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This post is the fourth in a series entitled “Pitfalls of Christianity”. In this series various authors explain common misunderstandings that people who are Christians or want to be Christians often meet with in their experience. These “pitfalls” are all found in statements in the book Steps to Christ in which the author explains struggles that “many” face. The quotes for the current article are: “Do not put off the work of forsaking your sins and seeking purity of heart. Here is where thousands upon thousands have erred to their eternal loss.” Steps to Christ*, 32. “Many are quieting a troubled conscience with the thought that they can change a course of evil when they choose; that they can trifle with the invitations of mercy, and yet be again and again impressed.”* Steps to Christ*, 33.—Editor.*
The urgent necessity of responding to conviction directly applies to the unconverted heart, to those who have not yet decided to be Christians. But the voice of conviction does not cease its work once the soul has decided to accept Christ. The decision to follow Christ must be renewed continually. And so these quotes also apply to those who already claim Christ as their Saviour. This is why Ellen White warns later in the chapter, in one of the most sobering statements in Steps to Christ: “Even one wrong trait of character, one sinful desire, persistently cherished will eventually neutralize the power of the gospel.” Steps to Christ, 34.
In 2016, more than 8.5 million people will die from cancer (about 24 000 people per day). Current research suggests that about 80–90% of these cancer cases could be prevented by lifestyle-related factors or an early detection. In spite of our knowledge on the bad effects of smoking, still today about one-third of these cancer-related deaths are attributed to cigarette smoking. We can fairly conclude: Fear and knowledge alone do not prevent people from pursuing wrong behaviour patterns.
But what then makes anyone indulge in a behaviour that brings disease and subsequent suffering or even death? Well, probably the fact that the behaviour does not look that bad, and it promises you something—some deep desire seems to be met, at least temporarily. That reminds me of Blaise Pascal’s famous quote on the God-shaped hole:
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him ... since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.—Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII, 425.
Because every person is searching for fulfillment and meaning, whether consciously or unconsciously, the desire has to be filled with something. Accordingly, we read in God’s word: “Also He has put eternity in their hearts.” Eccl 3:11. So there is something in our hearts that desperately wants to be filled. I tried to fill this deep craving for true meaning in life with all forms of destructive behaviours; most of which tend to be addictive. This destructive conduct always follows one of three basic sin-patterns given in the Bible: The lust of the flesh (sinful lust), the lust of the eye (greed, covetousness) and pride (see 1 John 2:16). These attempts to be satisfied rely on self or an idol. The consumption of it brings pleasure; in fact, the Bible does not deny the pleasure side of sin (Heb 11:25), but it clearly points out its end: Death (Rom 6:23). The problem is that many of these behaviours do not look or feel bad at first glance and we would do well to uncover them.
Today more than ever before we understand the huge capacity of human brains to learn behaviours, both good and bad, by repeated thinking and acting upon thoughts. These trained neurological pathways finally make up the very essence of who we are—our character. That’s why it takes quite some effort to unlearn long-practised behaviours.
Assuming you were the devil and would not want a person to realize their true condition, what would you do? Of course you would introduce thoughts and behaviour-patterns that at first glance seem to perfectly satisfy this deep desire and do no instant harm. They tend to allure, strengthen self and decrease your willingness to let God rule in your heart. Yet it hardly ever starts out upfront! The true sinfulness of sin is not the apparent evil as portrayed in the brutal or appalling wicked. The greater danger is practising sin while not seeing it as such, a state that keeps people blind to their true condition—and people excel in practising a variety of these behaviours! Thus neurological pathways are strengthened and a change becomes more and more difficult.
The strongest bulwark of vice in our world is not the iniquitous life . . . it is the life which otherwise appears virtuous, honorable and noble, but in which one sin is fostered. Education, 150.
Our trust in self-wrought virtuous actions, comparing ourselves to others and judging our own condition as “actually not that bad” is one of the greatest traps. Over the years you practise these behaviour patterns of classifying your own sins as trivial and thinking it easy to overcome them if just fought hard enough against, at a later point in life. Nothing but self-deception! Years of postponing important decisions and training of neurological pathways seal a character that is not easily changed. A lack of decided action against sinful behaviour will set you up for further compromise and decrease your spiritual longing and may lead to eternal loss. Sounds scary? Well, fear can and should make you alert—but fear in and of itself cannot be the means of true spiritual change. Never!
In the beginning we stated that fear and knowledge alone do not prevent people from pursuing wrong behaviour patterns. The real battle begins when you let God move in your life and give you a glimpse of your real condition which is something like this: An impatient moment of yelling wears the costume of zeal for truth. Lust masquerades as a love for beauty. Gossip lives in the costume of concern and prayer. Craving for power and control wears the mask of biblical leadership. Fear of man gets dressed up as being a peacemaker or having a servant heart. Now we understand that the true solution to our problem takes more than human strength; it takes a transforming power from without. Only in the mirror of God's Word and with the sight-giving help of the Holy Spirit are we able to see ourselves accurately. Talk to God openly about your deepest longings—I guarantee He will provide true repentance and fill your heart with His abiding peace! I experienced it over and over again: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” Ps 34:8.
Filling Your God-shaped Hole
Be assured, there is a truly loving God that deserves your all, who is worthy to be adored and followed, who wants your very best, and I strongly encourage you to wholeheartedly cling to the Bible promise that “whosoever seeks shall find Him”. Jer 29:13. God, who loves us enough to sacrifice His Son for our redemption, works so that we would see ourselves clearly, so that we would not buy into the delusion of our self-made righteousness. He gives us a humble sense of personal need and true, abiding peace of mind through His perfect remedy against sin: The cleansing from all filth and dirt. No case is too tough for God to grant healing. But we must respond to the conviction. Why not give your heart fully to Christ right now, no longer postponing and strengthening sinful nerve-patterns but ask Him to provide power to turn around, talk to Him and taste and see how good the Lord truly is! So, my friend, “Deal truly with your own soul. Be as earnest, as persistent, as you would be if your mortal life were at stake.” Steps to Christ, 35.
Andreas Binus is a physician and a co-director of ENAD.