The Thief Principle
There’s a spiritual principle found in Ephesians 4, which will help us break the power of specific sins off our lives. Paul uses the example of stealing to demonstrate how to be completely free of old sinful thoughts, attitudes and actions.
As always, our Lord shows us a clear path to freedom, but we only benefit if we obey Him.
In Ephesians 4:17-32 Paul teaches general spiritual principles about living a godly life. But verse 28 is the apostle’s practical step-by-step example about how to walk on this path successfully.
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need. (Ephesians 4:28 RSV)
Paul’s Three Steps to Overcome Sin
Let’s break this principle down.
Stop Stealing: Stop the wrong action. Repent and turn away from the sin. This will always be the first step, but we never can be set truly free of our controlling sins until our hearts are changed.
Do Honest Work: Earn money honestly by getting a job and earning a steady paycheck.
Give to Those in Need: Be generous and repeatedly give some of your hard-earned money away to people who need help. In other words, start doing the opposite virtue. For me, this third action is the real “flesh-burner.” This last step causes us to be truly changed inwardly, where it counts.
The Sin of Stealing is a Heart Problem
The Bible defines our flesh as our old sinful nature. A thief’s heart is selfish and greedy. He or she has decided they are entitled to take by force whatever they want. Their inner heart attitude is “Everyone owes me.” They often don’t care who they hurt. Many young thieves start by stealing first from their own parents.
I heard about one young father whose little boy was dying from a serious illness. His son needed expensive medical treatment to live. A professional fund-raiser raised every penny—and then stole all the money and skipped town, leaving the young parents devastated.
That’s how selfish and cold a thief’s heart can be.
Actions that are “Flesh Burners”
The best part of Paul’s “spiritual prescription” to break free of sin is the third step. Some Christians call like these actions “flesh burners.” It’s emotionally painful for someone with a thief’s heart to be generous and give away what he honestly earned. Selfishly, he wants to keep all his money for himself. Practicing the opposite virtue instead of indulging in old sinful habits allows the Holy Spirit to change his heart. The more often he gives to others out of his own pocket, the less it hurts.
Finally the strong urge to steal is completely broken.
Paul’s principle works. I know this, because it has worked for me.
My Personal Journey
One of my early struggles as a Christian was with pride. I was a “spotlight grabber” who needed everyone’s praise and admiration. If I got in an argument, it would never occur to me that the other person might be right. My inflated ego couldn’t conceive of the idea that I might be wrong. At the same time, I was very insecure and had a poor self-image.
God started dealing with my pride as soon as I became a Christian. Unconsciously, I practiced this principle. The Holy Spirit led me to do all the things a humble person would do. I can’t begin to describe how painful it was to go to someone I’d hurt and apologize.
I got a lot of practice. Today, apologizing is still a little uncomfortable. I don’t enjoy doing it. But I love the healing that occurs between me and friends or family members.
The Holy Spirit also sidelined me from standing in the spotlight for 2 or 3 years. As a young Christian, I never got to share my testimony. I didn’t even get to act in any college skits. Instead, I sat on the sidelines until God correctly judged that I no longer cared about being the center of attention.
Now I’m comfortable either way.
At the same time, I started to understand God’s love for me personally.
One of the verses that the Holy Spirit used to heal my damaged self-image was Isaiah 43:4, which says:
4 Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
peoples in exchange for your life.(Isaiah 43:4 RSV)
I am precious in God’s eyes and so are you, because He chooses to count us as precious. Some people collect beer bottles from all over the world. Others collect coins or stamps.
God collects new sons and daughters. He “collected” both of us. Then He invites us to live with Him for all eternity.
Fellow believer, if God sees you as precious and valuable, then you are.
And that’s good news.
All my images are from Pixabay.com.