Despite some of the radical transformation that happens early on in most people’s Christian lives, there are these nagging areas. There are areas that you try and try and try and try and try, but they don’t change. Some of the outer big stuff sometimes gets cleaned up, but those outbursts of anger, or the workaholism, or pleasing people, or codependency.
Or there are just people that, you know what? You just find yourself – you really love God, you’re sincere, you’re actually reading your Bible, you’re praying, you’ve joined a small group, but there are just pockets, or closets, in your life that you want to change, and you have tried very hard, and you’re stuck.
And what I want you to know is that we all have areas like that. And the reason this is so important is because how we think about that, and how God actually works to transform those things, are different, and most people don’t understand how that works.
In fact, I would say, probably, the first ten years I was a Christian, I made some progress in some of those areas, almost by random chance, but I couldn’t articulate what happened, or why, until I had a situation with one of my sons. My youngest son Ryan – he gave me permission and this bench is going to tell a story.
I can still remember sitting on the floor, and my son had what an older translation says is “a besetting sin.” He was a young guy, loved God. At ten, eleven years old, he was getting up, reading the Bible; he was leading worship by the time he was in junior high. Although he didn’t like school, and he wasn’t very disciplined, he was this young guy, with a great heart.
But this besetting sin was – every little kid goes through a season of lying – at least, my four did. But they usually grow out of it. But Ryan – this shortcut, this besetting sin was, whether his homework was due, or he was supposed to do that, he got into a pattern, he got into a habit, of lying.
In fact, for, like, four years. And he was really good. He would lie so much that – he actually would tell me later, “Dad, I lied about everything so much, I became convinced of my own lies.”
And then, I would ask him, “So, is your homework done?” “Oh, yeah, I got it taken care of.” And then, his report card would come. Or, “Have you talked to so-and-so?” Perpetual, besetting…
I disciplined him. I rewarded him. I grounded him. If you’re a parent, and you’ve ever had one of these things – I did everything you can do as a parent. And I was just frustrated. And it put a real breech in our relationship, because then I never knew if I could trust him.
And three years of this, and I have done everything I can do. I’m literally sitting on the floor, he’s sitting on his bed, and a breakthrough came, because as I am sitting on the floor, and, literally, tears coming down my eyes, and tears coming, “Ryan! You just keep lying and lying and lying.” And I remember him looking down at me, and he says, “Dad, Dad, I’m trying as hard as I can! What do you do? I’ve prayed. I’ve memorized a couple verses. I’ve asked God. I can’t stop. What do you do when you try as hard as you can, and you just can’t change?”
What do you do when you’re trying as hard as you can, and you really love God, and you’re doing what you know to do – you’re in the Scriptures; you’re renewing your mind – but certain things won’t change?
And as he said that, and I’m feeling this overwhelming inadequacy as a father, and as a pastor, to give a good response, I’m praying one of those super quick prayers in your mind, Oh, God, give me wisdom. Give me wisdom. Give me wisdom. And he’s crying and bawling, and he’s looking at me like, “Well, Dad?” And God brought something to my mind. I’d been studying it privately, but all the pieces came together in that moment.
I said, “Ryan, relax.” “What?” I said, “Relax. I’ve got the answer.” “You do?” I said, “Yeah. I’ve got the answer. Here’s what I want you to do. I’ll pick you up after school tomorrow. Load your gym bag – I want you to put a pair of sweats, your tennis shoes, everything in a gym bag. I’ll pick you up.” Because what I had to teach my son was, there are certain things that no amount of trying harder, as sincere you can be, will bring about change. Certain things are going to require training.
And so, I picked him up after school, and so, we walk into World Gym, and please hear, this is a gym, not a spa. There are guys with big leather belts, like this. And there are not a lot of machines, and there are just a few cardio areas. This is, like, free weights, big guys, lots of grunting, probably a few steroids in the back room. And they’re, “Ugh!” and then they drop the weights, and they go, Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And these guys look like they were born on these weight machines.
