I'm Not a Puritan, I'm a Computer!
Guarding the inputs…
I’m sure there are more ways than what will be presented here when it comes to avoiding fleshly, sinful outcomes in the Christian life, many practical, many spiritual. This will not be exhaustive.
I’ve been studying recently through Colossians, and I thought there was an interesting example given that seemingly infers that first identifying the source of a sinful act is wiser than just trying to avoid the act. It reminded me of how computers work. Basically, they can’t output any function that the programmer does not first input via instructions written in code.
Colossians 3:5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry
This list here seems to be a progression. I’m not certain that’s the Lord’s intent, but it seems reasonable when reading it that the first word on the list, fornication, is worked backwards until to get to it’s ultimate motive which is simply coveting that which God has not pleased to give you. Such coveting is equated with idolatry because it places supreme importance on gratifying ones own wants instead of God’s wants. This is practical idolatry. In between the fornication and the coveting there exists a progression of increasingly uncontrolled passions and wrong thinking that eventually result in the act.
Perhaps there was a certain penchant some of the Colossians had for fornication. That may be, especially considering what many pagan religions of their day had their constituents doing as acts of worship. Colossian believers were former pagans. Either way, Paul’s use specifically of the example of fornication here is not arbitrary. But the thrust of what he is presenting can also function as more of a governing principle for many things. Acts of sin stem from a root sin of the heart.
Logically then, if one wants to prevent an act of sin in their own life, he can trace such a potential sin backward to things that may incite it or develop motives in the heart, and kill those things off in advance. Literally, preventative measures. These measures can result in the mortification of the deeds of the body as instructed in the text. So, how do I mortify (kill) my members? Trace the outward sin back to the inward sin and start killing it there.
In the case here of fornication traced backwards to coveting, the questions would be then, “How do I not covet?” “How do I kill that?” There are practical ways to deal with this, like guarding my inputs (my eyes, ears, and other senses) to keep out things that would make me covetous. Perhaps the wisdom in doing that is what caused Job to make the famed covenant with his eyes that he would not look upon a maid (Job 31:1), and what caused Paul to warn about deliberate, intimate contact with the opposite sex (1 Corinthians 7:1). And it seems a lack of wisdom in doing this is what caused David to sin with Bathsheba. He indulged the inputs. Basically, garbage in - garbage out, as the saying goes. Obviously, the slippery slope is a fallacy because not everyone who neglects guarding the inputs will end up in the sin, but it certainly isn’t a wise thing for a Christian to be lax about. I think guarding the inputs is wise in the strongest of terms and a necessary means of mortifying the deeds of the body.
But there are also spiritual means we can use, like growing in temperance which is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), learning Biblical contentedness, and richly filling our inputs with better content- namely the word of Christ (Colossians 3:16).
But like I already mentioned, these means can apply to protecting ones self not just from fornication but really from any potential sin that stems from a progression initiated by an input. That may be a lot of them! Maybe all of them! That’s almost overwhelming to think about. We just need to be discerning enough to identify the progression back to the inward sin and then guard the associated input(s).
Henry C. Theissen suggests that all sins can be traced back to three things- pride, covetousness, or unbelief. Additionally, the only inputs I can think of are the five senses. I can hopefully prevent outward sin by striking deeper at the inward sin with spiritual means as well as practical means which will include guarding my inputs. These things are all interconnected it seems. Three inward sinful mechanisms and five outward inputs
I fully acknowledge that the outward and even inward sins are agreed upon that we must, by God’s grace, avoid them. But it seems that many men I know approach the guarding of the inputs in slightly varied ways and that is where much debate often ensues, for better or for worse.