The Scriptures provide rich means to protect us from our cravings and ourselves. God in his lavish love for us has given many means of escape. Grace-oriented people who cherish the awesome power of God to transform lives sometimes forget the daily gifts God gives to protect us from our old selves. We’d rather have maintenance free victorious living than accept that God offers daily (hourly? minute by minute?) manna, enough to get through to your next meal. Yet that is exactly how God loves his children. He provides just enough for us to depend upon him for our every need. Oases are rare because they are dangerous to sin sick people. They offer the deception that we are capable of surviving on our own, without God’s intervention. Notice again that when the children of Israel are about to enter the Land, Moses beseeches them to be wary of growing fat in the abundance of the Land and forgetting who gave it to them.
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. Deut. 8:10-18
So what means does God offer us to protect our desires from becoming toxic, to increase our desires for that which is good? It is important to remember that these means of protection from evil desires are not simply behavioral tasks that work apart from a changed heart. We cannot merely legislate or “manage” lusts. Only when God is at work and we respond to Him by submissively killing lust and putting them to death can we find the means to change inordinate desires. Management, at its best, only produces a “dry drunk”—a person who as stopped one unattractive response to their desire, but continues to use more acceptable means to get the same desires met.
Visual reminders. In the Old Testament, God uses numerous visual stimuli to remind his children of his mercies, his holiness, and their neediness. What more powerful image did the Israelites need but the slaughtering of an animal to remind them of the weight of sin? Some years ago I had the privilege of witnessing Yom Kippur from the eyes of the Samaritans on Mt. Gerazim. The Samaritan high priests continue to sacrifice animals to atone for their people’s sin. Smells of charring hair and flesh choke out the air. Blood spatters the white garments. During this violent slaughter of an innocent animal, one cannot but sense the holiness of God and the sinfulness of sin. Not all visual images invoke solemnity. Though bloody, the sign of circumcision was to remind Israel that they have been set apart from the heathen. In the New Testament, baptism functions in the same way. Festivals and feasts abound to remind God’s people of his goodness and faithfulness. Memorials are constructed to remind future generations of magnificent events of God’s power (e.g., rocks to signify Aachan’s sin, rock piles to signify God’s bringing the children across the Jordan River). In a more mundane way, Moses instructed the Israelites to put tassels on the corners of their garments so as to be a remember God’s law. In this passage, God speaks to the very reason why we need these visual reminders and to the danger of forgetting who we are.
You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD your God (Numb. 15:39-41).
Take a look at some other means of grace offered by God:
*Proverbs 6: Repetition and close proximity to God’s word. Themes of wisdom as guiding and protecting. Holding the commands and teachings dear to us causes them to be on our minds and to protect against the smooth talk of the evil one.
*Ecclesiastes: Reality Checks. Desire of worldly things leads to emptiness. This is not necessarily a theological point. It is the observation that the things we desire will not last. You can’t take your money with you
*Col. 3: Behavioral activity. In the context of seeing the incomparable Christ and knowing how we are rooted and established in Him, our hearts seek to mortify evil desire. Also Genesis 4:7 (when sin crouchs to take us, we must resist it, “master it”).
*Luke 22:46: Prayer. Pray that you will not fall into temptation. We underestimate this means of grace!
*1 Cor. 7:5: Community Effort, common sense. Don’t be stupid about your ability/inability to control yourself. Take some measures.
*Gal 5:16f: Meditating on and following the Spirit. Several verses for clothing oneself with Christ, the Spirit, etc. to avoid the fleshly evil desires (also Rm 8:5; 13:14)
*Gal 6:1: Humility. Recognition of the likelihood to give in, watch yourself
*1 Tim 6:9: Simplicity. Avoid encasing yourself in rich living (I should have the fewest temptations…)
*Heb 4:15ff: Battle, stay alert, Grasp the right things. Grab hold of the throne of Grace!