A Note from Kelly King: As humans—even as Christians—we are not immune to the temptation of sin. I remember the children’s song, “Oh Be Careful Little Ears What You Hear” and know that what we watch, what we see, and where we go can lead us down a path of destruction. In today’s article, Ashley Chesnut gives us some practical ways to develop a deeper affection for the things of the Lord and how it can help us fight off temptation. For an ongoing resource, consider the study No Other Gods by Kelly Minter.
What do a laxative and killing sin have in common?
Probably not a question you ever thought to ask, right?
Where did that question even come from? In my life, God’s pattern has been to provide me with head knowledge and then give me opportunities to live it out (like how an education major spends most of college learning content and education theories and then the last semester applying that knowledge via student teaching).
So last fall, two things happened: I was taking a course on counseling people who struggle with addiction, and I was walking alongside a girl with an eating disorder who purged via laxatives. As part of an assignment for class, I read an old Thomas Chalmers sermon entitled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” with the sermon’s premise being that we cannot will ourselves to stop sinning. In order to fight sin effectively, we must replace our love for sin with a greater love. We must cultivate a greater affection for God, and, in doing so, we will expel other loves.
Matthew 6:24 plainly tells us that we cannot have two masters, for we either love one or the other. And as Chalmers states, “it is then [through worship of God] that the heart, brought under the mastery of one great and predominant affection, is delivered from the tyranny of its former desires, in the only way in which deliverance is possible.”
While the girl I was discipling was receiving both counseling and medical attention, we would meet to talk about her relationship with God and how to apply the truth of the gospel to daily life. It was in one of these conversations with her that God married what I was studying and reading in my counseling class with the practice of killing sin. The result? The analogy of a spiritual laxative.
To put it in simple, pleasant(ish) terms, a person takes a laxative because there is something they wish to expel from their body. Ingest a laxative; expel…well, you get the idea.
If we wish to expel sin and worldly loves, we must replace them with something that we love even more. We ingest in order to expel. Or as Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4 describe it, we “put off” the old self and “put on” the new self. It’s the idea of replacement. Sounds great, right? Even simple. I thought so too until this past April, and here’s where God took what He taught me via book knowledge and made me live it.
The Hard Work of Real Life Application
Over the past six years of working with college and young professionals at church, I have had an increasing number of conversations with girls who are struggling with all sorts of sexual sins: masturbation, pornography, sex addiction, oral sex, same sex attraction, etc.
Around spring break of this year, I got hit with a wave of girls struggling with these issues and wanting to confess and work through them. It’s wonderful that they want to bring sin to light, and I praise God for it. It’s evidence of the Spirit working in them. But it isn’t always easy to hear such things, especially when you’re hearing it every day for weeks on end.
As a counselor, you often hear things you wish you didn’t know. You pray for God to help you remember what you need to remember and to forget what you need to forget. You simultaneously ingest brokenness and lose innocence. And as a single girl who is also a virgin, such conversations about sexual sin easily stirs up desires and thoughts—ones I don’t have an outlet for since I’m not married and since I’m wanting to pursue holiness and obedience to Christ. At the same time of hearing these confessions, I was feeling the pressure of finals looming, had other writing deadlines I was trying to meet, and had a side business that I was trying to get off the ground—all on top of my responsibilities of my full-time job at the church.
Stress, anxiety, and desires were mounting, and in my daily time of studying Isaiah, God reminded of the spiritual laxative principle and my need to apply it. We don’t really know something until we have to apply it and live it, and while it’s easy to say “cultivate a greater affection for God,” the truth is there is a war going on inside of us (Rom. 7:15-21), and for me, it felt like one giant internal game of pinball with my thoughts and affections.
I was spending time with God, but honestly, I needed more if I was going to honor Him with my thoughts and actions, especially with all that I was hearing as I met with the girls He placed in my life.
Enter radical amputation. Now, I didn’t take Jesus literally with the whole gouge out your eye if it causes you to sin command, but I did apply the principle to my life by what I stopped and what I added.
What I stopped: Because of all the sexual things I was hearing, I could not handle anything love-related, even seemingly benign things like the Jane Austen books and movies I so enjoy. No rom-coms. No secular music. I quit reading fiction for a couple of months and started reading a biography of Harry Truman instead (which is quite fascinating by the way). This might sound extreme, but fighting sin is something we have to be both proactive and reactive about. For me, part of playing a good offense has to do with being intentional about my influences, and at the end of the day, what’s more important to me—watching certain movies or growing my love for God?
What I added: So my thoughts are where I struggle the most, and our emotions and actions stem from our thoughts and beliefs. So I knew that not only did I have to stop certain actions, I needed to give myself things to think about that were God-centered. I identified Scripture to memorize. As soon as I woke up, I put on a sermon that I listened to as I got ready and continued listening to as I drove to work—and did the same thing as I drove home and later got ready for bed. I put on praise music while I showered (I often do my best thinking in the shower). And during all of this, I’m daily spending time in the Word and in prayer.
A prayer that I regularly pray is for God to help me love Him more. It’s a prayer that aligns with His will and one that He’s been answering. The past three months have been a battle in so many ways—a battle to trust Him with all of the things I’m stressed and anxious about as well as a battle for mental purity. But because of the battle, I see my need for Him so much more. I don’t have room for self-reliance, even though that’s my sinful inclination. I want to obey Him. I want to worship Him, but I can’t do that without Him working in me and changing me.
The past three months, He’s been working that out in me by showing me how to expel other loves by replacing them with a greater love for Him. And it’s hard because it’s not natural for me as a sinner. I often think the Navy Seals motto applies—“the only easy day was yesterday.” But He’s worth it, and one crucial aspect of all of this for me has been to daily remind myself of why He is worth it by recalling His character and praising Him for Who He is. That’s the spiritual laxative at work, and because sin is a worship issue, the only way to expel and kill sin is to cultivate a greater awe and adoration of God.
So with that in mind, what are you ingesting, and what needs to be expelled from your life? How do you need to apply the spiritual laxative principle to your own life?
Ashley Chesnut serves as the Associate Singles 20s/30s Minister at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, and has a Master of Divinity from Beeson Divinity School. While Ashley has a passion for discipling young women, she also loves her city, and when she’s not at the church or meeting with girls, you can probably find her at the farmer’s market or trying some new local restaurant.