(Part 19 of the Cleansing of the Sanctuary Series)
Remember the three levels of sin:
- Sinful attitude
- Sinful flesh
- Sinful acts
This series on Cleansing the Sanctuary has stressed the point that we need to first deal with the sinful attitude (Part 8). Once we get to the point of truly trusting God by understanding His character then we can begin to change our habits and attitudes, to cleanse the sinful flesh and make changes in our thinking – what is in our hearts. Only then will we have real success in dealing with the sinful acts that merely reflect the inner state. However, as we approach that point, we do want to deal with the sinful acts. Not by grim determination to do right but by having a changed heart so that the right words and actions will come naturally.
This verse may make it sound like cleaning up the speech can’t be done:
“But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8)
And it can’t – not directly. This points to the need to get to the root of the problem. We are told that a person’s words reflect what is in the heart:
“O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” (Matt 12:34)
And that could, of course, include body language, tone of voice etc. This reflects that old maxim “garbage in, garbage out.” If the output from the heart into the speech center is wrong the words will match. The key, as always, is to change the heart. So don’t concentrate so much on refining your words; focus on the heart and the words will be indirectly but effectively tamed.
There are many verses saying things like to make yourselves clean:
“Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;” (Isa 1:16)
“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Cor 7:1)
“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” (James 4:8)
And there are verses speaking of specific things that we need to be cleansed of:
“Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings,” (1 Peter 2:1)
“Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.” (Eph 4:25)
How do you clean up a sin? Today I just stole ______ from _______. How can I cleanse that sin? Can you clean up a sin?
Logically, we can’t clean up individual acts of sin. A sin is an event; an event that has happened in the past. We can make amends in some cases but we can’t change the fact that it happened. We can’t time travel and go through the same temptation again that lead to a past sin resisting it more firmly. So it is really about making changes to reduce or eliminate the tendency to sin and thus the future acts of sin.
Let’s be clear about this process. First of all, cleansing must start with where the problem really is – our concept of God’s character. Turn off the tap of misinformation about Him (part 15) so that you can appreciate what He is really like. That will lead to a total change in your attitude towards and relationship to God (repentance) and the motivation to take the next steps.
Secondly, the mind must be physically renewed which will greatly reduce the force of temptation. That renewing involves an actual physical rewiring to deal with the list of defects in our ways of thinking listed in part 16 and relisted here:
Negative Ways of Thinking
Bitterness Love of the world
Critical attitude Low self-worth
Lack of self-control Uncontrolled imagination
Imagine a scenario where you are starving hungry (almost in danger of death), you find some food and are about to eat it when a stranger snatches it from your hand. A person with an unrenewed heart, operating in the normal me-first mode, does not stand a chance of resisting the temptation to, if possible, snatch it back. We can’t effectively prevent sin without dealing with how our brain is wired and that can only be changed by first straightening out our understanding of and attitude towards God.
Some people’s brains may be wired with a high priority to be seen by others to do right. That motivation may give them a greater ability to avoid expressing their sinful desires as sinful acts (they exercise more restraint). In the illustration (top of this page), they have a larger “sink.” But that can only do so much if the tap is still running. And, in that situation, the heart is still not cleansed. Desires of the heart (the thoughts and intents of the heart, Heb 4:12) not carried out still constitute sin (Matt 5:28) and have a negative effect on that person.
So, understanding that we can’t just stop sinning without an appropriate change of heart, and assuming we have an appreciation of God’s true character and His love for us, what are some steps we can take to actually reduce the acts of sin in our lives?
And let’s admit that we don’t have a true appreciation of God’s character. We may have mentally assented to the fact that God does not personally take vengeance on His enemies, that He is ever-merciful and forgives all our sins etc but we are talking about the infinite God Who is infinitely good. We will forever be understanding and appreciating Him more fully. But even now, as our attitude and appreciation of Him and His character changes, we will be better able to cleanse our minds.
So if we have the sinful attitude taken care of, what steps can we take to cleanse and renew the mind?
General Positive Actions
First we will look at some general positive actions and then at some specific steps we can take to deal with negatives in our lives.
Acts of sin are often preceded by exposure to temptation so one obvious action to battle sin is to avoid tempting circumstances
“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. 1 Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Cor 6:17-18; 7:1)
Touching the unclean thing seems to be a problem. What are we dealing with? Is it just physically touching? It starts with a temptation (which cannot always be avoided) and then (by choice) can become sinful coveting and finally a physical act.
