of a list of behaviors that followers of Jesus should stop doing. That’s right—sins.
The power to stop comes from understanding what we have to lose. Paul mentions a future inheritance, but there is something more immediate. The Holy Spirit is the presence of the risen Jesus with us. He’s our intimate Helper, leading us into all truth. He’s our Comforter, wrapping us in assurance of the Father’s love. Sin is disloyalty, unfaithfulness to our first love. Sin breaks His heart. It’s not that He falls apart without us, or that He goes into a jealous rage. Rather, sin separates us—it rips the relationship (Isa. 59:2). As sin continues the relationship ceases to be intimate. It breaks.
Interestingly, modern Greek uses the word arrabon for engagement leading to marriage. So, let’s focus on the excitement and passion of our relationship with God and see if that doesn’t act as a healthier and more powerful motive to avoid sin.