Charles Swindoll said, “The greatest waste of our natural resources is the number of people who never reach their potential.” Swindoll has a good grasp on a serious problem in churches. In Christ we have great potential for spiritual success. But as we consider our level of knowledge, purity, service, dedication, and leadership, are we meeting our potential? Christians and churches could often be described as a people plagued by spiritual mediocrity. Knowledge of the scriptures can be mediocre. Dedication, service, purity, and leadership are mediocre. We certainly do not want Christ to judge us as lukewarm or mediocre. In order to overcome this mediocrity, where must we start? How can we soar above mediocre “Christianity” and excel in our service to God? To do this we must first identify the problem. This is our subject for today. What is at the root of the problem of sin and spiritual mediocrity? Notice James 1:13-15.
Desires In Our Minds (James 1:13-15)
Sin is discouraging and holds us in mediocrity. James says here that sin starts in our minds. Our minds have evil desires that produce sin and death. We have a spiritual war going on in our minds. If we are stuck in mediocrity, the desires of the flesh are winning over our desire for closeness to God and spiritual success.
This is significant because it teaches us that the problem behind sin and spiritual mediocrity is not outside of us. As James says in verse 13 the problem is not God. God is good and does not cause our problems. In fact, we cannot blame our problem on anything outside of us. We cannot blame our mediocrity and trouble with sin on our family, friends, life circumstances, job, the economy, or any other thing outside of us. The source of the problem is our desires. We sin because something inside us tells us to do so.
Consider fish for a moment. Why do fish get caught by hooks? It is because they like the bait on the hooks. They like worms. They will not bite if we put broccoli on the hook. They bite because of a desire for worms that rules the mind and outweighs their fear. Regardless of the hook hidden in sin, you and I stay stuck in sin and mediocrity because desires are overcoming our minds.
This means if we struggle with materialism it is not because of anything outside of us. We aren’t distracted by materialism because our wardrobes, homes, or cars aren’t nice enough. It is because we desire stuff enough to allow it to distract us from God. If we struggle with lust it isn’t because of our spouse. It isn’t because of what people wear or don’t wear. It isn’t because of TVs or computers. The root of the problem is that we desire someone who is not our spouse. We don’t have outbursts of anger because of a frustrating job or people in our lives. We have outbursts of anger because of a problem with our desires. We have pride or we desire to make someone pay for their actions. We haven’t controlled our desires. We don’t fail to attain greater levels of knowledge, service, dedication, or intimacy with Christ because of circumstances. The reason we may not be serving others, praying, studying our Bibles, or engaging in spiritual leadership is because we have desires greater than our desire for these spiritual activities.
Ephesians 4:18-19 is a good summary of the problem in our minds. “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” The reason we aren’t soaring spiritually is because our minds are darkened from following our desires. These desires keep us unclean and distract us from a desire for Christ.
Tempted By Satan (Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8)
Ephesians 6:12 expands the picture. This will help us see a second problem in our minds that causes spiritual mediocrity. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Notice also 1 Peter 5:8, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” So while we have desires, we also have spiritual foes of darkness trying to bring us down. They are actively scheming and seeking to spark more desires in our heart. They know our desires and seek to destroy us by tempting us to follow our desires.
This is where those other problems meet the desires we spoke of. So with materialism the main problem is an insidious desire for more physical things, but Satan can give opportunity to those unrestrained desires through malls and sales and the pursuit of keeping up with the neighbors. The main problem behind lust is a desire for someone who is not our spouse, but Satan gives opportunity to those desires through immodest dress, TVs, and computers. Selfishness and pride may be in our hearts, but Satan gives opportunity to act on these desires through frustrating days at work or people that don’t meet our expectations. We respond by unleashing anger and belittling others.
Satan is actively seeking to bring us down and he is good at what he does. He has been destroying people’s lives since Genesis 3. Eve was his first victim. Eve desired life, delicious fruit, and to be like God. Satan met her desires through deception. He told her the fruit would not kill her. He told her the fruit would make her wise like God. The fruit looked delicious. What more could she want? Her blindness brought her and others terrible consequences.
In the same way we must not be ignorant of Satan’s schemes (Cf. 2 Corinthians 2:11). He always makes the fruit look good. He always makes sin look good. He knows how to attack our weakness or desire and make sin appear fun, satisfying, and problem-solving. But sin is the thing holding us back from greater spiritual heights because of the discouragement and harm it does to our minds. Sin makes us impure. Sin distracts us from a desire and service towards God.
