December 10, 1991
Is it ever difficult to start an exercise program in December after giving it up in late September. All summer and on into fall my husband and I biked, fished and played golf, but after the cold weather came, it is so nice to curl up in front of the fireplace with a good book. Who wants to exercise!
But before long, we notice the effects. Stiff joints and aching muscles, not being able to bend as easily as this summer — all add up to one conclusion — use it or lose it. So we strive at slim and trim.
Actually, the principle is the same in our spiritual lives. We have to decide how we will live and then work at it — or we rapidly get flabby. Yet making the choice is only the first step, and by far the easiest one! Doing it is the difficult part. Some persistent bad habits just continually hang us up; we can’t seem to get the habits established. Godliness, like fitness, must be continually worked at or it definitely eludes us.
Not only that, stubborn bad habits make us feel helpless. Sometimes those wrong things seem to take over and almost become obsessions with us. We can even assume our lives are out of control and there is nothing we can do to change. After all, we try so hard to say “no” to that sin, to simply stop doing it, but in spite of good intentions, we seem such slaves to it.
But is that biblical thinking? Is it possible to be out of control? Perhaps the real problem is simply focusing on the wrong issue. God tells us what we are supposed to DO as well as what we are to stop doing. He wants us to take our focus off the negatives... by doing the positives. For instance, God says tell the truth; don’t lie. Love our spouse; don’t be unfaithful. Work with our hands; don’t steal. Give thanks to Him; don’t jest or talk filthy. Love our enemies; don’t seek revenge.
So when sinful habits seem out of control, this is where the use-it-or-lose-it principle comes in. We need to ask God to help us concentrate on the DO’S. It is only by spending our energy there do we have any hope of victory over the DO NOT’S. In fact, like unused muscles, bad habits can atrophy — simply die — from lack of exercise.
It works the opposite way too. Those who refuses to tell the truth find lying easier and easier. After a time, their capacity to tell the truth becomes atrophied and lying develops strength to control their life. In the same way, anyone who refuses to love their spouse finds straying easier and easier. The capacity to love becomes atrophied — and marital treachery develops a strength that controls their life. Most compulsive or obsessive behavior is the same.
In contrast, a commitment to God calls for the exercise of godly virtues such as love, truth and faithfulness. As these things develop, sinful habits begin to wither up and lose their strength to govern our lives. They also lose their importance because the new habit is so rich and rewarding there is no desire or appetite for the old.
Simply put, God will help us overcome dominating sinful patterns by urging us to give extra-special attention to that sin’s opposite behavior. He says “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil by doing good.”
Of course sinful attitudes and actions cannot be completely ignored, denied or repressed. They must be confessed and forsaken as we use the new nature we have been given to prevent spiritual atrophy.
Yes, getting on the exercise bike takes much determination. My muscles ache and protest. Yet the resulting strength and endurance will be worth it, and a good reminder that the habit of obedience makes more obedience a little easier. With that gain, sin atrophies and loses much of its appeal.