“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest, but he finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes he finds it empty, swept, and put in order.” — Matthew 12:43-44, RSVCE
As a personal trainer, I have to work against a lot of myths and bad practices that put people off from something that should be healthy and enjoyable for them.
“No, you shouldn’t lift for 3 hours a day.”
“Please don’t squat that low.”
“No, you shouldn’t be lifting heavy weights after just starting a routine.”
One of the biggest fitness/health issues when it comes to general wellness has to do with nutrition. Too many people look at a healthy lifestyle in negative terms.
“I can’t do this,” or “I can’t eat that.”
This is known as deprivation. It’s a practice that works short-term, only to end in binge-eating and disappointment. Deprivation actually fosters resentment in people who are trying to make a positive change in their life, as the entire approach is defined by strict limitations.
A better practice for which I advocate has to do with the positive. “I need to add/do more of…” Instead of dwelling on the fact that one can’t eat snack cakes, why not focus on eating more protein and plant foods per meal/snack? Rather than act like a monk who isn’t allowed to drink alcohol, why not place an emphasis on drinking more and more water on a daily basis?
The point here is that positive transformation isn’t just about getting rid of things. It’s important to emphasize how we fill the void left by our unhealthy practices. Any addiction, negative attitudes, or habitual sins have to be replaced with something healthy for the transformation process to take full and lasting effect.
This is where Jesus’ lesson from Matthew 12 comes into play. Jesus has been casting out demons and illnesses all over the place, but the religious authorities keep seeking signs and explanations from Him instead of recognizing the Godly power at work within Him. In response, Jesus brings up an interesting point about exorcised demons, or “unclean spirits,” and what it takes to keep them out.
Even though Jesus is sending away the various afflictions that are brought to Him, the unbelief of the people and authorities obstructs any lasting improvement. Because they don’t recognize the Kingdom of God in their midst, and because they refuse to accept and embody the teachings of the Messiah, the empty void left by their demons and diseases only leaves room for more negativity to come and wreak havoc. Though Jesus leaves all in His wake “swept, and put in order,” the fact that hearts remain “empty” means there is room for the powers of evil to return.
This passage reveals our place in Gospel. While God’s gracious work in Christ cleanses us of evil and sin, we are responsible for maintaining that relationship so that we don’t fall back into habits that place a barrier between us and God. God’s love and grace are always there, but we have to decide whether or not to embrace them.
Too often, as Christians we think in terms of what is or is not allowed. We shouldn’t do this or that, and unfortunately this has the same negative effect we find in the fitness/nutritional world. We come to resent all the rules and regulations, ultimately falling away.
Instead, I suggest we look at filling the empty space left by our sin with the things that bring us closer to God and each other. Our addictions can be replaced with support groups and service. Our greed can be replaced with generosity. Our closed-mindedness can be replaced with a heart of compassion. Our judgmental words can be replaced by words of love, affirmation, and the pursuit of understanding. If we do this, we leave no room for the powers of evil to return and dominate us, and that sounds good to me.
Peace be with you!