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:13-15)
“When I [Achan] saw [not a sin] among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them [there is the sin in the mind, even before the action of taking], and took them [the physical outward act]; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.” (Josh 7:21)
It makes sense to guard the senses from things that tempt you to sin but beyond that we need to have different motives in our hearts:
“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Col 3:2)
Avoid Negative Influences
Beyond obvious temptations there can be negative influences around us that we might not even be aware of. Such things as music and images especially are registered in our subconscious mind and can have effects even much later.
There is a spirit which comes with sinful objects which gives Satan more access to tempt us. The presence of literature and objects associated with paganism, the occult, horror, pornography and other genres are inviting an influence. There is a reason why the second commandment tells us not make graven images.
We can and should be aware of these things and take steps, as far as possible, to eliminate such things from our surroundings. When I hear on our CBC radio “a warning: the following story contains what may be disturbing details” my tendency is to turn it off. Aside from being possible sources of temptation, such things as the nightly TV news can contribute towards depression (there is not much good news these days.)
“Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance, above everything else that you guard, for out of it flows all the issues of life.” (Pro 4:23 Amplified Bible)
Prayer and Promises
As most know, the Bible is loaded with promises to help us deal with sin in our lives. One of the most familiar is:
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor 10:13)
The help is there in the promises but they must be claimed in prayer to be of benefit as suggested by verses such as:
“For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matt7:8)
The reception comes from God in response to our asking. There are clues that we can’t just ask once but that there is to be a daily renewal:
“Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matt 6:11)
Scripture makes a direct connection between the promises and the ultimate result that can be obtained through them:
“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (2 Peter 1:4)
“Having escaped the corruption” certainly sounds like some cleansing has happened.
Many, even secular sources, promote the positive effects of expressing gratitude. The simple habit of writing down three things each day that you are grateful for and expressing gratitude to others has many positive effects.
Some Benefits of Gratitude:
- lowers levels of stress and depression
- reduces physical symptoms
- improves sleep
- strengthens the immune system
- reduces aches and pains
- optimizes blood pressure
- improves mood and self-satisfaction
So count your blessings, be aware of the source of the good things in your life and express your gratitude to God.
“When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside.” (https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/)
“It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High:” (Psa 92:1)
Scripture promises are a good source of hope when we need it:
“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Cor 2:9)
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;” (2 Cor 4:17)
There are better times coming. I remember the saying “heaven will be cheap enough.” After all, it will be for eternity.
“Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” (Psa 16:11)
This verse shows the importance of hope:
“For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” (Rom 8:24)
Avoid Negative Thinking
Aside from our five senses, our subconscious mind is affected by what we think. It accepts all input without discrimination.
A good way to decrease negative thinking is to overwhelm it with positive thinking:
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phil 4:8)
Casting Down Imaginations
Imagination seems like it could be a problem.
“Science has revealed that even though we may avoid unhealthy behaviors (taking a substance, gambling, shopping) if we engage in the behavior in our imagination the same neural circuits fire as when the actual behavior is carried out.” (Timothy Jennings, April 30, 2020, A Scriptural Healing Plan for Overcoming Addiction)
“(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” (2 Cor 10:4-5)
“Which imagine mischiefs in their heart; continually are they gathered together for war.” (Psa 140:2)
Casting down imaginations does not mean not using a God-given faculty. Our imaginations are an important function but just need to be correctly used.
Meditate on the Love of God
“Research at the University of Pennsylvania by Dr. Newberg and colleagues demonstrated that subjects 60-65 years of age who meditated on a God of love, just 12 minutes a day for 30 days, experienced measurable growth in the ACC [anterior cingulate cortex] of their brains as measured with MRI scans. This was directly correlated with reductions in heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormone levels and a 30% increase in memory testing. This demonstrates the calming of the amygdala and limbic system circuitry as a consequence of meditating on a God of love. Science confirms what the Bible has told us, ‘perfect love casts out all fear’ 1 John 4:18.” (Timothy Jennings “How TV and an Angry, Wrathful God Damage Your Brain“)
When we experience activation of our fear circuits or negative emotions in our limbic circuits, such as lust, envy, jealousy, anger or aggression, our prefrontal cortex is impaired. We become less capable of comprehending God and His methods. Thus, fear impairs spiritual growth! The antidote to fear is given in scripture:
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
How this works has been discussed in earlier parts of this study and is very much connected to our perception of the character of God. I have had people say to me things like that “the character of God topic is not that important.” Even that the Sabbath is more important.
