By Rob Beames
Americans tend to complain every time we fill up our tanks with approximately the same amount of gasoline at an increasingly inflated price. As full-fledged capitalists, we object when we bring home a smaller container of ice cream for roughly the same price as in the past. As citizens of a beloved free enterprise, we may even fuss when we pay six dollars for the same box of Girl Scout cookies, which used to cost only three. It goes against our grain to pay a higher price for a perceived lower return on each dollar spent. We expect to “get what we paid for,” and when we don’t, we are naturally disappointed.
Advertising companies leverage these values with slogans like “25% More Free!” Some of us may have even fallen prey for this line: “More taste! Less filling!” This type of advertisement campaign is successful because it appeals to our desire to get more by sacrificing less.
Wouldn’t we find it ridiculous if an advertisement asked us to pay more for less? Who would buy that product? Amazingly, sin has been successfully running this campaign on us since the dawn of time.
Each time we sin, we give up more of ourselves and get less in return. Each time we go to that forbidden place there is a higher spiritual cover charge required to enter. Any drug pusher understands this concept. In the beginning, they give away free samples to build an addicted clientele. As drug use continues, the user needs a greater amount to achieve the same high.
It works in a similar way with our sin. By providing high thrills, exciting experiences or high gratification in the beginning, we already begin to long to do it again. But each time we sin, we get less from it. Whether it involves a certain control, thrill or pleasure, we immediately begin receiving a diminishing return as soon as we sin. The next time we will have to “up the ante” to get back the same level of perceived return we got in the beginning.
Here’s where the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility comes in. Simply put, the more we experience something, the less enjoyment we actually acquire from it. For example, when we first discover a food we really like, we get an incredible sense of pleasure out of it. We can’t wait to return to that restaurant, so we can have that same taste sensation again. After a while that same food doesn’t provide the same level of gratification it did the first few times we ordered it. If we continue to order the same menu item too often, we may even grow tired of it and want something else. We have to keep adding the cayenne pepper in order to get a spicier meatball with the same kick. We find ourselves having to take more and more risks in order to get the same thrill.
This same principal explains why video games have progressively challenging new levels. Game designers know they have to keep us from becoming bored too easily. Similarly, when we first buy a new car, we are so impressed with its new gadgets, we feel it was worth every dollar. However, before the new car smell wears off, most of us find it has become common and outdated. The principal boils down to this: We continue to want more, so we give more, but we get less in return.
It can be an eye-opening experience to realize the next time we sin in a particular way, the less we are going to enjoy it. We know we’re not supposed to enjoy sin, but as we’ve previously discussed, we wouldn’t be tempted by sin if it wasn’t attractive (see “Pest Control for Sins, Part 1” in the May 2010 issue). Recognizing diminishing utility is more than a mere mental trick, but rather a way to focus on the reality of the way things work. Of course, as we grow in Christ, and draw closer to the Lord, the Holy Spirit steadily removes our ability to actually enjoy sin. Still, it’s helpful to realize this rule is at work everywhere we turn, including the spiritual realm, and especially regarding the sins we commit.
We can reap significant benefits by becoming acutely aware of this attack strategy. Simply acknowledging its existence can help us become more resistant to the luring power of sin over us. Consider it a preventive war strategy. As in past battles, armies would put up obstacles, such as barbed wire, so that the enemy wouldn’t get a straight shot at them. In a similar fashion, knowing from which direction the assault is coming, we can keep the enemy from having a direct spiritual line of fire on us.
Additionally, we can turn this law into an effective weapon—in our favor—as we fight against our sin. We see the same rule at work, in the reverse, as we resist the temptation to sin. This means we can actually gain a little control back each time we do not give into temptation to sin. Those seemingly small victories really do mean something! It comes down to a battle for spiritual territory.
So, as we pray and ask God to grant us power over our sin, remember that sin is an undesirable and dangerous pathway with which we will inevitably be more and more disappointed as we travel down it. It can be an effective deterrent to understand that by sinning we increasingly give up more of what God intends us to be in Christ, and in exchange, receive increasingly less of what we mistakenly thought we desired all along. To state the obvious: sin is not the answer. In the end, only our loving God can provide us with the happiness, contentment and peace for which we long. He’s already provided these things without the risks, destructive aspects or pain, which inevitably come from sin. It’s yet another reason to call on God for our rescue, while we continue fighting our sin until we breathe our last breath.