One of the first commands I ever taught my puppy was “Leave it!” Like a toddler’s newfound use of the word “no,” “Leave it!” quickly became an echoing refrain. Leave the garbage, leave my shoes, leave the cord to my cell phone… It wasn’t long before she knew what it meant. Acting accordingly, however, was a different matter.
She’s well through the puppy stage these days, and I stack my shoes by the door without worrying that they will be shredded. The garbage, on the other hand, is still kept securely in the cupboard under the sink. And there are plenty of times when we are out hiking that she comes across some unmentionable delicacy along the trail. Sometimes she eats it before I even realize she has found something. Sometimes she pauses and gives me “the look.” Have you ever seen that look cross the face of a toddler when they know they are going to get in trouble for doing something but are about to do it anyway? Have you ever felt that look cross your own face?
“Leave it!” was also the first command that God gave to the human race. The Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17).
In other words, leave it!
The echoing refrain of this command is seen throughout the Bible. The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) are filled with the order to “leave it.” Turn away from that idol. Stop using profanity. Do not murder, commit adultery, steal, or lie. Do not be envious or desire anything that belongs to someone else. Leave it!
Jesus took these commands one step further. Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment…anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:22, 28). We are called not just to leave sin in the physical sense – I didn’t actually do anything wrong – but to leave sin in the intentional sense as well. We are to leave it completely, with both our bodies and our minds.
This isn’t just to make our lives difficult. God knows, as anyone who has ever watched a toddler knows, if we sit and think about breaking a rule, it won’t be long before we glare defiantly over our shoulder and cross the line. Paul addressed this same principle when he wrote to the church at Corinth, I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your pure devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3).
Sin begins in the mind. We are presented first with a small desire, and it is at that point that we are faced with the uphill climb of resistance or the slippery slope to sin. It is at that point that Jesus is warning us that letting our emotions go unchecked or letting ourselves consider something sinful is the same as actually committing the sin. Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:14).
Temptation is all around us in this world. It is not a question of if we will be tempted, but when. And, more importantly, how we will respond when we are enticed by the desires we find along life’s trail. We have the choice to defy God’s word and allow our desire to conceive sin, or we have the choice to obey God’s command to leave it.
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12).