What is the Sabbath for if not a time to spend with God and get to know and appreciate Him better?
“And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:” (Mark 2:27)
The Sabbath was made by a God of love for our benefit for us to get to know Him and not for His benefit. If you are going to meditate on a God of love you need to get to know Him and understand that He is love. What can that lead to?
“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)
Having discussed general actions we can take to cleanse our sanctuary, what are some actions we can take to deal with specific problems?
Dealing with Specific Negatives
This is not to say that various fun activities are bad – we all need some fun but think of the background of the meaning of the word amusement:
Muse – verb (used without object), mused, mus·ing.
to think or meditate in silence, as on some subject. (dictionary.com)
Amusement (a-muse) therefore can be thought of as something that puts one in a non-thinking state. Here is a very good description of the effects of one source of amusement:
“Theatrical entertainment (TV and movies) activate the limbic system while diminishing prefrontal cortex activity. Theatrical entertainment stimulates an emotional reaction. It stimulates you to laugh, cry, be afraid, irritable, angry, frustrated, aroused or some other emotional response while simultaneously suspending your critical reasoning. And the stronger the emotional reaction the “better” the programming. The brain and body cannot tell the difference between firing the fear circuits in a real life stressful situation or when the fear circuits fire from a stress-inducing TV program. The biological consequences to brain and body are the same.
This means the more time spent watching TV etc the more activation of the limbic system and less development of the prefrontal cortex. Over time the limbic circuitry grows stronger while the prefrontal cortex is less developed and therefore less capable of calming the limbic system. Not only that, theatrical entertainment introduces false ideas which inappropriately activate, rather than calm the fear circuits of the brain.” (Timothy Jennings, How TV and an Angry, Wrathful God Damage Your Brain)
Less development of the prefrontal cortex can have the effect, as some term it, of turning people into sheeple.
Knowing the effects of amusement and the media in general can help us, if we so choose, to limit our exposure to them and thus limit their effects.
Many people are plagued with guilt over past wrongs. We need to understand that God is ever-merciful. As discussed in my booklet Biblical Forgiveness, God always forgives every sin. Don’t be like Cain who did not believe he could be forgiven:
“Mine iniquity is greater than that it may be forgiven” (Gen 4:13 KJV marginal reading in some editions).
And don’t be like David who, for a whole year, would not deal with his guilt over his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah even while suffering greatly:
“When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.” (Psa 32:3)
Having guilt can also lead to fear; fear of being discovered or punished. God already knows all that you have done and does not actively punish. However, there may be negative consequences that come naturally from our sins:
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Gal 6:7)
We have all done shameful, embarrassing things that we would rather forget and certainly are not anxious for others to know about. Fear of embarrassment can keep us from admitting wrongs to others but that should not keep us from God Who already knows exactly what we have done – including our motives. Correctly understanding that God is not looking to punish but rather to heal us from the effects of sin can make a big difference. In fact, God will do all He can even to save us from potentially feeling embarrassed.
He did not come to Adam and Eve in the garden accusing them of sin, rather, He approached with a gentle question:
“And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?” (Gen 3:9)
He sent Nathan the prophet with a parable to help David finally see his own sins.
When Simon the Pharisee was thinking accusing thoughts of the woman washing Jesus’ feet, Jesus did not openly rebuke him before his guests but told a story to show Simon his error.
I have had the reaction from people that God must erase and forget every sin we have ever committed – said, possibly from fear of being exposed. But, for instance, the sins of David are recorded in the Bible. Is the Bible going to be kept from us in heaven? Will Solomon not know who his earthly parents were? Will David and Bathsheba not know who he is?
“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psa 103:12)
Removing our sins from us is not talking about the record of our sins, it is not a rewrite of history. Rather, it is about removing the sinful tendencies we have as discussed in earlier parts of this study on the cleansing of the sanctuary.
Remember, God is not the accuser, Satan is. (Rev 12:9-10)
Feelings of regret for a wrong done can weigh on a person. You can’t undo the past. Remember, God forgives all your sins so forgive yourself and get on with life. We all make mistakes. We have many wrong habit patterns and ways of thinking that trip us up.
“For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” (Psa 103:14)
God is fully aware of our weaknesses. The key is for us to also be aware of them and to cooperate with God in the cleansing process.
