I used to hunt geese in my younger years. Blue and snow geese come in giant flocks of hundreds and thousands in southern Louisiana. When they fly low enough, it looks easy to hit one by shooting in amongst them—just aim in their general direction and you will be enjoying a goose dinner that evening. But that is a deception, as there is actually a lot of space around each goose. It is all too easy to miss entirely, and a less-than-direct hit may send you on a literal wild goose chase to retrieve a wounded bird. An experienced hunter realizes that aiming at a specific bird brings greater success.
Similarly, taking a less-than-focused approach toward overcoming sin brings less success than directing your attention to one sin at a time. Not that we forget all other sins when confronted by one, but sins, bad habits, and weaknesses need our focus if we are to overcome. You likely can see a few of your weaknesses flying like geese overhead. Will you carelessly shoot upward amongst them, or will you give special attention to one at a time? Will you shoot randomly, or will you take aim at one weakness before focusing on another? While you can work on more than one at a time—and no doubt you should, as you should not forget about any sin that confronts you—focusing your greatest effort on the biggest “goose” is a good start.
The time before the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread is important for self-examination. This is a time to focus on personal change, reminding us that we must put sin out of our lives. We must be overcomers. So, this is not a trivial question to ask: How have you done since last year? What big “sin-goose” did you set your sights on and bring down? And what will you set your sights on this year?
Doers of the Word
We read, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End…. He who overcomes shall inherit all things…. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:6–8). Yes, according to the Alpha and Omega—Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:11)—we must overcome sin.
This is the lesson John gave to the seven Church congregations in Revelation 2–3, where every message admonishes us to be overcomers. And it is really more than an admonition—it is a requirement. Not that any of us will overcome every shortcoming in this life, but we must be overcoming our carnal nature as a daily way of life. There ought to be evidence for God to see. Consider the Parable of the Minas. The man who hid his mina and failed to multiply it had that mina taken away from him (Luke 19:22–24). It would appear, from the loss of his mina and the appellation of “wicked servant,” that he will not be in the Kingdom of God.
While different in some respects, the Parable of the Talents has the same lesson for the fearful, lazy, and wicked. Note all three characteristics in this parable: “‘And I was afraid….’ But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant….’ ‘Cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 25:25–26, 30). Those too fearful to step out in faith to obey, the wicked who refuse to repent of sin, and those too lazy to put in the effort will not be in the Kingdom of God.
Each of these parables indicates that God understands our different backgrounds and abilities, but He does not countenance gross laziness and lack of progress. We cannot sit back following baptism and expect that it is all done for us. This is seen in the letter from James, where he admonishes us to be doers of the word, and not hearers only. If we are the latter, we deceive ourselves. “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was” (James 1:23–24).
We may object, Why would people want to deceive themselves? As human beings, we are all no doubt guilty of this in one way or another. We do not see ourselves as others see us, and certainly not as God sees us. We are often blind to our shortcomings that others can easily see. Sadly, more often than not, it is not a matter of our being blind, but simply our rationalizing around a problem, postponing our attention to it, or refusing to face it. Changing bad habits is not easy, and taking the easy course is part of human nature.
Is this not the same message the Apostle Paul gave to the Romans? “Not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified…. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?” (Romans 2:13, 21–23).
Are you guilty of adultery by consuming pornography? This is sadly a problem for both men and women, both young and old, and the Internet makes it easy. Perhaps it is necessary to cut the cord, so to speak (Matthew 5:27–30). Are you stealing from God by not paying your tithes faithfully? God calls that robbery and says that one who does so is under a curse (Malachi 3:8–9). Do you smoke or vape? Do you get drunk or self-deceptively justify marijuana use? Brethren, these are big “geese” on which we need to focus our sights—and, with God’s help, overcome. It is not good enough to sit back and expect God to do it all for us. These problems do not go away on their own.
We understand that we are saved by the loving grace of God. If we are doing our part, we need not go about wondering, “Will I make it?” We can be confident in our walk with God, so this is not an attempt to put a guilt trip on all of you faithful overcoming members. We will never in this life overcome every shortcoming, but we have our part. And, as we see in Scripture, there are sins that will keep us out of the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9–10; Revelation 21:8). So, for those who are addicted to pornography, those who rob God, and those who do not take seriously our need to overcome, this is the time to get serious.
For all of us, what is it that we have changed since last year at this time? What will we change this year? Is this not what putting out physical leaven is meant to teach us? What benefit is it if we do not learn the important spiritual lesson? Change produces good fruit, and good fruit tastes good. As James reminds us, “He who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25).
So, which goose will you set your eyes on this year? Pick one. Pick the biggest one. Draw a bead on it. Then consider how wonderful you will feel when you can look back with joy at having overcome a sin that has nagged you for years.