When I speak at a conference, or at a church that is not my own, I often have the opportunity to meet people for just a brief period of time. At a church or conference I am typically asked to speak on a specific topic—sometimes I speak to men about pornography and about building a healthy, Bible-based view of sexuality. Sometimes I speak to a mixed audience about technology and how few of us are thinking about our digital technologies and using our digital technologies in distinctly Christian ways. Other times I speak about spiritual discernment or spiritual maturity.
Whatever the case, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon in the discussions I have after I speak or preach. I thought about this yesterday as I continued to read through Jerry Bridges’ The Discipline of Grace with the young adults at my church. Bridges speaks at conferences all the time and has noticed this very same phenomenon.
When people come up to me after I speak they often ask about how they can stop committing a sin that they find especially offensive. The Holy Spirit has convicted them of a sin and they are looking for a little bit of guidance in how to approach putting that sin to death. Men will come up and ask specific questions about how to stop giving in to the temptation to look at pornography or the temptation to allow their eyes and minds to wander. Women may come up and ask about how to stop being so responsive to their cell phone every time it beeps or vibrates or about their apathy toward spiritual maturity. These are good questions and I am always glad to talk about them.
But here is something interesting I’ve noticed: While it is common for someone to ask how to put off a particular sin, it is rare for someone to ask for guidance in putting on a particular godly trait. We are ashamed of our sin and bothered by it. This is good. But we are less ashamed of our lack of Christian character and less bothered by it. This is not good.
And I think this is where so many of us fail in our attempts to grow in godliness. This Christian life is one of continually putting off the old man with all its traits and putting on the new man. But our ultimate desire is not to be not-sinful but to be truly godly. We are not to aim at being not-sinful but to aim at being marked by Christian character. We experience the greatest success in battling sin when our desire is not only to stop sinning but to have our lives marked by the opposite character trait. The thief needs to do more than stop stealing; he needs to learn to be generous. The porn-addicted young man needs to do more than stop looking at pornography; he needs to learn to love and honor younger women as sisters. The angry mom needs to do more than stop lashing out at her children; she needs to learn to display patience and kindness. In each case the aim is not to stop sinning, but to be a display of Christ-like character.
The challenge for each one of us who desires to be godly is not only to identify the sin in our lives, but to identify the better and holier trait. And this, this fruit of the Spirit, this evidence of God’s grace, is what we aim for in our desires, in our prayers, in our labors.