Saying No to the Marshmallow

The video pretty much speaks for itself. The “marshmallow test” is one of those classic illustrations of how we deal with temptation, but let me expand on it for just a moment. It seems no matter how old we get, the way we deal with the temptation of sin has little difference from the way 7-year-olds deal with resisting a marshmallow.

We know we’re not supposed to indulge ourselves, and even bigger than that, we know that there’s a reward at the end for doing the right thing. Most of the kids in the video decided from the outset that they were going to wait it out for the second marshmallow, but the more time dragged on, the more the sight and smell of it lured them in. Don’t we do the same exact thing with sin?

“I’m just going to hold it for a while.”

“I’m just going to smell it.”

“I’ll just hold it up to my lips.”

“Let me just nibble off a tiny piece; nobody will notice.”

Before long, our beautiful marshmallow ends up being a half-eaten gooey white blob. We try to kid ourselves into thinking that as long as we only go so far, we’ll still be able to enjoy the reward at the end, but if we take an honest step back, it’s evident that we’ve already messed everything up. Too many times, we then shrug our shoulders and say, “Oh, well. I might as well enjoy the marshmallow that I do have.” But by then, the disappointment of our failure keeps us from enjoying what was supposed to be a delicious treat.

So, now let’s pause everything and look at the promise that God makes us. Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:17:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

Jesus, through his sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection, hit the reset button on all our sin and shortcoming.  Simply by the petition of God’s grace and the surrender of our lives to him, we can rest assured that when God looks at us, he doesn’t see the sin that has so tarnished our lives, he sees his perfect son who took our place.  We’re no longer bound by the sin that used to hold us back; we’re an altogether new creation.

Why then do we still wrestle with sin?  Why then do we still feel so weighed down by our failures?  Make no mistake, the Bible does indeed make it clear to us that we are to move forward and strive for holiness in our lives.  If you don’t believe me, just read the book of James.  It’s kind of tough to swallow.  So, how do we escape the snares that constantly trip us up?  Let me offer a few suggestions:

Firstly, remember that this world we’re living in is still very much under the curse of sin.  However, in Christ, we are no longer bound by that curse.  We are called to be God’s Kingdom here on this very imperfect planet, and sometimes that seems near impossible.  But don’t lose sight of the fact that there is a day coming when all will be made right.  Christ will indeed return, and what a glorious hope that is.  I suspect that if the kids in the video had only had a count-down clock to look at, they would have fared much better in resisting the marshmallow.  So, don’t look at the temptation before you.  Don’t look at the broken promises this world has to offer.  Set your eyes upon the promise that Christ is coming again.

Secondly, in the mean time, don’t linger around temptation.  We give ourselves way too much credit when we think that we’ll be just fine as long as we only go so far.  Get away from temptation.  Take proactive steps to steer clear of the things and places that bring on the heat.  Be radical about it.

Thirdly, don’t go it alone.  My favorite part of that video is the twin brothers.  They started out by telling each other how good the marshmallow smelled, but later on, they were collectively silent.  Together they didn’t even touch it.  They waved their arms and kicked their legs together.  Accountability goes a long way.  Surround yourself with people who you can be honest with and who will ask you the tough questions.  We’re not called to be Lone Rangers in our battles with sin; so don’t bother trying to do it that way.

Lastly, don’t allow your mistakes to keep you away from God.  This is one of the most insidious lies that we buy into: that our sin is so bad that we can’t turn to God until we clean our act up.  God is the very thing that we NEED.  Run to him like a child to his loving parent.  Don’t hide your shame with fig leaves.  God’s grace covers us right where we fall.

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