Grace Immersion

Day 18

Do Not Think of This!

Read Romans 7:7–25

OK, whatever you do right now DO NOT think of Sweet Tarts candy!

Absolutely do not imagine the feel of the round candies in your hand, the look of the pastel blues and pinks, the initial surprise of tartness when you put them in your mouth, the snap of the candy when you start to chew it, or that tangy taste in your mouth that makes those salivary glands under your tongue go into overdrive!

How’re you doing on that? If you’re like most people, your mouth is puckering up a little bit already!

All right, go ahead and think of Sweet Tarts but please, whatever you do, do not think of a nice roast beef dinner.

Do not imagine the creamy, buttery mashed potatoes on your plate, made just the way you like them, with rich gravy running over the mashed potatoes into that hot, perfectly cooked slice of marbled, rich, dark roast beef. Don’t imagine how you smelled the aroma for hours as it cooked — and now you get to dig in! Of course this also means not thinking of that buttered bread roll melting in your mouth as you look down at the feast in front of you.

Some of you are just now picking this book back up again after disappearing for a snack following those first two paragraphs. It’s almost impossible not to focus on something that you’re reminding yourself not to focus on.

This is part of the problem with a legalistic system of righteousness. It’s like telling someone not to think of a pink elephant.

As Paul points out in Colossians,

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? …Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. Colossians 2:20–21,23

Note that Paul says such rules lack any value when it comes to really restraining impulses.

I watched an episode of Candid Camera where they put a sign that said “Wet Paint! Do Not Touch!” next to a park bench and then let the hidden cameras roll. And of course every single person who saw the sign stared at the bench like they were overcome with bench-touch lust. They longed to touch it. They had to touch it! Touching that park bench became their controlling desire!! And how many people do you think wanted to touch the bench like that before someone put up that sign — or even thought about it at all? Exactly zero.

The Bible talks a lot about what you could call the Wet Paint Effect. It’s not that the law is bad, but focusing on the rules of the spiritual life will often stimulate in you a desire for disobedience — not through any fault of the rules, but because of the way rules affect your sinful human nature. Paul talks about it in these verses:

But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire… I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. Romans 7:8,10

So how can you get victory over sin in your life?

Three unbiblical but very popular answers:

  1. Moralism: Just try harder to behave yourself according to certain standards.
  2. Legalism: Put up extra “fence laws” to keep you from even getting close to breaking the law. For example, the command says “Do not commit adultery,” so do not even look at a woman! In other words, even more Wet Paint to avoid.
  3. Anti-Nomianism: Literally, “anti-law”; sort of like spiritual anarchy. The Law — and any other external rules — should be opposed by Christians in any form. This ignores the fact that the Law has its uses still.

If these are all bad ideas, then what’s the biblical answer to changing your behavior? More on that starting tomorrow!

Have you ever experienced the Wet Paint Effect: rules bringing out misbehavior? What happened?

What’s wrong with the three unbiblical answers René mentions?

Ask God to help you focus on Him and His love instead of all the things you should not do! Start today by reviewing some of these devotions and the Scriptural truths in them, thanking God as you do your review for each blessing you have by grace!