A good rule when making choices is to never decide to do something you will or even might regret later. Determine to always choose the best option in the future.
Selfishness can result from not trusting in God’s promises to provide for our needs. We need to learn to really understand God’s love for us and His desire to take care of us:
“Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” (1 Pet 5:7)
“Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” (Matt 6:8)
An antidote for selfishness is to do things for others. When we realize the blessing that comes from that we will be more inclined to be thinking of others.
Low Self-worth, Esteem, Image
Our self-concept is very much affected by our early learning. A child comes into the world with basically a blank slate; or an empty hard drive. Many of these self-concepts are acquired from interactions with others. The effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) have been well-researched. They can have profound effects throughout a person’s life.
These can be counteracted by a sense of acceptance from God. Surely, His opinion of us is the most important. Of course, that requires a belief in Him and His goodness; His true character.
This verse can apply to each one of us:
“… Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” (Jer 31:3)
Also, consider these:
“We love him, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
“Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,” (2 Thess 2:16)
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,” (Eph 2:4)
We are valuable in His sight, not because of a value inherent in us but because He is so loving and values all of His creatures.
You have perhaps heard the saying:
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” (Unknown original source)
It is true. Theoretically, you could be holding anger in your heart and the person you are angry with does not even know it. Then where is the damage happening? It would be in the heart of the angry person. And such emotions have been linked to physical problems especially connected with the heart and risk of strokes and a lowered immune system. Scripture tells us to be generous with our forgiving:
“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” (Matt 18:21-22)
This is the sin that led to Satan’s downfall
“Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. … Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee.” (Eze 28:15-17)
If pride could lead to the downfall of one of the highest angels in heaven, it is something to be very cautious about.
“For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” (2 Cor 10:12)
The solution to having a sense of inadequacy is to recognize our value in God’s estimation. We should recognize that we are highly valued in God’s sight. After all, He made a great sacrifice to rescue us from the path of destruction.
“Who is Sitting on the Throne?”
One way you may have heard of the struggle to overcome sin is in terms of a question like: “Who is on the throne of your heart?” You may have heard something like this:
“The subconscious is considered to be in direct connection with immeasurable power known as the collective mind.”
This is the way New-age type people might talk. But there is power out there, much more than what we hold ourselves.
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph 6:12)
The question then is: immeasurable power from what source? It is interesting how some authors and musicians etc got their words and lyrics.
Stephen King, author of horror novels, says that an idea will come to him for a book and he is driven to sit down and start writing it:
“I sometimes will write for one week barely stopping to eat or go to the bathroom or take small siestas until the book is finished. It’s as if it is being dictated to me.”
J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series says:
“It was just like I was taking dictation.”
Note that I am not making a statement about the state of salvation of individuals as much as I am showing the power and influence that can bear on a person if they open themselves to it.
Power vs Influence
The struggle between the two opposing forces is not about power or God would have won long ago. It is more about influence and, because God carefully guards our free wills, the direction each person goes is determined by their own actions.
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:12-13)
He works in us through our conscience attempting to woo us to His side but all the time leaving us free to choose.
Bob Dylan, another influencer in popular culture has a song You Gotta Serve Somebody with the chorus:
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
You either serve God or the devil.
“No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Luke 16:13)
Some say “I don’t want to serve either, I am my own person and I will choose what I am going to do.” The verse is talking about who lives in or most influences your subconscious, and you have no access to directly edit that part of your brain. There are only two forces that have access.
“We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” (1 John 4:6)
You do have a choice but you have to consciously make it as the default mode (that comes with our operating system) is selfishness which is certainly not God’s way. Our subconscious is also affected by what we consciously dwell on and, of course, by our five senses over which we do have considerable control.
Need to Make Conscious Decisions
Can you just tell the devil to get out and keep living like the devil and ignoring God and expect that the devil will actually leave? You can give him permission to influence you by your daily choices. The better choice is:
“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Pro 3:5-6)
The Effect on Our Witness
We should recognize that our sins, even seemingly minor ones, can often have an effect on others and impair our witness to them. And if we have hurt others we should, where appropriate, make amends. Think of the story of – Zacchaeus, the tax collector:
“And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” (Luke 19:8)
He determined to make amends and, as his declaration was made very publicly, it gave witness to the change that had happened within him. Zacchaeus had experienced a degree of cleansing of his sanctuary.
This is Part 19 of the Cleansing of the Sanctuary Series
Return to Daniel 8:14 (the master page of the series) to continue