The Apostle Paul was fond of using athletic metaphors in his call for distinctly Christian lives. Romans 12:1 is just one example: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” But there is an important difference between the commitment of an athlete and that of a Christian: An athlete’s commitment is to himself or to his team, while the commitment of the Christian is to God.
Jerry Bridges addresses this in The Discipline of Grace and warns of one way that we can completely miss the mark: “When we commit ourselves to the pursuit of holiness, we need to ensure that our commitment is actually to God, not simply to a holy lifestyle or a set of moral values. The people of my parent’s generation were generally honest, chaste, sober, and thrifty. They were committed to those values, but they were not necessarily committed to God. Many of them were outstanding moralists and even church people, but they were not committed to God.” These people were committed to their values, but not to God. Could the same be true of us?
“As believers we need to be careful that we do not make a similar mistake. We can be committed to a set of Christian values or to a lifestyle of discipleship without being committed to God Himself. But Paul said, offer yourself to God, and in doing that commit yourselves to the pursuit of holiness in order to please Him.” This is a warning we do well to heed. Bridges continues: “We should not seek holiness in order to feel good about ourselves, or to blend in with our Christian peer group, or to avoid the sense of shame and guilt that follows the committing of persistent sin in our lives. Far too often our concern with sin arises from how it makes us feel. Sinful habits, sometimes called ‘besetting sins,’ cause us to feel defeated, and we don’t like to be defeated in anything, whether it’s a game of Ping-Pong or in our struggle with sin.”
Here’s the important application: As we commit to the disciplines of the Christian life, our first commitment is to pursue a life that is pleasing to God, which is to say, a life of obedience. We commit to obey which means “we must make it our aim not to sin.” That is our base-level, fundamental commitment: We will obey God by not sinning.
Bridges wants us to take a deep look at our intentions in all of this. “It is the intention to please God in all our actions that is the key to commitment of a life of holiness. If we do not make such a commitment to obedience without exception, we will constantly find ourselves making exceptions. We will have a ‘just one more time’ syndrome in our lives. But the truth is, the ‘one more time’ manner of thinking undermines our commitment. Every time we give in to a temptation, even though it may seem small and insignificant to us, we make it easier to give in the next time. Sin has a tendency to exert an ever-increasing power on us if it is not resisted on every occasion.” I think every Christian can attest to this, that sin’s power grows when we allow ourselves to continue to give in to it. When we allow ourselves to sin just that one time, it is just that much easier to sin the next time.