Fighting For Our Minds
With spiritual mediocrity and death threatening us, what can we do? Since the problem starts with a battle in our minds, we must bring all out war to the evil compromising our minds. Think for a moment. What sins afflict you? What are the root desires behind those sins? What desires are keeping you in spiritual mediocrity? Don’t discourage yourself by a long list. For now, just consider one or two main desires holding you back now. Is it a desire for more stuff? Is it sexual lust? Pride? A craving for more comforts? A craving for more money? What one or two desires are holding you down?
I believe Romans 12:2 has a good answer for overcoming these desires. Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
“Do not be conformed…” Filter thld’s influence on your mind.
First, when Paul warns us to not be conformed to this world, he is telling us that often the desires in our minds can be taught to us by actions and mindsets of worldly people and influences. As you consider the desires in your mind, what influences are reinforcing those desires? It could be people that surround us, the television we watch, the music we listen to, and the things we read. You know who or what has an effect on you.
If we have relationships that reinforce evil desires in our minds, we need to approach those relationships from a new perspective. We are light. They are darkness. We are the ones who are called to overcome their lifestyle with Christ, yet we are allowing darkness to overcome light. For a time you may need to limit your exposure to their lifestyle. But we cannot remove ourselves from all relationships. Rather, we need to have greater alertness when interacting with all people. All those outside of Christ are following wicked desires. They have sensuous minds filled with a love of money and all this world offers. Do not follow these desires and be conformed. Rather, recognize the emptiness of their lifestyle. Overcome darkness with light.
We must also not be ignorant of how the things we watch, listen to, and read can teach us evil desires. These forms of entertainment can carry even more danger than simple interactions between people because they are one-way influencers on our minds. We have no way to influence them. We need to have open eyes that recognize when Satan is working on our minds through these things. We need to both seek to remove these influences and be dedicated to mentally filtering these influences in the future. Do not allow the world to deceive you into following false desires. The world is not offering something better. The only way Satan can bring you down is by compromising your mind. Protect your mind. Be watchful.
“Be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” Memorize scripture to transform your mind.
Second, Paul tells us we fight conforming by being transformed in mind. Our minds must be renewed. The word of God is the only place where minds and hearts and desires change for the better. But how often are our sinful desires incited while we are reading our Bibles? That is rare. The problem is that each time we step away from the word, Satan tempts our desires.
Consider what Christ did in Matthew 4 when Satan tempted him. Each time Christ was tempted he responded with Scripture. Though we know we must be reading the Word, I want to encourage you to prepare to do the same thing Christ did when he was tempted. Start memorizing Scripture. I don’t say this so you can simply recite Scripture to others. The goal is not mere memorization. Rather, this is the way we can further internalize the God’s word and allow it soak into our minds. The more God’s words are imprinted on our minds, the more we will be prepared to fight the desires in our minds when they are tempted.
This is something I’m committing myself to more and I can see how it has already been helpful. This past summer we studied what Christ says in Matthew 6:19, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal…” These words became imprinted on my mind when I first studied these things and it is amazing how often these words have come to the forefront of my mind in the past 6 months. Whether I am sitting at home reading, watching TV, in conversation, or at the store shopping, Christ’s words keep coming back to me and teaching me in different situations. “Don’t lay up for yourself treasures on earth, Scott.” These words have begun to transform my desires and the way I think.
Imagine the impact God’s word could have on us if we committed ourselves to doing this more often. Just try to memorize one verse per week that impacted you in your study that week. It may be a promise of God to encourage you. It may be an exhortation that strengthens you when you are weak in the fight against sin. It may be a teaching of Christ to remind you of what is right. Whatever type of passage you choose, allow it to teach you throughout that week, month, and year as you encounter various situations. Then we will have renewed minds that are able to “Discern what is the will of God…” When we are tempted with our desires or some new teaching tries to infiltrate our minds, we will be ready with the Word of God implanted in our minds.
The spiritual mediocrity plaguing our life starts with the desires within us. We must not be fooled into thinking that circumstances are dragging us down. Desires that darken our understanding and suck our passion from God are holding us in lukewarm Christianity. Satan is scheming and seeking to ensnare us in these desires. Do not be ignorant of Satan’s designs. Don’t allow Satan to use the world to teach you to follow so many senseless and empty desires. Let’s exert the effort to write the word of God on our minds so that our desires will be centered on godly activities. Preparing our minds to be places of holiness and purity will prepare us to overcome the spiritual mediocrity that so heavily pulls us down.