And so, I walked in, and I said, “What do you think, Ryan?” “They’re really big.” And naively, I said, “Do you think they were born that way?” “No, Dad.” I said, “I don’t, either. Well, come here, son.”
We’d been lifting in the garage, with his older brothers. I had him lay down on the bench press; we got warmed up. And I knew what he could lift, and so I took about five to seven pounds on each end, beyond what he could lift, so I knew he could hold it, but he couldn’t lift it.
And so, I said, “Get down, son, will you?” And so, he gets down. I said, “Okay, are you ready? Let’s do a few reps of this.” Press, press, press, press, press. “Okay, ready? Let it down. Okay, now, press it up.”
And so, he’s shaking. And now, it’s coming down closer and closer to his neck. Closer and closer to his neck. His mother would not be pleased at this moment.
And so, as he’s lying down there, and his face is red, and it’s coming close to his neck, I get over him. And I’ve got my hands ready, in case – I don’t want it to hit his neck. And I start screaming, “C’mon, Ryan! Try harder! Try harder! Try harder!” And finally, it’s, like, inches from his neck, and his arms are shaking. He goes, “Dad! I’m trying as hard as I can!”
I lifted it off. I said, “Never forget that, son.” Then, we sat there together, and he was, like, overwhelmed, and sweaty. I said, “Ryan, let me ask you something. You see all these guys? How do you think they got the way they got?” “Well, I think they come here a lot.” “I think you’re right.”
I said, “Well, let me ask you, if I would take maybe ten pounds off each end, and you did three sets of eight or ten today” – and it was a Monday – “we come back Wednesday; you do three sets of eight or ten, and we come back Friday, you do three sets of eight or ten, then next week we come back, and you do three sets of eight or ten, and maybe we add a pound or two, do you think, in three months, you could lift that extra five or seven pounds on each end?” “Oh yeah, Dad, I’m sure I could do that. That’s no problem. My older brother Jason, he could only lift about a hundred and thirty or forty pounds, and he does almost three hundred now” – he was a wrestler.
I said, “Ryan, listen carefully. You have everything in your body to lift that weight. But no amount of trying hard will lift that weight right now. You have to go into training; you have to develop what God has given you.”
And here’s what I want you to know. Some of your anger issues, some of your addiction issues, some of your people-pleasing issues, some of your alcohol and prescription drug issues, some of your workaholism issues, some of the issues that we all have that we all keep over here, and you’re stuck, and you really haven’t seen change, I want you to understand, no amount of trying harder. And we’re going to go into training.
We’re going to talk about five habits that cultivate holiness from the heart. See, there are certain things that when you go into training, they literally become habits. You have spiritual, supernatural responses to certain things that, right now, are besetting sins.
Habits. The power of habit. Research tells us that every habit has a cue, or a craving. There’s a routine, and there’s a reward. Your besetting sin has become a habit in your life.
It’s just like when God wanted to do an amazing, miraculous thing with the children of Israel, certain things – He has this big deliverance, and so, you see His power. And then, there’s a process and a journey, where your character gets developed, but there’s a grinding it out, and doing things over time, that becomes a habit.
So, when God takes the children of Israel, what happens? What’s He do? The miracle: the Jordan parts. Jericho – dramatic – falls supernaturally. And then, for decades, what do they do? For decades, they get up, and they go into training, and they do battle. And inch by inch, they take more and more territory. And that’s a good picture of sanctification, what happens in our lives.
And so, I want to help you begin to break some of those habits that you don’t even think about, begin to analyze what’s really going on. And as you do these, they are very critical.
First and foremost, here’s training station number one. The bench-press of spirituality is this: It’s, be honest. Speak the truth in love.
Paul picks up where he talked about in verse 15, where he says, “Speaking the truth in love, we’re to grow up into all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ. Therefore” – verse 25, then, he’s going to make the application – “laying aside falsehood, speak the truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.”
Spiritual training station number one is honesty. Personal integrity. This isn’t just your speech, but all aspects – honesty, integrity, how you live, what you say. But, especially, you’re going to put off falsehood. Your training command is to speak the truth in love. Speaking the truth, but doing it in love. Not speaking the truth to hurt people. Speaking the truth to build relationships.
