Colossians 3:12-17 — Following Jesus (Muscle Memory, part 1)
A new golf pro and his family moved to town. They had rented a home, and then realized, with their children, that it was too close to a busy road. They were able to find a safer location. The only challenge was moving, again, and in such a short period. I helped, again.
He was so appreciative for the help moving twice, that he invited me to play a round of golf with him. I was nervous about it. He was a pro and I was a hacker. The great news is that he was very relaxed, so it was fun. I learned a few things.
He mentioned that with all the moving, he had not swung a club in a while. You could have fooled me. I mentioned this observation to him, and he talked about muscle memory. Muscle memory is not a memory stored in your muscles, but your brain. Your brain memorizes the sequence, the procedure, that your body goes through to bring about any number of outcomes: a golf swing, a piece of music on an instrument, and more.
It can help you become terribly good—or terribly bad. “Practice makes perfect” —but only if you are practicing well. Your muscle memory doesn’t judge whether your result is good, only if it is consistent.
Why bring it up? Because there is this tension as we follow Jesus. We keep sinning. Yes, when we turn to Jesus he forgives our sins; he wipes them away. That means he has paid your debt. The cost and consequences of that sin, before God, have been dealt with. Amen!
But what’s next? Part of what’s next may be tied up in your muscle memory. Before you came to Jesus, what occupied your mind? What thought patterns were ground into your brain from all that you spent time dwelling on? How about your day: if you were to look at your calendar, what were the top three activities? What did you read? What images filled your eyes? Who did you hang out with, and what was your speech like? The list goes on. Recent studies on how our brain works reinforce this idea.
I bring this up, not to make you feel guilty, but to simply point out—you may have a muscle memory situation. Sometimes when people meet Jesus, he at times instantly removes a pattern of sin. But I also know that he does not remove all the patterns of sin. God does not wave a magic wand and make you perfect.
To correct bad muscle memory, you need to replace it. We have read that we must actively put parts of our life to death. Retraining our minds also requires active engagement of them. Consider, “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” The language is—again—active. Elsewhere we read in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Again, the language is active, even violent.
Bottom line: to put sin to death in my life, and in yours, requires action.
As I reread Colossians 1:9-10 and 2:6-7, it is no wonder they are being encouraged to continue.
This of course in not something we are doing merely in the physical world, all by ourselves. I want to come back to these verses in the next post and unpack another dimension. For now, I want to return to that golf pro.