The best speakers have a way of shocking you with the unexpected.
I will not soon forget hearing a sermon on Genesis 3. That’s not shocking. After all, I have heard tons of sermons on this passage, and most of them have been the same.
It is the story of man falling to temptation, leading to the corruption of God’s good world. Most sermons on this text focus how the temptation occurred. God gave mankind permission to eat the fruit of all the trees in the garden of Eden except one. Yet, when the serpent tempted Eve, He said, “Has God really said you can’t eat of any of the trees?”
“There it is,” the preacher often says. “The first step toward giving in to temptation is to doubt the goodness of God.”
No doubt they are right.
But the preacher I listened to said something that shocked. He said, “Do you see what happened there? Satan’s strategy was to magnify the restriction.” That is, “He wanted Eve to focus on what she could not have as a way of creating hunger for it.”
Magnify the restriction. Those words have stuck with me for some time now. Consequently, I have noticed that magnifying the restriction is often at the heart of our Christian discipleship and, more specifically, our parenting.
There are good reasons for this. Oftentimes, the world is a scary place. There are so many ways to ruin a life and throw away your faith. Adults have learned the lessons the hard way. So, the warnings come. Don’t go here. Don’t do this. Don’t say that.
You could add to the list.
But I wonder if we are sometimes making it harder to resist temptation by magnifying the restriction. I can think of two shortcomings in this approach.
1. It creates a hunger for what is restricted.
Have you ever been on one of those diets where a certain food group is restricted? Say, for example, a low carb diet. At first it is not all that bad, but then the cravings come. You have never wanted carbs so bad in your life. Through sheer willpower you may make it a few weeks, but then what happens? That’s right, you give in, eat all the carbs in sight, and gain back any weight you lost.
Why does this happen?
It happens because you have spent so much time focusing on what you can’t have that it creates a desire for it that is almost overwhelming. The same thing can happen in Christian discipleship. Without meaning to, we can create a craving for the forbidden fruit.
2. It keeps us from focusing on what we are for, and people want to be for something.
When you are always talking about what you are against, you do not make room to explain what you are for. Yes, as orthodox Christians, we are against same-sex unions. That is because we are for God designed marriages intended for human flourishing. We are for the wonderful picture of Christ and his church. We are for multi-generational faithfulness.
Our children need a vision of what is good and true and beautiful.
Now, I am not saying we should not warn. We should.
What I am saying is our warning must be balanced with wooing, an enticement toward what is good. Sometimes we need to be known by what we are for as believers.
After all, the spiritual health of the next generation may depend on it.