The training action is, you put off falsehood. And this word, falsehood, is well beyond – this isn’t just lying. The word falsehood has the idea of speech, deceit, exaggeration, the falsehood that comes from white lies, the falsehood of silence. Aren’t there times where someone’s saying something, and you completely disagree, but in your silence, you communicate that you agree with them? It says, “Put off falsehood.”
Then, notice, the renewal is, you recognize your shared membership in God’s family. Put off falsehood, but notice the difference in thinking: “with your neighbor, for we are members of one another.”
See, at the end of the day, the reason why Ryan lied to me was because it always produced short-term relief, and then long-term consequences. “I didn’t do my homework, but I lie about it so I’m not in trouble right now.” But the one thing that it did in our relationship was – what? It violated trust.
The commodity of every human relationship, whether it’s parent to child, whether it’s your marriage partner, whether it’s a friend, whether it’s a roommate, whether it’s a business – the commodity of every relationship is trust. Once trust is gone, you have no relationship.
The apostle Paul is using, like, the human body, and he says, “Just as we’re members of one another in the body of Christ,” think about if your hand, and your eye, and your foot begin to lie to your brain. If something was hot, and your hand got on something hot, and it told your brain it was cold, what’s going to happen? Pain!
And he’s saying to you, “You have to rethink.” You are thinking only about yourself when you lie, when you have less than the truth in relationships, when you exaggerate, when they’re these little white lies. What you’re doing is, you’re avoiding some front-term pain, but what you’re doing is, you’re eroding trust. And little lies in marriage end up, over the years, big lies.
And when your words say one thing, and your behavior says something else to your kids, they say, “I not only don’t believe in you, but I don’t believe in your faith.”
At a certain time – remember? You have to make a decision: delete. Then, you have to run a new program. And the new program is, “I’m going to be honest in everything, all the time.” And then, you have to go into training to become an honest person.
Now, some of you are thinking, Well, I’m an honest person. I don’t do any big lies, and I’ve actually reported everything on my taxes, and… Well, let me probe a little bit on some of the exaggeration, and some of the white lies, and some of the small ways, because Luke 16:10 – you might jot that in your notes. It’s a financial passage, but it’s a timeless principle. It says, “He who is faithful in a very little thing will be faithful also in much; but he who is unrighteous in a very little thing will be unrighteous also in much.”
How many times have you left late for something, and there’s a little bit of traffic, and you walk into work, or you run into someone, and you say, “Oh, well, the traffic was really heavy”? Well, the traffic was really heavy but you’re late not because the traffic is heavy; you’re late because you left fifteen minutes late. Well, that’s just a little lie.
Or how many of us exaggerate? We just exaggerate, a little bit here, and a little bit there. See, what we then do is, we lie to ourselves: I don’t really have a drinking problem. I don’t really please people that much. I don’t think I’m a workaholic; I just have a lot of energy. I don’t think our marriage really is in trouble. I think she’s just going through a season where she needs more attention.
Lie, lie, lie. When you don’t ruthlessly say, “I’m going to go into training to be honest with God, honest with myself, and honest with others, a hundred percent of the time” – when you do that, I will tell you, it will bring about transformation in those besetting sins.
What would happen if you were ruthlessly honest in every area of your life? How many times has someone said something to you and, “Hey, we really ought to get together,” and, “This is a great idea; I think you’d love to do it,” and you say something like, “Yeah! Let’s really get together sometime,” and, “Yeah, I think that’s a winner,” and down deep, the moment they walk out of the room, you’re thinking, Man, I would never do that, and I don’t want to take that person’s phone call in the future?
But when you do that – I want you to know, it’s a disease, and it grows. And deception happens in your own heart, and then, pretty soon, you don’t see yourself the way you really are, and you don’t see God the way He is, and things get more cloudy.
And the problem with these kinds of things is, they grow, and things that are little, little – ten, twelve, fifteen years later, they’re big things. And so, God says, “Go into training.” And so, you put on truthful speech, and authenticity.