A scandalous confession: sometimes I sin when I know better, despite the Holy Spirit’s help. It’s illogical behavior, and it makes me feel unworthy of His Love. Even in fellowship with mature Christian women, I’m often frustrated because I know I’m not doing my personal best to take up the Cross.
This can be self-destructive. For example: I have the urge to swear often, especially in print, like when texting friends and when writing this blog. Seriously inappropriate and unnecessary! Most people would choose Jesus over a four letter word. Why does my brain go there? Here’s another example: I’m queen of over-indulgence in food and drink, which is especially frustrating because I am obsessed with nutrition and healthy eating. How dumb! What am I doing? I know I can do better, and I want to do better. Why can’t I just say, “Not today, Satan!”?
There’s a scientific name for this: cognitive dissonance. The definition of cognitive dissonance is “tension caused by the internal conflict of our actions not aligning with our values.” It sounds like the opposite of internal peace doesn’t it? Why is it then that I struggle with this so often? A simple answer is that God gave imperfect us the gift of free will, which is a blessing and a curse. I choose Jesus, but I know if I’m not diligent in keeping with the Truth, I can be lured away from God’s Kingdom with shiny, pretty, delicious, or otherwise desirable things and ideas, tangible and intangible. We can’t escape the fact that our thoughts affect our behavior and our behavior affects our thoughts.
Cognitive dissonance leads us to either rationalize our behavior, change our behavior, or change our beliefs. It’s not a bad thing if it brings us closer to God. But sometimes we tell ourselves things like, “At least I’m a good person. At least my sin isn’t as bad as her sin.” Satan provides such handy excuses, and we readily use them to reduce the tension of the internal conflict we feel.
So how do we stay true to our most important values when we feel a pull in the opposite direction? It helps me to consider the following: God does not lie (Titus 1:2) and “The Word of our God endures forever.” (Isaiah 40:8 NIV)
Evidenced by the completion of His oath to Abraham, God doesn’t forget His vows. He’s not a “fix it and forget it” kind of guy. He means, and remembers a thousand generations later, what He says. (Psalms 105:8-9)
God’s covenant with Abraham is important to note because it serves as a gift from God TO US TODAY! That gift is hope that we can harness for our future. Hebrews 6:18 NIV says that God wants us to “take hold of the hope (He) set before us." It’s THIS HOPE that encourages and motivates us to avoid sin.
Are we going to be successful every time sin tempts us? No. Not even close. But what He says doesn’t change. It’s not always convenient for having our cake and eating it too, yet we cannot bargain with God. Like it or not, in His own timing, God will follow through on His Word. In fact, we will have to answer to God someday, and that day could be today.
Although scary, we are able to rest in faith because (and only because) God’s Word stands forever. This helps us to pass on sinful urges and to take on other challenges that require faith. God gifts us free will, but also strength, through hope and through the Holy Spirit. THIS enables us to stay true to our values, to have internal peace despite external conflict.
I believe that with the hope God lends me as strength, and with the help he lends me via the Holy Spirit, I can choose over and over to experience the perfect harmony He meant for me to enjoy. I just have to want to keep trying. Even better, I believe that if this is possible for me, then it’s possible for you too!
We are all blessed abundantly if we remember that God cannot lie and that His Word is eternal. This is our key to sound mental health and wise decision making. If we accept help from the Holy Spirit, we can reduce cognitive dissonance, and other stress in our lives!