The battle against sin is a battle that is fought and won or lost in the mind. Long before any of us sins in any way we have lost the battle against that sin in our minds. And before we ever decisively act against any sin with our bodies, we have won the battle against temptation in our minds.
The fight against sin is a fight for the control of the mind. That is why a consistent theme in the New Testament is the repeated exhortation to renew our minds (cf. Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:16 to name just a few). And the Old Testament — especially the Psalms — regularly invites us to think grand and beautiful thoughts about God as a way to debunk the myths and lies offered by sinful temptations.
In the moment of temptation, it is sometimes hard to see this reality. All we can see is the sin, the attractiveness of the sin (at least it seems attractive in that moment), and we are blinded to the reality of its ugliness and potential devastation. How can we gain eyes to see the truth?
John Piper offered some wise counsel on this subject many years ago, and I have repeatedly found it helpful in my own life. He is specifically speaking about sexual lust, but the principle applies to any kind of sinful lust and desire. Piper’s statement is part of a longer message that was extracted on the Desiring God website. A few years ago I took the time to transcribe what he said. Use this in your fight against sin:
Do you know why there are no windows on adult bookstores? Or do you know why there are no windows on certain kinds of nightclubs in the city?
I suppose your answer would be, “Well, because they don’t want people looking in and getting a free sight.”
That’s not the only reason.
You know why? Because they don’t want people looking out at the sky.
You know why? The sky is the enemy of lust.
And I just ask you—you think back on your struggles. The sky is a great power against lust.
Pure, lovely, wholesome, beautiful, powerful, large-hearted things cannot abide the soul of a sexual fantasy at the same time.
I remember as I struggled with these things in my teenaged years and in my college years — I knew how I could fight most effectively in those days. And I’ve developed other strategies over the years that have proved very effective. And one way of fighting was simply to get out of the dark places, get out of the lonely rooms, get out of the boxed-in places, get out of the places where it’s just small me and my mind and what I can do with it, and get out where I am just surrounded by color and beauty and bigness and loveliness.…
There’s something about bigness, there’s something about beauty, that helps battle against the puny, small, cruddy use of the mind to fantasize about sexual things.
And then turn it around: it works this way too. We know from experience that if we give way to sexual fantasies and yield to lusts and dwelling on unwholesome things, our capacities for seeing the sky are cut in half. And then cut in half again. And then cut in half again—until you’re just a little worm on the ground as your language and your mind is nothing but smut. It can happen to anybody!
And so I just commend to you: don’t let that happen. Battle lust — among all the other weapons that you’re given in Scripture — battle it with the upward glance of the magnificent blue and the thunder and the lightning and the sunrises and the sunsets and the glory of God. And say to yourself, “If I give way in this hour to that kind of thinking, I won’t enjoy this, I won’t have a large heart, I won’t have a capacious mind, I won’t be a noble person — I’ll just be an old gutter person.” Preach to yourself like that! And then give yourself over to the ministry of the sky. And let it help you free from lust.