Baseball pitcher Dutch Leonard once observed that the most effective pitch in baseball is not the fastball, or the knee-buckling curve ball — but the change-up. An effective change-up gives a pitcher a distinct advantage, because hitting a baseball is all about timing. The best hitters in the game can be outfoxed by a clever pitcher who changes the speed of his pitches, thus creating havoc with the hitter’s finely-tuned and precisely-timed swing.
So, too, can it be with our spiritual behavior. Satan knows our tendencies, and knows our strengths and weaknesses. When we get tangled up in a particular type of sin, repeatedly failing to resist the temptations that Satan offers, it is often because we are creatures of habit and we keep putting ourselves in untenable situations – in short, we “sit on” a fastball, but Satan throws us a change-up.
But let each one test his own work,… – Galatians 6.4
Other versions render ‘test’ as ‘examine.’ The idea is a simple one: take a close look at your behavior, and particularly those things that are always successful and those things that always fail, spiritually. For most of us, such self-examination is not a long, drawn-out affair. We know where we’re strong, and more importantly, we know where we’re weak. Generally, the spiritual experience is characterized by repetition: we do good things over and over, and we do bad things over and over. Satan, of course, is profoundly adept at taking advantage of this. So what to do? Throw Satan a change-up!
In keeping with Paul’s exhortation to “test our own work,” we need to understand why we fail spiritually. Why do we always succumb to the same sin? As a part of our self-examination, we ought to identify the source of our spiritual failure. And then we need to identify the particular circumstance that causes this failure. This may be a person, a place, an activity, etc. But usually it is easy to pinpoint, and often it is so obvious that we’re like the drunk who declares he will stop drinking, and goes to his favorite bar to tell all his friends of his decision.
James reveals to us the process of temptation in his short book:
…each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. – James 1.14-15
This description doesn’t just seem simple, it is simple. Man’s constant struggle with sin is more often than not a matter of simply avoiding temptation. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
…no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10.13
This great assurance from God has been mangled beyond comprehension by well-meaning preachers and teachers to suggest that we can involve ourselves in all kinds of wicked situations and circumstances, and at the last second extract ourselves by some spiritual “back door” that God miraculously provides. That is false. If we fight Satan on his turf, we will lose every time. When Jesus warned Peter that Satan desired to “sift you like wheat” (Luke 22.31) he didn’t add that it would be okay because Peter would be able to withstand it. Peter could not. We cannot. We have to be smarter. We need a change-up in our behavior.
Coupling these teachings of Paul and James, we ought to willingly examine our behavior, find our weaknesses, and then make a concerted plan and effort to avoid the situations, circumstances, and, yes, the people that cause us to sin. If we avoid these settings, we will more than likely avoid the sin. But we have to want to. That is the escape that Paul writes about — not some divinely provided super willpower.
Every New Years Day people make all sorts of fanciful declarations about how they will change in the coming year. Well, you don’t have to wait until New Years – there is no time like the present to decide that a change-up in your life might just be the most effective way for you to improve your service to God, and eliminate the sins that entangle you.
May grace reign in your life through righteousness.
– Bo Couchman