When our girls were in elementary school, and a grey Northwest winter was getting the better of us, we would all go to the Family Fun Center, here in Edmonds, to play games and ride go-karts. Besides “Frogger,” my favorite game was the Fun Center’s version of “Whack-a-Mole.”
I know, I am really dating myself.
Whack-a-Mole is a game console with plastic cylindrical-shaped moles that pop up at you randomly out of the horizontal surface of the console. The object of the game is to “whack” the moles back down into their hole as they pop up, using a mallet attached by a cable to the console.
Whacking those moles into submission is relatively easy… to begin with. There’s one on the left! Whack! One right in front of you! Whack! One near the back of the console! Whack! Watch out! That one in the front popped back up! Whack!
So far so good!
Here is the problem!
As the game progresses, the speed with which the moles pop up increases. At first, you are able to keep up, but it is not long before the moles are out of control. They pop up faster than you can whack them down. The pattern is irritatingly unpredictable, until finally you run out of energy and time. The console starts buzzing with an annoying sound effect. Lights start flashing.
You are a loser!
The “Whack-a-Mole” game console at our Fun Center didn’t have moles that popped up. The plastic cylinders, appropriately, had the image of demons on the top. It was a “Whack-a-Demon” console.
What a visual picture of how the average Christian deals with sin. Sin pops up. You smack it down. But the more you try and beat sin down and into submission in one area of your life, the faster it pops up in another.
It is tiring.
It is frustrating.
It doesn’t work.
The Apostle Paul says as much, in Colossians 2:20-25. He says that the world’s best human efforts to beat sin down in our lives has “an appearance of wisdom… but is of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
So, what does work?
Victory over sin is won or lost in the heart, or, in what both John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards call the “affections.” An “affection” is a disposition of the heart out of which our actions flow… for sin or righteousness. In his book, Pentecostal Spirituality, Dr. Steven Land identifies three affections that directly influence our actions…compassion, gratitude and courage.
I realize that I am over-simplifying the subject, but the general concept is that when we invite the grace of God into our lives through regular engagement in the practices of the faith, we are providing the Holy Spirit with the “materials” by which He re-forms and re-shapes our hearts, our affections.
Then, out of transformed hearts and affections, will flow attitudes and behaviors that honor the Lord and build up those around us…and, like the dead leaves of the Pin Oak tree in Spring, residual sin falls off as God changes our hearts.
The focus is the Lord, not the sin.
The activity is drawing near to Him, not trying to suppress or beat down sin.
The result is life, not a perpetual and ultimately futile hand-to-hand combat with sin.
And all the glory for a victorious life goes to the Lord.
(See my book, The Presence, for examples of faith practices that transform affections)