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Category Archives: Romans

According to Wikipedia, Muscle Memory is “a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.”

As I’ve worked to fight both habitual and seemingly out-of-nowhere sins in my life, I’ve discovered that it is helpful to develop a sort of routine that I go through whenever I am hit with temptation- spiritual “muscle memory” if you will. Of course, this technique is not a silver bullet, but I have seen it help me when my sinful appetites start to make me insane and irrational. It helps me slow down, think, and remember what I truly want. You may not use the exact pattern I do, but I would encourage you to come up with something that is easy to remember that you can kick into action when the enemy attacks. Like cheesy sermons, all of my reminders start with the same letter, in this case “R”.

Recognize. Just admit to God what is going on. Name it. Face up to your appetite. “This is what I want right now…”, This is what I’m craving… “, “I’m angry because…”, etc.

Repent. It is possible that you haven’t sinned yet. The temptation is not the sin. But the way I see it, I can’t go wrong repenting. So this step usually looks like me saying something like “Lord, forgive me for the parts of my heart that desire what is evil, or what you have not given me.” I’m pretty sure that even when I haven’t done “the deed” yet, there are parts of my heart that need cleansing.

Remember. Call to mind relevant scripture passages. Remind yourself that God is good; that he is faithful; that he knows what you need and will provide for you. Remind yourself what your fighting for and find motivation in imagining the man/woman that you are praying that God will help you become. e.g. I want to be a man who is pure; who will be faithful in life and ministry; I want to be a person of integrity; I want to be a good steward of my time; etc.

Redirect. Turn mentally from whatever the temptation is and decide what productive/good think you are going to set your attention on.

[Retreat?] This will not always be possible, but ask yourself “Is this a situation I can physically flee from?” Can I change my location/activity, and get away from this temptation?

[Reinforcements?] Do I need to call for reinforcements? Should I call/text/email/visit someone who can pray for and encourage me? Warning: This one is tricky. There will be a lot of times you tell yourself that you don’t need reinforcements when you really do. The motto “better safe than sorry” is a good plan here. Much like repenting when maybe you aren’t totally sure you sinned, calling for reinforcements when you think you will probably be fine is not a bad thing!

Rejoice. Rejoice that whether you have a good day or a bad day, whether you “succeed” or “fail” you have a high priest, Jesus Christ, who sympathizes with your weaknesses, who intercedes on your behalf (Hebrews), who gave his life to save yours, and who covered you in his righteousness. Your salvation is not based on your ability to be a “good Christian”…it is based on Christ’s blood. Not only that, but you can rest on the promise that “just as Christ Jesus was raised from the dead, we too will walk in the newness of life” (Romans 6). Rejoice!

This sort of strategy is not original with me. Others have shared similar strategies (see John Piper’s ANTHEM) What’s important is not finding the “silver bullet” technique, but rather knowing the gospel, knowing yourself, and figuring out what gets your eyes off of you and onto God in times of temptation. Think about your own personal fight with sin. How can you anticipate battles, and prepare for them? How can you develop your own spiritual “muscle memory”?



1Blessed is the man
   who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
   nor stands in the way of sinners,
   nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
   and on his law he meditates day and night.

3He is like a tree
   planted by streams of water
   that yields its fruit in its season,
   and its leaf does not wither.
   In all that he does, he prospers. 4The wicked are not so,
   but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
   nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
   but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 1 presents a stark contrast between the life of a righteous person who is blessed and that of the wicked who will come under God’s judgement. Verses 1 and 2 are very straightforward: This is what a righteous person does; this is what they don’t do. If you’re anything like me though, these sorts of biblical contrasts can be a bit confusing or even frustrating. The psalmist makes it sound so easy and natural. I think most of us experience life a little more in the gray in the sense that while there are times that we are certainly “delighting in the law of the Lord” and meditating on his law “day and night”, there are a lot of times that we’re not! As Christians, we often find ourself committing these sins of omission- not doing thing we should be doing. But it gets worse. We also experience times in the course of any given day, week or month when we find ourselves thinking and maybe even acting a lot more like the “wicked” than the “righteous”, thus committing sins of comission- Doing those things which we should not do. We identify with Paul when he cries out in frustration in Romans 7:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. ForI delight in the law of God, in my inner being,  but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:21-24)

So what do we do with the apparent conflict between what we should be, and what we are? Is there any hope that we will ever be any different? Here is where some technical theological terms become helpful. The theology of our justification, santification, and glorification gives us 3 helpful lenses through which to view our identity and our everyday experience.

I’m sure I there are some great theological-dictionary-type definitions for these three terms, but for now let me simply use scripture to define/illustrate these concepts:

JUSTIFICATION. Let’s keep reading Paul at the end of Romans 7 and the beginning of chapter 8. Paul answers his own question (“Who will save me from this body of death?”): “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…” He elaborates on this joyful declaration in the first verse of chapter 8: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” So here’s the idea: Though we continue to struggle with sin as Christians, we have been covered because of Christ’s work for us. When God looks at us (even on our worst days), he sees Christ. We are justified!

SANCTIFICATION. Let’s go back to Psalm 1. In the middle of the Psalm there is an image of a tree planted by streams of water. One of the characteristics of this tree is that it “yields its fruit in its season.” This little line seems obvious and is easy to miss. We might also find ourselves imagining this tree not as a process of growth, but as a finished product- strong, healthy and full of fruit. I think that’s the way we all want to be. We want to believe in Christ, and we want to instantaneously be super-Christians who no longer have deep struggles with sin. But notice the phrase “in its season.” This implies time. I don’t point this out to discourage you, but rather to encourage you. Bearing fruit is something that happens over a long period of time. Our job is to plant ourselves by the stream, to drink deeply of Christ and his word by faith, and to let our roots dig deeper and get stronger through prayer. We may not always bear the fruit we want on our time-table, but we most certainly will bear fruit. Hear the words of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and take heart: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) This is sanctification.

GLORIFICATION. There will come a day where we are delivered from this “body of death”, this great burden that we carry throughout our lives. In one sense we are delivered already (positionally), i.e. justification. But one day this virus we call sin will be totally and completely eradicated. Romans 8:22-24 speaks to this future “glorification”:

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.

Although the title of this post sounds like I’m accusing the psalmist, I actually don’t think he is telling us that we need to be perfect. We know from David’s own life and the testimony of his psalms that he struggled and failed at times. It seems to me that the heart of this psalm is the image of the tree planted by the streams of water (v. 3). The point is to be rooted by the life-giving stream. As we are sustained by this stream (Christ) we will progressively mature, bear fruit, and begin looking more and more like the person described in verses 1 and 2 (not to mention being delivered from God’s wrath against the wicked). If we do not drink from this stream, the logical conclusion follows: we will dry up, we will live lives that don’t matter (v. 4), and we will perish (v.6).

Let us drink deep from the stream of Christ, bear fruit, and live!

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